MK Dons: What Do The Stats Say?

Credit Graham Burrell

I don’t care what the stats say, there’s only one stat that matters.

That’s probably what I should have called this article, as I guarantee one person (at least) will reply with that across social media. Other predictable comebacks, when I try to defend Lewis Fiorini for example, will be I don’t care I know I’m right or (and you know who you are) anyone defending that performance is deluded. It always disappoints me when someone’s first reaction to a result is to use it as a way of putting other people down. I’ve seen it when we win (I’ve been guilty of it myself), but people can’t accept their opinion is one reflection, and another person might be different, but equally as valid. I’ve seen some people with valid, respected opinions let themselves down when their first reaction is to lash out at others, both when we lose, and when we win.

Anyway, I also let myself down (in some people’s eyes), when I move away from simple perception or gut reaction and talk about stats. I know we’re in a relegation battle, something I didn’t think we would be four months ago, and I know there’s still fear around the place, despite what seemed like an upturn in fortunes at the start of January. Here we are, just a week past the transfer deadline, and already certain new signings aren’t good enough. It didn’t take long. Still, do the stats agree with that? Or, to hone in on the point of the article, do the stats suggest that some of our players were as bad as it’s been made out on social media.

With three games in eight days starting Tuesday, articles like this might be hard to put out, so I thought I’d try to brighten up your Sunday by finding the silver lining to a cloud of defeat. Which we all expected.

Credit Graham Burrell

General Stats

Before we move into individual players, let’s look at the wider stats. Remember, this is a team who spent well in the window (they earned it by the way, selling players for cash sums), and who are currently third in the table. MK Dons are one of the best teams in the division this season, so we’re not talking a relegation six-pointer here. How did we do generally?

I know xG isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but on actual chances the game should have been a draw; we had nine shots to their ten, and xG was 1.28 for us and 1.4 for them. In reality, the game should have been drawn 1-1, had we not handed goals to them on a plate. We did, we continue to do so and if we don’t stop giving goals away, we’re going to find ourselves invested in this season right up to the final day; nobody wants that.

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I also made reference to positional attacks this week, and we were more balanced at MK; that goes against what some thought. We had a more even spread across the field, 11 from the left, nine through the centre and nine from the right. To be fair, the right-hand side still didn’t yield an awful lot in terms of xG, but we did have a decent enough threat across the front players. MK Dons had fewer attacks by the way; 23 compared to our 29.

I think it’s also worth noting that we put a lot of crosses into the box. Now, I have a bit of a thing with crosses, because it can be registered as ‘unsuccessful’ when it was in fact a good ball, but the forward didn’t make it a good cross. We delivered 17 crosses into the box, but only two were deemed ‘successful’, whilst our opponents delivered eight, with four successful. That points a little towards our defending perhaps, that we were not able to block as many crosses as our opponents.

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What I want to demonstrate here is that whilst we did lose the game, we were not the woeful, pointless, boring side I’ve heard us called. Genuinely, I have people messaging me saying they’re not renewing their season ticket next season because we’ve become a boring team. Interesting then that yesterday we had more positional attacks than we did in the game we won 4-0 at Sincil Bank at the end of last season (29 compared to 21), we delivered more crosses (13 to 17) with the same number being successful (two). We won 2-1 at Mk last season and guess what? Fewer positional attacks (23 again), and fewer crosses (eight). In terms of shots, we had seven in each game (4-0 and 2-1) and yet managed nine yesterday. So, have we suddenly become ‘boring’, or is it actually all about winning and losing, just as I said it was when we talked disconnection earlier in the season? The truth is we’re not any different in terms of our build-up play, or how often we attack right now. The difference is purely conceding silly goals and not being quite as ruthless.

Still, if it’s boring you want to go with as a reason for binning your season ticket, because it makes you feel better, crack on. It’s just not the truth.

Credit Graham Burrell

Lewis Fiorini

There’s been some calling for Fiorini to be dropped, mentioning how Max sanders is surely a better fit for the holding role. To a degree, I agree; I’d like to see Max next to McGrandles, but with lewis at the head of the midfield where he’s creative.

However, the myth that he’s a passenger is just that; a myth. The stats back me up here as well, and if you’re one knocking Fiorini, this might surprise you. Who was involved in the most defensive duels in a City shirt yesterday? Regan Poole (eight)? Nope. Conor McGrandles (six)? Nope. TJ Eyoma (four)? Nope. You know where this is going, right?

It was Lewis Fiorini, with 11. Not only that, his success rate was 72%, better than everyone bar Bishop and TJ. However, it means Lewis won eight, more than TJ and Ted combined. Whatever your perception of Lewis, these are the facts.

If you watch the two goals we conceded, is Lewis Fiorini involved at any stage? No. I’ll happily call out a player who I don’t think has performed well, but you’ll get no lazy punditry from me, pointing the finger in the same direction every week. I do think Fiorini is better in a more advanced role, but he certainly didn’t let us down yesterday. Might I also add that in eighteen minutes on the field, Max Sanders wasn’t involved in a single defensive duel. That’s not looking to slur him, but just to compare perception and reality for you.

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Morgan Whittaker

I’ve seen the Swansea boys both getting a bit of stick on social media today, but is that fair? I think we’ve already ascertained that whilst the result isn’t favourable, and we could be better, we weren’t bad going forward and (like most weeks) on another day we could have won the game. After exploding onto the scene against Oxford, I’ve seen comments being levelled at Morgan that he’s not getting the ball, not doing enough. I can’t argue an assist or maybe even a goal would help him, but was he as bad as you lot think, given that he’s currently standing at a rating of four on the site?

Well, no, he wasn’t. There’s a metric on Wyscout which is ‘Successful Attacking Actions Per 90’, which is defined as the ‘sum of shots on target, accurate crosses and successful dribbles normalized per 90 minutes’. Who leads this? John Marquis, the goalscorer and player you’re picking as Man of the Match currently? Nope, he’s on three.

I won’t drag this out; Morgan and Anthony Scully are joint top with five each. When it comes to offensive duels, battling to win a ball or shielding it from an opponent, Morgan was involved in 12, with a 41% success rate. That was the highest on the team. That’s two more than Sculls (who had a 30% success rate) and five more than John Marquis. What’s really interesting is even I thought Whittaker hadn’t played well, but the stats suggest that Jonathan Harries, the MK fan who said he was impressed with Whittaker, was actually right.

Liam Cullen

To a degree, the stats do suggest Liam struggled a bit yesterday. Remember, he was playing as the ten (or eight I guess), and yet he didn’t rank highly on many of the metrics. For instance, he had three touches in the box, fewer than John Marquis, Cohen Bramall and Anthony Scully. He contested fewer offensive duels than Whittaker, Fiorini, Scully, Bishop and Marquis, and was behind the other three attacking players in terms of Successful Attacking Actions. He did have a shot on target, the same as Morgan Whittaker, but neither troubled the keeper. I think what this shows is perhaps he’s not as comfortable at the head of the midfield, and he often found himself more advanced than he needed to be, or indeed should have been. That’s almost certainly the case for the opening MK goal, but you couldn’t blame him directly for it.

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If you’ve read this and you’re unconvinced, then there’s little point in trying to tell you anymore. It’s likely you call a game as you see it (as I did yesterday), but you’re not willing to accept you may have called it differently. We all see a game differently, be it on a laptop, through the eyes of someone full of beer, from one end of the ground where the other end seems a long way away. It’s easy to miss good things some people do when there’s a preconception that the player isn’t doing well. The key (for me) is to not only use instinct and judgement but also facts and figures. To call a game properly, you must be able to understand that whilst judgement is a good thing to have in football, evidence and numbers do have a part to play. If you lean heavily on either for your opinions, you’re doing yourself and anyone forced to listen to you a disservice.

The facts are these; we lost the game and got nothing, but this is not a woeful Lincoln City team, and your favourite punchbags are not to blame every week. Yesterday, it seems that two players you feel didn’t play well, judging by the ratings you’ve handed out on the site, were actually among our top performers.