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The Stat Man: Sunderland - best defence in League One?! Seriously....

Sunderland have the best defence in League One, apparently. Not even joking... take a look at what The Stat Man has to say!

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

Not only did Sunderland achieve a long overdue victory away to Doncaster at the weekend, they also achieved something even more remarkable.

Those results meant that, under the management of Phil Parkinson, we have the best defence in League One.


This is illustrated in the tables below:

The new man has taken a team that was, under Jack Ross:

  • giving away 3.55 shots on target per game;
  • saving only 64% of those; and
  • conceding 1.27 goals per game.

And turned them into a team that is:

  • giving away 3.20 shots on target per game;
  • saving 75% of those; and
  • conceding 0.80 goals per game.

Sunderland have, as a result, gone from being a lower mid table team defensively, to being the best in League One.

For all the results clearly have not been good enough, it’s only when you look beyond the points per game average that you begin to see that there is, in fact, hope amid all the despair.

Results have been poor. So poor that we are in relegation form and, but for the fact that Southend, Tranmere and MK Dons are awful and Bolton have a points deduction, I might be a little worried about spending a first season in League Two. That won’t happen but it doesn’t mean that the rest of the current season won’t be bumpy, especially if the situation illustrated in the attacking tables below is not addressed.

For all the excellent work Parkinson has done defensively, the inescapable and uncomfortable fact is that results, in general, are appalling. This is because we are:

  • getting only 3.60 shots on target per game;
  • scoring from only 31% of those shots on target; and
  • averaging only 1.10 goals per game.

As the tables illustrate, this is the kind of form that puts you in such illustrious company as Bolton and MK Dons.

It would seem Parkinson is attempting to improve us from the back forward - neither surprising nor unique. This makes sense. Stop conceding, try to keep clean sheets and hope to grab a goal or two at the other end. Then address the attacking shortcomings in the next transfer window.

I saw a lot of negative reaction to the starting lineup on Twitter when the teams were announced for the game against Doncaster. Plenty - me included - feared it was another defensive minded ‘five at the back with two defensive midfielders’ formation. But, as is demonstrated in the average positions image below, it was much more a 3-4-3 with Hume and O’Nien playing high energy roles as wing-backs. Thus effectively allowing 3-4-3 in possession to become 5-2-2-1 when defending.


This approach from Parkinson resulted in Sunderland getting five shots on target in the game to Doncaster’s three. Referring back to the defensive and attacking tables above, note that the best defending teams give away three shots on target on average. The best attacking teams get five shots on target (or more). If the five for and three against outcome can be maintained, or preferably bettered, in the coming weeks, there is every reason to be hopeful that results will improve.

If I was in control of recruitment in January, I would be looking to bring in a better finisher to play the lone striker role (sorry Charlie) and a strong and fast central midfielder who is capable of breaking forward as well as covering the defensive three/five.

There is, rightly, much doom and gloom around Sunderland at the moment. Results and the decisions made by Stewart Donald since May have brought us here. With the recent public acknowledgement that the owner is actively trying to sell the club, we can expect Phil Parkinson to be secure in his job, at least until there is a change. We can also expect investment in the squad to be minimal (it would have been regardless of the public acknowledgement of the owner’s desire to leave).

So there will be no new manager to appease the fans. Nor will there be a sudden increase in investment in the first team. There will be more loans and frees. But perhaps, given what I have laid out above, there will also be hope.

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