Fact Or Fiction: How Much Did We Do Different Against Argyle?

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I’ve rarely felt as energised and content with a 1-1 draw at home, but this weekend’s game was a great advert for League One and for Lincoln City.

We didn’t get all three points, but we went toe-to-toe with the best side in the league, with (arguably) four first-team players out, if not five, and could quite easily have won the game (we could, by the same token, easily have lost it). It was certainly one for the neutral, but the mutual respect I’ve seen from both sets of fans suggests that for once ‘for the neutral’ actually applies to everyone in the ground as well. It was a great game of football.

I’ve seen many reasons put forward as to why we did so much better and why the team seemingly produced what fans want to see, but how correct are they? You know me, I love a stat, so did we do things significantly differently to, let’s say, Accrington at home the week before? Perception is that we did, but is that backed up by cold, hard numbers? Let’s see, shall we?

Regan Poole’s Aerial Ability Was Invaluable


Credit Graham Burrell

There has been much focus on the wing backs this week, and I had a message yesterday asking about Regan Poole’s aerial ability. We had an out ball with him in the same way Fleetwood had one on the right in the second half of our game with them in September. Did Poole win more headers than Eyoma does at full back? Was he really the valued out ball, or is it again down to perception?

Poole contested 21 aerial duels during the game, 14 of which were on the right flank. He won 15 of his total duels, 11 wins coming out wide. In fact, he only lost four in the wide position, meaning he came away with a 71% success rate. That’s an incredible stat, and it definitely backs up the theory his head was a fantastic out ball on Saturday. I do wonder if it was something we did to target the Plymouth left back because, against Accrington, Poole contested just eight aerial duels and only won two on the right attacking flank.

Bearing in mind Eyoma didn’t feature against Accrington, we can only take Port Vale and before that as a barometer. Against Port Vale, TJ contested just three headers on the right flank without success (he won three of ten in total).

Max Sanders Passed Forward More


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Sanders earned rave reviews for his performance in midfield, which the goal certainly helped, but the general consensus was every time he turned on the ball, he wanted to play it forward. Was he doing that more than usual and more than Lasse Sorensen, who played the same position against Accrington?

The difference for Max is actually minimal, although we have to go back to the Port Vale game for a similar outing in the league. This weekend he did play more passes than against Vale (45 against 37), but actually one fewer into the final third (nine this Saturday, ten at Vale Park). He played more passes into the penalty area (three against none) with more forward passes (18 this Saturday, ten against Vale). In terms of back passes, he played eight against Vale and nine against Plymouth.

So, the perception that Max upped his game isn’t actually accurate – he’s been in decent form in terms of passing most of the season. The actual uplift in his outing compared to Port Vale came in his winning of the ball and his end product – he entered into eight defensive duels, winning seven this weekend, but those numbers were three and one at Vale. He also had a shot assist, three dribbles (one successful) and contested seven offensive duels, winning three this weekend – against Vale, there was nothing in an attacking sense, bar one offensive duel. So, rather than it being a passing thing, Max added the icing to what is a solid passing game he’s shown all season.

The perception is that Lasse always wanted to pass backwards against Accrington, but that’s not correct. He played fewer backwards balls in that game than Max did in either – just four. He did play fewer forward passes, though; just ten against Accrington and only 50% accuracy, which is perhaps where his numbers fall down. It is interesting to see the numbers and how they stack up alongside the perception.

The Whole Team Played More Forward Passes


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The general consensus was that we played more forward balls in the game than usual. If that is the case, you’d have to argue it’s because Plymouth came to attack, although they do play 5-4-1, which I think we’re told by some isn’t an attacking formation (ok, I’ll cut out the smart remarks). We’re not looking at individual’s numbers here but the team as a collective. How did the passing match up to the Accrington encounter?

Firstly, we had to play more passes against Accrington than Plymouth –  a lot more. On Saturday, we played 279 passes with an accuracy of 68.46% – that’s against 387 at 74.42% against Stanley. In terms of forward passes, we actually played more against Accrington (146 against 116), although only 38% of our passes against Stanley were forward, whilst 42% against Plymouth went forward.

However, you might find it surprising to know we played more progressive passes to the final third against Stanley (a pass that’s not a long ball that advances play by 30m) and that in both games, our percentage of progressive passes was 16%. It is true we played fewer backward passes on Saturday, 35 compared to 55 against Accrington, but as a percentage of overall passes, the difference was marginal – (14.2% against Stanley, 12.5% against Plymouth). There was a shift, but not the huge shift many seem to think. The big difference was in lateral passes, effectively sideways – against Accrington, the number was 136, or 35%, whilst against Argyle, it was 69, just 24%. That is to be expected when you’re not having to go from side to side trying to break down two banks of four.

What this does prove is that the difference was very much in the opposition rather than specifically in our approach.


We Were a Tighter Passing Unit


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So, we’ve ascertained that our actual passing structure wasn’t significantly different, and the opposition perhaps dictated some of the numbers, but what of that is within our control? Were we any better at passing to red shirts than in the Stanley game? Firstly, the outright answer is actually ‘no’. Our pass accuracy against Plymouth was 68.46%, significantly less than 74.42 % recorded against John Coleman’s side. However, pass accuracy can be affected by things like the direction – sideways passes, on the whole, should arrive at the feet of a teammate.

So, did we play better forward passes? Again, the answer is no. Instead, we registered 57.76% against Plymouth and 59.59% against Stanley. However, we were a little more clinical with balls into key areas – passes to the final third was up on Saturday (48.94% to 42.19%), as was progressive pass accuracy (70.49% to 67.14%).

We did pass a little more concisely – our ‘average passes per possession’ was 2.21 on Saturday, whereas we played more passes when we had the ball ten days before – 3.17. We also cut down on long balls – our long pass percentage on Saturday was 15.02%, compared to 19.64% against Stanley.


Jamie Robson Finally Looked Like a Wing Back


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I’m disputing this before I’ve even done my numbers. In my assessment of August, you might recall how I talked about Jamie’s prowess going forward, his box entries and crosses, and yet for some reason, people didn’t see it. Jamie has been out of the team for a bit but has come back in and got rave reviews on Saturday – they were justified, but was he doing anything we haven’t already seen?

It’s hard to gauge because he hasn’t played an awful lot of football for us as a left wing back – in fact, he’s only completed two games in that position in the league, Accrington and Plymouth. Quite how that led people to ascertain he wasn’t a proper wing back before those games, I don’t know. Anyway, in both matches, he played exactly 37 passes, and he was more accurate against Plymouth – 73% against 62%. In both matches, he got crosses in, but the quality was better on Saturday – he attempted seven, hitting four. Against Accrignton, with less space in behind, he tried four, but not one landed.

He also attempted more dribbles this weekend – six with four successful, as opposed to just two with one successful against Accrington. He attempted, and won more offensive duels (seven with four won this weekend, six with one won ten days prior), although he did have more touches in the box against Accrington (three compared to one).

I think what we saw from one of my favourite players was him showing what he can do on the left side of the field when given a bit of license. He might not be contesting big balls in the air as Poole did, but his guile and pace will cause problems in the attacking third. I would dispute my own title – he didn’t finally look like a wing back, but perhaps was finally played there against the sort of team that leaves space, leading to him being much more present and visible as an attacking threat.

Top Performers


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I know you love some extra numbers, so I’ve collated a handful of other notable stats for you to finish on. Where I’ve noted ‘aerial duels per 90’ it’s how Wyscout works out performances over 90 minutes.

Regan Poole and Ben House contested more aerial duels per 90 than the rest of the team combined against Argyle.

Adam Jackson won 88.89% of his defensive duels (the most of anyone) and 71.43% of his aerial duels (tied first with Regan Poole).

Max Sanders played the most forward passes per ninety (tied with Joe Walsh) but had the best accuracy for those passes (77.78%)

Jack Diamond (5), Max Sanders (4), Regan Poole (3) and Ben House (3) all had as many shots individually as the whole team managed collectively against Charlton.

In The League So Far

Jamie Robson is still 15th in the division for crosses per 90 and is the sixth-best performer from the left flank. He is second in the whole division for interceptions per 90 minutes, only behind Derby’s Eiran Cashin. In short, he’s probably the most underrated player in our squad.

Jack Diamond is seventh in the division for 1v1 dribble attempted per game but 29th in success percentage. He is fourth for progressive runs per 90, runs which gain us 30m or more.

Sean Roughan is fifth for defensive duels contested in the division, whilst Jamie Robson (that man again) is 15th.

Paudie O’Connor is sixth in the division for aerial duels contested in his own penalty area, winning 52.94%