Wright v Long: The Keeper Conundrum Explained

Credit Graham Burrell

One task Mark Kennedy has to perform this summer is deciding which, if any, of our keepers will play as number one this season.

It seems ages since we went into a season with our own stopper as number one. For the past two seasons we’ve relied on West Brom for their keepers; firstly Alex Palmer and last season Josh Griffiths. Both were good keepers who will go on to have fine careers, and between them they’ve allayed my fears that a young keeper is a calamity waiting to happen.

That’s good, because unless we decide to bring in an experienced free agent, we’ve got two young goalkeepers both knocking on the door of the first team. Sam Long is the great hope for the club, a young keeper with a fine record already. It was his surprising form that saw Ethan Ross move on quickly after he signed. Long was called up to an England camp but has now also been away with Scotland Under 21s. He’s most recently been on loan with Drogheda in Ireland, having made his debut for the Imps in the Papa John’s Trophy, and his Football League debut away at Plymouth Argyle. His time in Ireland earned him kudos from Drogheda fans; they were certainly upset when he left.

As for Jordan Wright, he arrived at the Bank having been on loan with Hereford in National League North in the first half of the season. He slipped under the radar when he came in, his arrival had the feel of Charlie Andrew or (despite being an outfield player) James Brown. If your response to that is ‘who’, then you get my drift. However, Wright was thrust into the limelight when Josh Griffiths sustained the injury that ultimately kept him out of action in the latter stages of the season. Wright got a couple of minutes against Sheff Weds (and technically a clean sheet), before cementing his place in the first team thereafter.

Which of the two young keepers should be number one this season? Or, which of them should remain with the club and which should be sent out on loan for senior experience? To help you decide, I’ve put together the stats from Wright’s time at Lincoln, and Sam Long’s stint in Ireland, to offer some form of comparison.

Conceded

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We start with the obvious stat; who conceded the most goals? Sam Long did play more games than Jordan Wright, 15 full matches compared to Wright’s 12 (13 if you include his brief cameo). In that time, both kept two clean sheets over a 90-minute game, with Wright recording three for his Sheff Weds appearance.

Long did concede more goals; he averaged 1.49 per game, whereas Wright only conceded 1.21. Neither stat is great, but Drogheda are a struggling League of Ireland side, and let’s be honest, our defence was a bit of a mess at times. One important thing to consider is both conceded fewer goals than the stats expected. Yep, the ‘expected conceded goals’ (you’ll love that) was 1.61 for Sam and 1.35 for Jordan. Basically, both did better than the stats suggested they should.

Saves

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Being a keeper is all about making saves, and both potential stoppers did that in abundance. Long’s spectacular saves saw his Drogheda side produce what the Irish Times called ‘the shock of the season’ as they beat Shamrock Rovers, whilst Jordan Wright’s late save against Sunderland was as good as a goal. Per game, the two made a similar number of saves; 3.1 for Sam and 3.17 for Jordan. Games against Wimbledon (six saves) and Rotherham (five saves) helped bump up Jordan’s numbers, as he actually faced fewer shots than Sam. Sam faced 4.58 shots per game in Ireland, with Jordan marginally behind on 4.37.

Box Command

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One element of a keeper’s game I do think is important is command of the area, and the towering Jordan Wright has an edge here. Wyscout measures the keeper’s aerial performances in two metrics, exits and aerial duels. An exit is an attempt by the goalkeeper to actively claim a high cross or a long aerial pass in the air, either to catch or to punch the ball. If the keeper is challenged at that moment, then instead of it being an exit, it is classed as an aerial duel.

Jordan has the edge here; he made 1.96 exits per game, compared to 1.92 by Sam, which is as good as identical. However, when it came to aerial duels, the numbers change. Sam contested 0.50 aerial duels per game, but with a 62.5% success rate. Wright, the taller of the two, made 0.54 (marginal), but with a 100% success rate.

Conclusion

The truth is there’s not a lot between them, and there are elements to a keeper’s game you can’t measure in stats. For instance, under command of the area, how do you quantify organising a defence at a free kick or dead ball situation? You can’t, so whilst this stats guide should be interesting, it is by no means a comprehensive conclusion as to the better keeper. What I would say is Jordan Wright certainly has the edge in terms of taking balls out of the air, but some of Sam’s saves in Ireland were sensational. Also, there’s no stats for measuring errors, and we know Jordan made a couple towards the end of the season, so it’s worth bearing that in mind too.

The Stats

Sam Long Jordan Wright
Minutes Played 1453 1194
Clean Sheets 2 3
Goals Conceded PG 1.49 1.21
Expected Conceded Goals PG 1.61 1.35
Shots Against 4.58 4.37
Saves PG 3.1 3.17
Exits 1.92 1.96
Aerial Duels PG 0.5 0.54
Aerial Duels Won 62.50% 100%