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Striker Analysis: Could A Bendtner Sized Hole Be Filled By Fletcher?

Nicklas Bendtner may have had a bigger impact than many realise.
Nicklas Bendtner may have had a bigger impact than many realise.

And so, the curtain comes down on our foray into the murky world of football statistics. Having built up from the back, it's only fitting that we end with the most coveted position in the game - striker.

45 goals in 38 league games is not the worst return, but Sunderland will look to improve on that figure next year. A goalless run that spanned almost the entirety of April was the most obvious sign of the Black Cats' profligacy but, in truth, the side struggled for goals for much of the season.

A tremendous run following the arrival of Martin O'Neill shielded some deeper problems - as Jonathan Wilson noted for The Guardian around that time - and the season was bookended by two fairly poor runs of scoring form.

To clarify, we will assess the contributions of five players who performed up front for Sunderland last season. Top scorer Nicklas Bendtner will obvious feature here, as fellow out-and-out strikers Fraizer Campbell, Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-Won.

For purposes of ease, we'll also consider Stephane Sessegnon as having played as a striker for the bulk of the campaign. His actual position much of the time was a more ambiguous one - inhabiting that vacuum of space in football referred to simply as "the hole" - thus rendering the diminutive frontman akin to an Italian trequartista. When Bendtner or another fellow front man was missing from the line-up, Sessegnon arguably acted as 'false nine', whereby he was a lone striker who regularly dropped deep into midfield. Either way, his contribution throughout was far more centred upon his job of creating and scoring goals, thus his analysis is justified here.

Let us start, then, with Nicklas Bendtner. The Dane was Sunderland's top scorer, managing 8 goals in his 25 appearances. 1 in 3 is not a bad ratio by any stretch of the imagination, with his 8 strikes coming from 62 attempts on goal. The lofty Arsenal man also offered 5 assists for the season, and his 73.8% pass success rate is not to be sniffed at, given that he spent much of his time on Wearside as the sole out-and-out striker on the pitch.

However, one would think a more accurate marksman is now required to fill the gap left by Bendtner's departure. 1 goal in every 8 shots isn't the greatest of returns, while he was caught offside a lofty 26 times - though this is of course symptomatic of a striker playing for a side that relies heavily on counter-attacks.

Steven Fletcher of Wolves, who has already been linked, seems the perfect fit. Fletcher weighed in with 12 goals last term, his passing success was only 2% down on Bendtner's and it was recently found (by EPL Index) that he is one of the best convertors of 'clear-cut chances' in England.

Moving back to the current crop of red and whites, player of the season Stephane Sessegnon also weighed in on the striking side of things. When deployed up front or in the aforementioned "hole" (something which happened for 26 games of the campaign), 'Sess' nabbed 4 goals and 5 assists.

Those 4 goals came from a lofty 57 efforts - which translates to a goal almost every 14 shots. This highlights perhaps the main reason why Sunderland look as if they're going to hold onto their star man through at least another transfer window. For all his brilliance, Sessegnon still struggles to consistently find the target.

That said, he makes up for it in other areas. His 81.3% passing success rate - including a hefty 52 key passes - is even more impressive when we consider that the vast majority of his 775 passes came in the opposing half. His 65 successful dribbles (47 while as a striker/trequartista) positioned him ninth in that respective Premier League table for the season - another linked target, David Hoilett, led the way with 88.

The other three frontmen were very much bit part players - but their statistics still make for some interesting reading. Frazier Campbell managed only 3 games whereby he was designated as up front, yet he managed to notch 2 goals. He also managed a few key passes, and with this summer hopefully set to be an injury-free one, don't be surprised to see Campbell deployed more often. He fits exactly what O'Neill likes in his attacking players: quick, relentlessly energetic, and possesses a keen eye for a killer pass on occasion.

Ji Dong-Won's stats actually show a fairly impressive season for the young Korean. Ignoring his dreadful miss at Blackburn, Ji nabbed 2 goals from just 11 attempts in his short time on the field this year, while his passing success rate of almost 84% easily beats any of his strike partners. However, he did find himself offside 5 times (Sessegnon was offside only 8 and played considerably more games, though obviously in a deeper role).

Connor Wickham had the most disappointing season, despite his bright start. One goal from 15 attempts gave him the worst strike ratio, while his passing success dropped below 70% - the only outfield player to do so. Of course, Wickham is only young and displayed sparks of potential prior to injuries derailing his season, so perhaps next year will be a better way to judge him.

Overall, none of the striking statistics for Sunderland are particularly impressive. The side this year was one built more toward defending first, attacking second - something which is born out in the rather meagre numbers given here.

With a few changes in personnel, this could feasibly change. Holding onto Sessegnon is a must, while the signing of the aforementioned Fletcher would be a step in the right direction (provided the fee is right, too). Away from him, it is probably best not to comment on any of the many unsubstantiated rumours that abound at this time of year. The Wolves frontman, though, would provide a more clinical alternative to the departing Bendtner, and in the process would likely be the perfect foil for Sessegnon to weave his magic alongside.

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