Thursday, 19 December 2013

Clinical finishing - was Billy right?

After the fans had gone home from another disappointing result at The City Ground, as I mentioned in my last article, Billy Davies claimed that there wasn't that much wrong, that our problems lay in one area alone; clinical finishing. I didn't agree 100%, so have been looking into this in more detail.

A major branch of Davies' argument was that Forest are creating chances, and if true, then logically it must lead us to the conclusion that the team and tactics are capable of getting the goals to win games. Anyone there against Ipswich will remember us creating these chances, but just how many do Forest create?

If we look at the amount of attempts on goal (see left), for all the teams in the division, we can see that The Garibaldi more than hold their own. Davies' side has been creative enough to have 290 attempts on goal so far this season - the 4th most in the league.

14.5 attempts on goal, on average, is more than enough to find the net - it tends to suggest at first glance that Forest are creative enough, that the system Billy sends onto the pitch is doing it's job - only one side do significantly better in this regard.

Let's not forget Forest's league position at the moment; we are 7th and only a point off the playoffs, so it seems strange that the manager is feeling the need to justify his tactics (which is exactly what Davies was doing post Ipswich - it was a statement; "I am doing my job". If the players can't score when Blly's system has them creating so many chances... perhaps they are to blame) - but there is certainly pressure on the Scot from some quarters.

And critics could certainly argue that just because Forest are creating 14.5 chances a game - it does not necessarily mean they are good chances. What kind of attempts on goal are The Reds making? Are they good chances resultant from a classy Forest side slicing open the opposition, or are they hopeful punts at goal - in my opinion we have seen our fair share of both.

Surely a more fitting way of judging your creative goal-scoring potential is to have a look at how many attempts the team is having on target. Forest have found the target an average of 5.1 times per game, which doesn't sound many until you consider that the best average in The Championship is 5.3 (Derby). The Garibaldi have had an attempt on target 101 times this season; the 4th best amount in total. 34.8% of Forest's attempts on goal have been on target this season - again, this is up there with the best.

Out if interest, I re-played the season so far, awarding a win to the team who had the most attempts on target in that game; a draw if they were equal - the results were interesting (see right). Under this system, Forest are right up there vying for automatic promotion in 3rd place.

In analysing this we have to be careful, but as a starting point it's good evidence that the chances Forest create are decent ones - if we are regularly having more chances on target than our opponents, there cannot be too much wrong.

What it says about the players having these chances is debatable - are they doing well to get the shot on target? Should they be doing enough to beat the keeper? More on this below.

Looking at the other teams is also interesting - look at Reading! Not only do they fail to create (they have the second worst amount of attempts per game in the league) but they also regularly have less attempts on target than their opponents - they are down in 22nd in our fictional On Target League. How then, in reality, are they above Forest, when Forest are so much more creative, and trouble goalkeepers more often? How? Because when they get the chance, Reading score.

We've followed a trail of attempts, and attempts on target - now we get to the goals. We know Forest can create, and when they get the chance they can hit the target - but what percentage of those attempts on target are counting?

Here we have finally unearthed the problem; Forest have, for a promotion-hunting side, a diabolical success rate in scoring, considering the amount of times they are making the keeper work. Only 28.7% of their shots on target go in - meaning that, to score the same amount of goals as promotion-rivals Reading, Forest have needed to hit the target an extra 25 times.

Forest are up near the top statistically in every test I ran - except the one that matters - actually making the net bulge. Is this the clinical finishing problem Billy alluded to? It's all very well hitting the target, but if it's easy for the goalkeeper, he's going to save it.

However, I don't believe it to be that simple; surely there has to be some element of luck involved here - take a closer look at the table, left. Do Millwall really possess the league's most clinical finishers? I think Liam Trotter is a good player, and I've long admired Jermaine Easter's effort... but really..?

I think this is another debatable, unprovable question - either players from Millwall, Derby, Leeds and Reading have suddenly turned into world-class finishers and are picking their spot like Roberto Baggio, while the Forest players are merely lashing it blindly towards goal, or there has been a lot of luck involved here.

I would also point to some of the goalkeeping displays Forest have come up against this season. I remember watching the Watford game end, happy that no other keeper could possibly play as well as Manuel Almunia did against us - but they have. Wayne Henessey pulled off another great performance helping Yeovil beat us. Turnbull, Gerken (see picture below, click to enlarge), Heaton, Gilks - they have all had above average games against The Reds. I would suggest that few teams have come up against so many goalkeepers in top form as Forest.

I set out to explore the comments of Billy Davies, that 90% of Forest's play was working well, and that it was solely down to clinical finishing, with the pre-conceived notion that I disagreed with him. From watching the last dozen or so games I judged (and probably still do) that there was plenty of other areas for improvement - but it's difficult to argue with Davies because if there's one thing these statistics prove it's that he's right in what he's saying; Forest create enough chances - therefore the system is working, as is the team in every area except one; clinical finishing.

More ambiguous is what this all says about those players missing the chances. They are not missing the target - they have hit the target over a hundred times this season - it's just that they have had to do so more times than their rivals. Should they be taking a steadier aim and picking out the top corner, leaving the goalkeeper no chance? Do you think Craig Bryson (8 league goals) at Derby is? No I don't either. I think he's just shambling them towards goal and they happen to go in. I don't think this kind of player, or many of the others playing for the more 'clinical' sides in The Championship, are any more clinical than the likes of Simon Cox or Darius Henderson. I think luck has played a huge role so far this season.

Unlucky or not, there have certainly been times when the players have not helped themselves. Several free-headers against Ipswich did not even threaten the keeper. We have missed penalty after penalty and blown many one-on-ones - the Forest players do need to be more clinical - but hopefully, together with my other articles of Forest's attacking merits, I've added to the debate as to whether our teeth are sharp enough coming forward.
Unlucky or wasteful? It's debatable. I think the only thing I've proven here is the one thing I wasn't expecting to; that Billy was right, that Forest are dong enough in everything except scoring. Thanks for reading - comments encouraged, especially if you disagree. COYR!


  1. always a good read and agree with what you are saying

    1. Cheers buddy, thanks for reading and taking time to comment.

  2. Love this article!
    Great insight and backed up with some top stats.
    After seeing the doco of Billy at home crunching statistics and rewatching trainings, games and going over every fine detail, I know he is one of the most in-depth managers in the championship and the majority of what he says will be backed up somewhere by stats or proof.

    Keep the posts coming!!

    Heath Moore

    1. Thanks Heath. I'm a fan of Billy on the whole (sometimes I re-read and think I sound over-critical, but I'm only going over what I think occurred and why, as Forest are not perfect it's perhaps a bit too easy for me to spout off about this or that) but I started this article thinking it would show how he was wrong that it's just the 'clinical finishing' holding us back - but I didn't really think I found evidence for this; at least it shows I don't start articles with a bias, or trying to win an argument, because my findings showed he's about right and I was wrong (ish)- the bare facts suggest so anyway. What he's saying is pretty impossible to argue against, considering these stats (facts).

      Thanks for taking the time to reply pal.

  3. Good read (very good). What do you make of McClaren's efforts at Derby given the problems he had at Forest?

    1. Thanks for saying so! Derby; I've been doing my best to ignore them. It would be foolish to comment because I've not seen them play since the Forest game, apart from The Football League Show, but since it wouldn't be the first foolish thing I've done, I'll say that I expect them to crash & burn when he gets his own players in, because I don't think he spends wisely. But crashing and burning for them might still end up in the lower playoff positions, considering their form. I thought they were playing quite well when they sacked Clough Jr., it's a shame (from their point of view) they couldn't do it for him, hopefully for the sake of their professionalism it's not a motivational issue.

      Here's hoping they give McClaren all their cash to spend - do you think he'd be interested in Miller, Derbyshire & Greening?

  4. Good article boffin. Have you thought about drilling down further into the Forest team stats? It might point to us having certain weak or strong points from the finishing point of view. I think I read somewhere for example, that Hendo has a better minutes per goal ratio than Austin at QPR. So does that make Hendo better than Austin or is Austin taking 1 chance from every 2 whereas Hendo needs 6 attempts (but is provided with them)? For me that would be interesting as I do think we've missed a lot of chances this season though I've not seen every game.

  5. Cheers for reading mate! I'd love to get further into these stats but don't have access to OPTA, and they don't tend to be very helpful unless you're an established journalist or famous player for one off help (in my experience - I have asked once or twice after seeing them help others). If I had access to OPTA I think you'd see some very interesting stuff on here.

    I think the minute per goal thing is useful anyway, because it shows the scoring rate in the player's team, and brings into play that player's role in the team - ie I don't think Rhodes for example, would score as many in the Forest team/system because he'd be out on the wing a lot more. From purely a 'finishing' point of view, it would be interesting to see the stat on attempts/goal for individual players though. I think my stat is more illustrative - but I would wouldn't I? IMO it shows their threat in the team - there's more to scoring a goal than the last kick towards goal anyway.

    I should think, purely on this attempts/goal ratio, that Austin has a higher percentage than Henderson for example.

    Also though - how difficult are these chances? We could get into some serious depth to be fair, if we had access to certain data.

    1. Hi Boffin,

      I have read a number of your most recent posts, some very insightful points made and backed up to boot! Makes a refreshing change to the persistent drivel churned over on some of the football forums.

      I live in the South and only manage a few home games and a handful of away games a season, so rely on streams when available and match reports. Thankfully I can now look forward to your insights from the games you attend. I was able to watch the QPR game as home for Christmas, I must say probably the best I have seen us play, although still a lot of room for improvement.

      I felt Halford did a fantastic job in holding up the long balls, but his striking let him down on a number of occasions, would Cox or Henderson have done any better? This article says probably not!

      Abdoun seems to have finally clicked with the team. He has been criticised heavily over past few weeks due to errant passing or overly 'pretty' football, personally I feel he just needed a bit of pitch time with the rest of the squad and this has happened over the past 3 games. Hopefully not a flash in the pan.

      For me MOTM must be Mackie, best I have seen him play, you cannot fault his tenacity, and it was ten fld againat his old club. Made all the sweeter by the QPR fan I was sitting next to who had been berating Mackie in the week preceding the game. In nearly every game I have seen him play he has been like a Pitbull, running constantly, keeping the ball moving and having a 'never say die attitude' which has gotten us a few goals this season. Unfortunately he has also had his fair share of missed chances and as with anything in life the negatives are always remembered over the positives. Fans are are a fickle bunch at the best of times!

      Even though I thought we played well, there were far too many occasions of us wanting to break but the front man was alone or no front man present at all. It seemed too pedestrian at times, I'm all for building play from the back, but we don't seem to take advantage of the counter. Instead we hold up the ball lay it back, let their defence settle and then attack them.

      I appreciate this is a 'Billy style set-up' and is probably one of the main reasons we have stopped leaking goals but it does hinder our goalscoring.

      This surely has to be another factor adding to the reason we have efforts on goal but struggle to score, we wait until they have a full complement at the back and try to drive it through them, more often than not it loses pace bouncing like a pin ball through their defence or deflected completely wide.

      Not quite as eloquent as your master deconstructions but you get the gist!

      Keep up the good work


    2. Hi Ash, I'm pleased you enjoy reading, cheers for taking the time to make such a detailed, and cogent reply. Thanks for also noticing that I like to (or try to) back my statements up - Forest in particular are so well served by opinion pieces on the net, I do deliberately try to use facts and information, even if it goes against my own opinion - as this one did.

      The qpR game is probably my favourite performance of the season - or perhaps the 2nd best behind the Watford draw away where I think we got everything right just about. This was a very threatening QPR team who we held at bay very well, and also could have scored 6 or 7 to be fair. Halford did a good job, if only he could finish as you say - would Coxy have scored those two chances in the first half for example..? I'm not commenting on that haha.

      Abdoun was awesome in the first half, well done to him - I've not been convinced at all but I can't complain at all - 2 assists as well. He needs to keep this up and he'll have changed my mind - big game today (Leeds), we'll see how he and Halford do.

      I think we know how Mackie will do today though, because as you suggest he's always there putting a good shift in and making things difficult, even when we don't have the ball. This is why QPR struggled so much; because JM & GH in particular were harassing them deep in their own half, they couldn't keep possession - just could not get going and it sapped their confidence on the ball even further. All credit to Billy for spotting this weakness in their defenders - it was a risky tactic as it allowed more space for their midfielders - who proved themselves dangerous when they did get the ball.

      Thanks for the comment will be pleased to hear from you again the next time you are able to get up.

  6. So the this ends in the age old problem - we need to buy a lucky striker.

    1. Yes mate; or Pele - who I think could still do us a job.

      Thanks for taking the time to read.