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The Stat Man: Have Sunderland really been performing all that badly since Parkinson took over?

“The appointment of Phil Parkinson has been an unmitigated disaster to date and all the doubters have quickly been proven correct, right? Well, maybe not...” says Steve Tiltman.

Sunderland v Southend United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

On the surface, there’s not much, if anything, good to say about Sunderland AFC at the moment. Even the most optimistic of fans are having the last remnants of faith and hope sucked out of them - and with a run of results since Parkinson took over that reads L-W-L-L-W-L-D-L-L, you can’t accuse any fan of whining unnecessarily.

If those were all league games (they weren’t) that would be a points per game average of 0.78. That is, without a doubt, relegation form. Filtering out the cup games and looking only at the league results, Parkinson’s two wins and two losses give a points per game total of 1.5. Not promotion form by any means, but not too bad either.

If you’ve read my ramblings previously, you will know that I like to judge what is really happening in the league by means other than the traditional league table.

By doing that, I’m able to reveal otherwise invisible trends and unsustainable outlier performances, such as my prediction from several weeks ago that the performance of Ipswich’s keeper was beyond anything he could be reasonably expected to maintain, and they would ‘come back to the pack soon enough’.

Put simply, if a team wants to be promoted, it needs to be positioned at the top right of this chart. That means the team in question are creating plenty of chances.

Peterborough have been over-performing, not only in terms of the number of chances they’ve been creating, but also in the number of those chances they’ve been putting away. I would expect to see The Posh settle back to more reasonable and sustainable levels of performance in the coming weeks. In fact, we’re already seeing some signs that their annual descent out of the play off places might have begun.

Other teams worthy of comment are Doncaster, who currently sit 12th in League One but are in fine attacking form; Oxford, who are scoring a good proportion of their chances; and Portsmouth, who despite having a poor start to the season, are creating a good number of chances.

What of Sunderland? Unremarkable is the word. Creating an average of 3.6 shots on target per game is not going to get you promoted. Nor is scoring an average of less than 1.5 goals per game likely to bring a spot in the top two.

But the data this attacking effectiveness plot visualises covers the reigns of both Jack Ross and Phil Parkinson. All fifteen league games. Of course, it’s early days and drawing comparisons isn’t strictly fair because the teams played haven’t been the same between the two managers and one had far more games than the other.

That said, I’m not writing a PhD thesis here so let’s compare the attacking performance stats of the two managers, and ignore the other variables.

Not great. We were already a pretty poor attacking team under Ross and we got worse. Not by a whole lot, but still worse. Had it not been for the exceptional performance against an appallingly bad Tranmere, this comparison would be even less favourable for Parkinson.

With January fast approaching and an adequate transfer budget apparently being made available, I would imagine a manager with Parkinson’s years of experience will know he needs to address this major attacking deficiency.

It’s fine to criticise our strikers for making a mess of the chances they get far too often, but it should be kept in mind that we’re not creating anything like enough opportunities for any of them. I predict Parkinson will do transfer business that allows his team to get the ball into the box quickly and often. Two things that have been woefully lacking for the last two seasons.

Now let’s turn our attention to the defensive effectiveness plot for League One.

When it comes to defensive effectiveness, it’s better to occupy a position in the bottom left of the plot. A position in that location means a team is not giving away many goal scoring opportunities to the opposition. Nor is that team conceding many.

Ipswich are the best performers and it will be a surprise to no one, that Bolton and Southend are the worst performers over the season so far.

Observe, if you will, the names of the teams which occupy a place in the red relegation ellipse. Do you know what they all have in common? Fun fact - Sunderland have beaten them all this season. What is not fun, however, is that - with the exception of Portsmouth - Sunderland have failed to beat any teams not located in the relegation ellipse. That’s going to be a problem if we want to achieve automatic promotion.

Just as we did with the attacking effectiveness data, let’s separate Jack Ross and Phil Parkinson to see what we can learn.

The best charts speak for themselves... but that wouldn’t make for a good article so I’ll say more. Jack Ross’ Sunderland were giving away 3.55 shots on target per game to the opposition and conceding an average of 1.27 goals per game.

Admittedly, four league games is a small sample, and two of those games were against Southend and Tranmere, but Parkinson’s Sunderland have given away 2.75 shots on target per game and conceded an average of 0.5 goals per game. That level of performance makes us the best defensive team in League One. Not even the defensive machine that are Ipswich can match that level of performance.

I know what you’re thinking - ‘you can’t ignore the cup games, we’ve been awful’. Yes, we have been awful, but if I include those games in the calculation, I get an average of 2.29 shots on target per game. Cut out the goalkeeping calamities and red cards and you have some very good defensive performances, including the cup games.

So, has the appointment of Phil Parkinson been an unmitigated disaster? I’ll leave the reader to draw their own conclusions; but I would suggest that we look in great shape defensively since he took over. The attacking side of our game, however, is relegation worthy and that must be quickly and effectively addressed early in January if we are to have any hope of turning the season around.

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