Saturday, 15 February 2014

Player under the Microscope: Darius Henderson

Ask Forest fans what has been missing this season – even ask the manager – and sooner than later the phrase “clinical finishing” will be mentioned. It would be easy to conclude that The Reds’ strike force of Simon Cox and Darius Henderson had been sub-standard; this has not been the case.
 
Hendo has been one of the best target men at this level for a while now. It is unusual for this type of player to score too many goals, but that isn’t what they are generally there to do. Henderson is most influential when providing an outlet, receiving the ball when Forest attempt to come forward.
 
Direct play isn’t generally the Billy Davies way; he likes the ball played to feet and to build up possession gradually. The forward’s role in this is often to pull out into space – typically onto the wing - and help establish a foothold in enemy territory (which is why Simon Cox and Jamie Mackie are so admired by Davies).
 
But our manager is canny enough to realise that his ball-hogging tactic can’t always work, and has equipped the squad with a variety of forwards capable of playing different roles; Henderson is his option for when Forest are having trouble retaining the ball in the opposition half. He uses his strength and is particularly good at receiving the ball in the air, and although inconsistent, on his day he can be extremely effective with the ball played to feet.
 
Henderson is so good at this aspect of play, that at this level he can completely change a game. Good examples of this were the home game against Middlesbrough, and in particular the 3-2 loss against Reading. Although defeated, Forest's recovery against The Royals was impressive, and largely due to Henderson's influence. He linked up threateningly with Simon Cox, but most significantly his presence unsettled a defence which up until half-time had been pressing forward causing problems for Forest's midfielders.
 
Davies has made good use of Henderson’s ability to bring something different to a game; 15 of his 22 appearances have been as a substitute, and it has been very effective. After his introduction, Forest’s situation has improved 6 times, worsening only once (see chart, right).
 
This effect is all down to being able to keep the ball – the more you’re able to do so in your opponents half, the less pressure your defence will be under, and the less goals you will concede. This season, we have let in goals over 20 minutes slower with Henderson on the pitch, as opposed to when he’s not been present (see stats, above).
 
But, I hear you say, isn’t a ‘strikers’ main task to hit the net? In some cases yes – but this is a wildly simplistic assertion. It’s dependent on a player's role (as I have discussed in detail here, here and here), but it’s certainly useful for any front-man to be able to score. How does Henderson do?
 
Taking into account length of time on the pitch, Henderson is the third most ‘lethal striker’ currently playing in The Championship, and has the fourth best record overall (see table, right). Only Adam le Fondre, Ross McCormack and Connor Wickham (now no longer a Championship player) have scored more regularly in this regard, Henderson has scored, on average, every 141.7 minutes. To put this in perspective, in the unlikely event of Darius keeping this up while playing an entire theoretical season, this form would see him net 30.8 times.

The statistics are even kinder when you take into account the manner of those precious minutes on the pitch. We hear time after time the importance of strikers playing regularly in order to settle into a team – consecutive starts are a huge advantage; Ross McCormack has started every league game for Leeds this season, he was less effective for Cardiff when he was only able to play sporadically - this is no coincidence.
 
Of the 20 top strikers in the league, Henderson fares the worst in terms of regular game-time, in fact he has only started a maximum of 4 games in a row. This seems to be a feature of Billy Davies’ tactical thinking, he is inclined to chop and change depending on the situation, and while his methods are proven to work (only 2 teams have scored more goals in The Championship than Forest at the time of writing), it cannot be easy for his strikers to build up any kind of rhythm.
 
I’m not suggesting that Darius Henderson is some kind of Pele-esque goal-machine – we have all seen instances where he has lacked composure in front of goal, but the fact is his strike-rate compares favourably with his contemporaries. 64 other forwards have played 700 minutes of Championship football this season, 61 of them are behind big Darius in average time taken to score.
 
Personally I would expect this statistic to fade slightly if Henderson were allotted more starts; it is my belief that he is being abetted by a manager who knows just how and when to use him. He is introduced cleverly, when his skills will be at their most effective. Nevertheless, this is only a theory and you can’t take anything away from Henderson, he is a significant goal-threat.
 
And he can certainly finish – anyone doubting this, or under the belief that he is technically poor should watch the goal he scored during our victory at Brighton. Technique, awareness, hunger, composure, clinical finishing – he displayed it all.
 
Perhaps the only drawback to this player is that he’s not the man for every occasion, that certain brands of football do not play to his strengths – and indeed the last three times Henderson has played over 45 minutes all have one thing in common: Forest lost. But my opinion is, and the facts back this up, that this says more about The Reds’ style of play under Davies than Henderson’s ability.
 
Used correctly – something Billy knows how to do – Darius Henderson is an extremely influential player at this level. His skills help Forest score more often (on average 12.8 minutes faster with him on the pitch so far this season), concede less often, and he also weighs in with an impressive amount of goals for a target-man (he is by far the most prolific of this type of player in Forest's recent history, see chart, left), and considering the lack of regular football.
 
Henderson is an invaluable tool in the armoury of Billy Davies – often 'plan B', he would breeze into the majority of sides in The Championship.
 
Thanks for reading, and COYR!

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