With the arrival of Kyle Lafferty and the rumoured impending arrival of Liam Boyce from Burton Albion, Sunderland might have no less than eight ‘forwards’ at their disposal. Of course it is likely that one or two will be gone before the January window closes, but that hasn’t stopped me having a little bit of nerdy fun by using data to compare their strengths and weaknesses with the aim of ranking them from best to worst.
Join me as I examine some aspects of the performance of Liam Boyce, Lynden Gooch, Will Grigg, Kyle Lafferty, Chris Maguire, Marc McNulty and Duncan Watmore this season so far.
Shooting and Goals
If you don’t shoot then you don’t score. How often are the forwards having a go at putting the ball in the net?
The chart shows the average number of minutes between the player having a shot at goal. Liam Boyce comes out on top with only 32 minutes between attempts at scoring but Duncan Watmore, Chris Maguire and Kyle Lafferty are not to far behind.
At the other end of the scale is Will Grigg who has a shot every 61 minutes on average. This makes grim reading for the most expensive third tier signing ever.
If it were just about having a shot at goal, I could be a striker, but of course it’s important to get your shots on target.
Again Liam Boyce leads the way by getting a shot on target every 72 minutes. Perhaps surprisingly considering his solid goal scoring record, Lynden Gooch trails in last place, just behind Will Grigg, with 147 minutes between shots on target.
This next chart shows the percent of shots the players take that are on target and hence either result in a save or a goal.
Leading the way here is Marc McNulty. Over half of the shots he takes are on target whereas, at the other end of the scale, is Lynden Gooch who is accurate with only a third of his shots.
Note that Grigg and Boyce have very similar results but Boyce hits the target every twice as often as Grigg, hence the disparity in the number of goals they’ve scored this season.
Ultimately, it’s about putting the ball in the net and the next two charts show the quality of the players’ shooting and finishing.
First, the percent of total shots (whether on target or not) that result in a goal.
Leading the way is our favourite Scottish shithouse, Chris Maguire, who scores from one in five of his cracks at goal. With a very similar return is Lynden Gooch, but as we have learned already, he is the least accurate.
Trailing at the back is the new man, Kyle Lafferty with goals resulting in only one attempt in twenty (remember the data used is from this season only).
This next chart shows how clinical the player is. It gives the percent of shots that are on target and result in a goal.
Lynden Gooch may not get too many shots on target, but when he does, he is scoring from two thirds of them. Impressive. Next best is Chris Maguire who scores from more than half of his shots on target. One of the reasons he is our top scorer this season despite not actually being a striker.
Bringing up the rear again is Kyle Lafferty who doesn’t seem to have had a great first half of the season at Sarpsborg.
Something I’ve heard many say about Duncan Watmore is that, despite his obvious qualities, he has no end product, the previous two charts seem to support that notion.
The headline stat for any forward player is how many goals they score. The following two charts show this in terms of games per goal and then minutes per goal.
Leading the way for games per goal is Liam Boyce with 2.54 but Chris Maguire is not too far behind on 2.60. Lynden Gooch also has an impressive return with a goal every three games.
Once again, trailing in last is Lafferty but it’s worth keeping in mind that scoring goals is not his primary concern or skill as we will learn shortly. I take no pleasure in noting that Will Grigg again fails to impress with his goal every seven games.
When we look at minutes per goal, the results change a little. Importantly, it is revealed that Maguire is actually the better goal scorer between him and Boyce. The analysis so far is revealing that they seem to be very similar players - which is no bad thing if Boyce does indeed wear a read and white shirt soon.
Passing and Assists
It’s not all about scoring goals. Players like Gooch, Maguire and Boyce play in supporting roles to out and out strikers, setting them up to put the ball in the net. To do that, they need to pass well.
How busy are our forwards in the game with their passing?
It’s that man Chris Maguire leading the way again with a pass every two minutes. Second is Gooch and third is Boyce. It’s not really his game, but it’s still a little surprising to see Will Grigg attempting a pass only every five minutes. He is sometimes accused of looking lazy and uninterested; perhaps this result is part of the reason he creates such a perception.
It’s no good passing the ball but giving it away. So how often do our forwards successfully complete a pass?
If you were ever in any doubt how important Chris Maguire is to Sunderland, you just need to look at the results I have presented so far. Once again he leads the field with his passes completing successfully every 2.79 minutes (2 minutes and 47 seconds). This is an area of the game in which he sets himself apart from Liam Boyce.
Lafferty and Grigg again trail behind the rest.
What percent of passes are successful for each player?
Other than poor old Kyle Lafferty, who is in last place with 56%, there is not much to choose between the other seven. Note that McNulty and Grigg may not pass often, but when they do they’re accurate.
Of all passes, the last one before the goal is the most crucial. How often do our forwards grab an assist?
Just give Chris Maguire the freedom of Sunderland now... Not only is he a top goal scorer and a top passer, he’s also the top ‘assister’. A special mention here for Kyle Lafferty who scores well for assisting. That’s the role he is best suited to and the reason he has been brought in.
It’s surprising to see how rarely Lynden Gooch provides the final ball.
It never does any harm to get your team a free kick in the final third, but giving them away is not something you want to do. How do our forwards do for giving out and receiving fouls?
If you’ve ever watched Charlie Wyke play, you will know that he gets some brutal treatment from opposition central defenders. More often than not, he’ll have two on him as high balls come in and there will be all sorts of shenanigans going on. It’s therefore not surprising to see that he is giving away free kicks most often. But give a halo to Duncan Watmore!
Kyle Lafferty gets his team a lot of free kicks. One of his roles in the team will be to do that as well as providing assists. He certainly doesn’t seem to score many. At least not based in this season’s evidence.
Finally, let’s combine all the rankings for each of the attributes discussed and rank the forwards from best to worst.
Given what we have learned, it is no surprise that Chris Maguire leads the field. Boyce follows him in second place, suggesting he could be a good signing if it comes to fruition.
Our two primary strikers occupy joint 6th place in the rankings but Wyke’s performance in the home game against Wycombe gives me hope that he has finally clicked and there is much better to come. As for Grigg, I doubt we’ll see him in a Sunderland shirt again.
It has been a feature of this season (and last) that our primary source of goals is not the out and out strikers. This examination of the data has backed that up. One can only hope that the current window sees the arrival of either some form for Wyke or a prolific goal scorer. Add those additional goals to the excellent return we get from our ‘inside forwards’ (Maguire and Gooch) and we could be flying high at the top of the league in no time.