Sunday, 26 May 2013

Player analysis: Simon Cox

Few players at Forest have proven so divisive as our Irish International Simon Cox. A toothless predator, or the trigger for a successful hunt? Cox has been involved at every stage this season, and win or lose, he has been an important figure.
Cox's detractors have pointed to a poor goal-scoring return from the Irishman (see his stats, right. They are enlargeable if clicked). His arrival, although slightly overshadowed by that of Billy Sharp, was highly anticipated, and five goals does seem low for a player of his reputation - a player who has himself stated his personal dissatisfaction with this. To iterate this further, Cox only scored, on average, one goal every 598.2 minutes he was on the pitch - roughly one every six and a half full games.

So if goals aren't what Cox brings to the team (from his own boots at least), what does he do for Forest? His tireless work rate is probably the most touted of his abilities amongst Trickies - something that will naturally gain the respect of most fans - but hard work shouldn't be, and isn't, enough to keep you in a team of Forest's stature.

One aspect of Cox's game which has ensured he has been one of the first names on Billy Davies' team-sheet (and probably the previous managers as well) is his intelligent movement off the ball. Cox has the ability to cause defenders a headache without the ball being anywhere near him. It is a defender's job to pick up the run of the strikers and ensure they don't find themselves in space with the ball - with this knowledge a striker can manipulate the position of those defenders - a point which has been argued to death on this blog. Cox is one of the better players we've seen at this level for doing this.

Upon arrival Billy Davies had a conundrum to solve: how to get Forest attacking efficiently without any real width in the side. He solved this more effectively than O'Driscoll and McLeish by using the forwards to provide a little width through their clever movement (see clickable diagram, above-left), and to create space for the second wave of attack - this was initially highly successful and resulted in a glut of goals for the late arriving midfielders such as Majewski, McGugan and Lansbury.

But it takes the right kind of player to be able to effectively do this kind of job - it's not merely a case of running out wide, the player must be mobile enough to do this, but more importantly have the technical skill to be able to retain the ball in these areas, and the intelligence to be able to use it when the time comes. Cox has been so important to Billy's diamond formation because he's mobile, good with the ball at his feet, and quick-thinking.

It's useful to have a closer look at the specific movement Cox is good at. Forest have been at their most dangerous when Andy Reid has found space with the ball in midfield. This is also when Cox is as his most troublesome for defenders, but it's the way he does it which is interesting. We at Forest Boffin liken Cox to Jermaine Defoe, in that his runs are often for the benefit of others - at least that's how it usually turns out. Instead of running into a position in which he is likely to score, he often runs where it will cause the most problems to a defence as a whole (see diagram, right). Defenders at this level find this confusing and often allow themselves to be pulled out of shape, which leaves them vulnerable to other players finding space. The runs made by Cox either allow him to get the ball in space, or create space for someone else to exploit.

A good example of Cox's movement bamboozling defenders was Raddy Majewski's goal at Charlton. Cox had a very impressive game throughout, and both goals came in part from his runs inside the left-back, but the Majewski goal proves the difficult decisions he gives to defenders result in goals without him even touching the ball. Obviously Raddy had a lot to do upon receiving the ball, but Cox effectively removed the covering defender Leon Cort, leaving only one player for Raddy to beat (see diagram, left).

Cox is always making himself available for the ball, and his awkward runs put pressure on defenders and force them into making decisions. The strikers under Davies have all been good at making space for the second wave of attack to exploit - they are clearly being instructed to play in this manner. Billy himself has remarked that they don't get as many goals as they could because of the system (see previous Forest Boffin articles on this subject here and here.)

Simon Cox is, in short, a workman-like team player, good with the ball and able shrewd enough to make the runs needed to get the ball, or at least hurt the opposition. But some would argue this isn't enough, that a striker's main job is to score goals. Forest Boffin would argue that as long as someone is scoring the goals, it doesn't matter who - the only questions should be are the team scoring enough goals, and is a player making a contribution towards this.

Under Billy Davies Forest have been scoring enough goals to pick up 1.73 points per game on average. This haul of points would have been enough for automatic promotion (if sustained over a season of course). It is difficult to argue, at least under Davies, that Forest were not scoring enough goals. But was Cox contributing to this?

Statistical analysis confirms that Cox does tend to have a positive effect of Forest's 'goals scored' column. Comparison of goals scored with Cox on the pitch and without him overwhelmingly suggest he is important if Forest are to score: last season it took Forest, on average, over an hour longer to score a goal if he wasn't in the team (see right).

Cox's effect on goals scored is bettered only by Raddy Majewski. Forest scored on average around every 69 minutes, however remove Cox and this drops to a goal every 125 minutes. It is also useful to compare stats with top scorer Billy Sharp (see left). Both have enjoyed a similar amount of game time but Sharp has scored twice as many goals. However, while Sharp has been the more dangerous goal-scorer, Cox has been of more benefit to the team statistically - this could be interpreted as proof of what has been said above - that Cox helps the team through his movement, work-rate, ability to find and create space, and the assertion that he is a team player.

Statistically speaking, Cox has been the second most beneficial player for Forest this season. Stats aren't everything, however there is a difference between stats and results - The Reds' results have improved when Cox has been in the team, from watching him closely, this is no surprise to Forest Boffin. His assists statistics are also impressive. The Football league has him at number 10 in the list of most assists for The Championship - more proof that his industry is great for the team.

In conclusion, goal-scoring is the only thing this player hasn't done enough of at Forest - however this is probably due to the style of play we have been employing. He has sacrificed this aspect of his game, whether as his own behest, or more likely under instructions of the managers who knew what else he could offer, and has become more than a striker, he is a team player. We have seen flashes of what he can do to make the onion-bag bulge (see his magnificent goal against Birmingham), but he has proven more useful at creating for the team, which is why Forest Boffin endorses Simon Cox's first season at The City Ground as a resounding success.

Hopefully Coxy won't be under too much pressure to change his game next season, because he's contributing already, and thanks for reading. COYR!
 
Also, thanks for statistical reassurance from www.statbunker.com (brilliant site, used for help on assists & starts), and www.football-league.co.uk .

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for this! I really enjoy these in-depth analyses of player performances.

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  2. Cheers bud, makes it worthwhile.

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  3. Yep, excellent pieces on Cox and Raddy. Much appreciated. Did you have something planned on the defence (maybe partnerships or similar?), or have you decided against it?

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  4. I do actually, have got 5 or 6 in the pipeline. Because the defence is a bit more complicated I wanted to have another look at some games - there's potential for a really in depth & interesting look at them but it'll require more work. Will get around to it just didn't want to merely skim the surface.

    Thanks for reading, I appreciate your kind comments (and any unkind ones will be put to use too). Cheers.

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  5. Brilliant again mate very good read.

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  6. Great analysis again. Always rated coxy as a team player. I think it's also worth noting how close he came to scoring during that unbeaten run after BD's return; i seem to remember he was routinely denied by either impressive goalkeeping or the woodwork whenever he was able to get a shot away.

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    1. Cheers for the comment pal, yes he has been a bit unlucky in front of goal. Although as pointed out in the article, Cox doesn't get the chances he might in another system, I think it has been a bit of a freak that he failed to score for so long. We've all seen that he can be a real goal threat. It would appear Billy will play a different system next season - will be interesting to see how Cox does with more crosses and through-balls. I'm hoping he will prove what I've said above somewhat. Thanks again.

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