Thursday, 12 December 2013

Stat Attack: The strikers (again).

A recurring bone of contention since Billy Davies returned to Forest has been anxiety over the quality of our strikers; you will often hear fans musing that what Forest need is a 20 goal a season goal-scorer – it is apparent that Davies himself has been attempting to bring such a player in.

Simon Cox in particular has been under pressure concerning the amount of goals he scores at Forest – and at first glance, neither he nor Henderson (Forest’s only two real options up front) score enough goals – they are on 5 goals each after 19 league games – in comparison, Ross McCormack has netted 15 already for Leeds United.

However, McCormack has been on the pitch for each one of the 1811 minutes of Leeds’ season so far. As far as goals scored are concerned, a fairer reflection is gained when we ask how long does it take, on average, a player to score a goal when they are on the pitch?

Looking at the stats for The Championship’s forwards, McCormack still has the best goal-scoring record – however when we compare the Forest attackers with the rest of the division, it begins to explode the myth that they are below par goal-scorers. In total, 67 forwards have played 500 or more minutes of league football (I have excluded players such as Jamie Mackie, and the likes of Josh King at Blackburn for example, who are often labelled as forwards but have been played in midfield roles) – Simon Cox has scored the 14th most regularly out of 67 – Darius Henderson has done even better, coming in at 11th best.

It is tempting to imagine how lethal Forest would be with an out and out goal-scorer in the team – fans salivate at the thought of Jordan Rhodes or Charlie Austin in the side, but the fact is that, taking into account the time they have spent on the pitch, Henderson has scored just as often as Rhodes, and both he and Cox have scored more often that Austin.

This is not to take anything away from Rhodes or Austin – they are both superior goal-scorers to our two players, however neither add as much to their team's general game-play – this is fine if they are banging in loads more goals to make up for it, but as the stats prove, they are not. Anybody lusting to have such out and out goal-poachers instead of Cox or Henderson, should be very cautious and ask whether, with such luxury players in the side, Forest would be creating the chances in the first place.

We also need to take into account the regularity that a striker gets games. You will often hear professionals claim that players – and strikers in particular – need a run of games to get into their stride. For the first time this season Simon Cox has started more than three games in a row, during this streak he has started scoring goals – coincidence?

A more detailed examination reveals that Forest’s forwards have not been enjoying as many extended runs in their team, as compared with the other players in our league of top strikers. The players in our top 20 (including the Forest pair) have made 265 starts between them; 88.7% of these starts have come as part of an extended run of 4 or more games. In comparison, only 50% of Cox and Henderson’s starts have come as part of this extended run in the team – the other half of their games have come in dribs and drabs.

Looking at when each striker has been scoring their goals, the overwhelming majority of goals have come when they have been in these extended run of games – in fact the only players who have been able to buck the trend have been Henderson, substitute king Adam Le Fondre and Matt Smith (Leeds United).

The disjointed appearances of Cox and Henderson, although not necessarily bad for the team, cannot fail to damage their own personal goal tallies.

But there is yet another mitigation factor to consider; the amount of goals scored by Forest’s midfielders. The Garibaldi have a real goal-threat from deeper in their team, with Henri Lansbury and Andy Reid being especially dangerous from deep areas of the pitch. If Forest’s midfielders are scoring goal after goal, there is consequently less goals to go around the strikers – once a team scores they often adjust their mentality accordingly. When Lansbury knocks in a rocket from 30 yards to get the goal Forest crave, they will automatically take their foot off the gas to take less risks and will create less chances.

Tactical matters make it even more difficult for the strikers to score regularly. Anybody who has watched Forest will know the way they attack tends to spread the chances around the team more than, say, a counter-attacking team or a more direct team would. Forest under Billy Davies are a possession-hording team when playing in their element, they like to set up camp in the opposition half and will begin to do so by keeping possession in wide areas – but since they have often had little width in the midfield the forwards have been asked to get out wide and help keep the ball. Cox in particular is adept at spinning off to either flank and linking up with other players, holding the ball until the second wave of attack arrives – this naturally requires Cox et al to run away from the area of the pitch where they are more likely to score (see diagrams, left, and below. Click to enlarge).

These tactics, as well as the midfielder’s eye for goal, have resulted in a significant goal-threat from those playing behind the strikers – indeed, no team in The Championship have scored more goals from the midfield. Leeds have forwards occupying number 1 and 3 positions in our table of goal-scorers above – their midfielders have managed only 5 goals, compared to the 13 scored by Reid & Co. at Forest.

All this goes towards showing that Forest’s strikers score plenty of goals when you take everything into consideration – but it does not show what else they’re doing for the team. I’ve touched on the way they help build up play by helping keep possession in the opposition’s half, and could write another two lengthy articles showing the technicalities of how Cox and Henderson do this – there isn’t room here. But how effective are they in helping the team overall? Even discounting their goals, what effect do they have on the team?

Cox is one of Forest’s more creative players and it is reflected in his stats. Aside from Raddy Majewski, Forest score significantly more often with him on the pitch than any other player; goals fly in 7 minutes faster with the Irishman on the pitch than the team average (see stats, left). This is doubtless down to his ability to keep the ball in dangerous areas and create for others – he gets more than his fair share of assists too.

Henderson does not have this positive effect on goals scored overall (but nor does he have a negative effect) – the interesting thing with him is that he has such a positive effect of the amount of goals we concede – with him on the pitch this season, Forest have been 18% less likely to let in a goal. The Red's have let in a goal, on average, around every 82 minutes of play – with Henderson on the pitch this amount drops to a goal every 101 minutes. Over a theoretical season (i.e. if Henderson had the same effect while playing every minute of Forest's season), this difference is worth almost ten goals.

This effect on Forest’s defensive capabilities is certainly down to the outlet which Henderson provides. He is strong and fights for the ball – when under pressure, with Henderson on the pitch they can clear their lines and the ball isn’t forced to come straight back because he’s good at holding it up.

These snippets are just a casual glance at how Cox and Henderson have a positive effect without scoring goals - there is more to their game than merely a goal threat. They are team players and do things the likes of Rhodes or Austin don't, players who will always score more regularly, but not that much more regularly as make up for the good work that Cox and Henderson do aside from scoring. Our strikers help the team in other ways, but as I've shown above, their lack of goals has been exaggerated.

In fact, over a theoretical season, if they continued scoring at the same rate, and played the whole of a season – as many of their rivals will – Henderson would score 26 goals and Cox 24 goals (see right). If they were allowed a run in the side, which they have not been allowed so far, this return would be likely to rise even further. “Twenty goal a season” striker? We have two in the side already.

I realise the theoretical season statistic isn't exactly an exact, scientific perfection, however it does go some way to highlight how regularly they are actually scoring.

The fact is, both Simon Cox, and Darius Henderson, are scoring plenty of goals - and would score even more if given a run in the side, and even more still if Forest's tactics let them off the leash - that's not a dig at Billy's system (I like how Forest try to play), merely an observation of how it effects the goal-tallies of these two players in particular.

I would suggest Forest could do with bringing someone else in – but only as cover and competition for Henderson and Cox. In my opinion they form a vital part of a side which is already scoring enough goals to get promotion – they deserve more credit than they get, and given the chance, are good enough to fire Forest into The Premier League.

Agree or disagree? You can comment below, or at City Ground Faithful forum, here. Thanks for reading, come on Coxy & Hendo; continue to prove me right, and COYR!


  1. A quality analysis once again Boff.

    Thanks for the great service that you provide to Forest fans. :thumbsup:

  2. Oh Timmy that's very nice of you to say, cheers pal - hope you have a great weekend.

  3. Superb work as usual. Not sure what your day job is, but you could work into a job into the media with you analysis. Or even join Forest's backroom team!

  4. Cheers Paul. I'd love a job writing - this is all for regular practice after all. If Forest's backroom staff want a teaboy I'm cheap as chips (literally - that's all I want; some chips) but I'm sure they're much more detailed than what I go into on here. Thanks though, encouraging people like you and Tim make the blog worthwhile.