Welcome back to the weekly “Phoenix Prognosis” column, after a week in which those incapable of reading disclaimers thought I was the worst columnist of all time, I’m back with the usual statistical look at the weekend’s Phoenix game.
Before I get into it, make you sure check out Enzo’s piece from the sidelines of Eden Park if you haven’t already.
Regression To The Mean:
Luck plays a bigger role in the game-to-game outcomes of sporting events than the average pundit, coach and punter would like to admit, and the Wellington Phoenix’s recent fortunes are an excellent example of how variance can influence the public perception.
All season, the Phoenix had been converting their chances at goal at an absurd rate. Before last weekend’s game against the Jets, 52% of Wellington’s shots on target ended in goals, and as Gil Albertsen pointed out, that rate was historically unsustainable.
Immediately after that article was penned, the Phoenix scored three goals on seven shots on target against the Jets, keeping up their unsustainable scoring rates.
The way “regression to the mean” works is simple – if a side is doing something at an unsustainable rate, history tells us that they will eventually find their way back into the middle of the pack. However, there is a drastic want for supporters and writers alike to put a successful period down to something more than just a luck-related trend. There’s a need for a rich spell to be “form” or “confidence in front of goal”. Sometimes, luck has a lot to do with it.
As the Phoenix found out the hard way against the Mariners, regression to the mean is a cruel mistress. Volleys which were flying into the top corner go into the stands. The shots which were sneaking through the keeper’s legs get blocked, and defenders are suddenly on the line to clear away goalscoring chances.
While it is true that the Phoenix’s poor finishing is the cause of snaring just one goal from 21 shots (seven on which were on target), that poor finishing is true regression to the mean, coming after a spell of excellent touch in front of goal which couldn’t be kept up. Roy Krishna’s three goals on four shots wasn’t going to continue, and Nathan Burns isn’t going to score on 50% of his shots on target after previously never cracking 30% in his career.
While this does seem unnecessarily glum, the positive takeaway for the Phoenix comes in their performance against Phil Moss’s side. Truly dominant throughout, creating an avalanche of chances is the best way to overcome regression to the mean, and on a different day where the average amount of shots on target get converted, they’ll be more than content with their dominance in the middle of the park.
How The Phoenix Dominated:
Although the Phoenix were hit by their regression in terms of finishing, a huge tick in their column came in the performance of their midfield, who were outstanding all game long.
Albert Riera played his holding midfield role to perfection, making four tackles and five interceptions to go with 65 completed passes at an 89% success rate, while Alejandro Gorrin was also fantastic, completing 82 passes at a 94% rate as the Phoenix had one of their best on-the-ground passing displays in the club’s history.
However, I was most impressed by Michael McGlinchey, who was the most creative part of the attacking hub. The New Zealand international set a Phoenix season-high in touches with 109, completed 63 passes to go with three successful crosses and four shot assists. Which reminds me….
The Value Of “Shot Assists”:
McGlinchey had a moment in the first half where he put an exquisite ball on a platter for Roly Bonevacia, only for the Dutchman to be hit by the regression plague (I’m half-kidding) and blast the ball over the bar.
Had Bonevacia finished with aplomb, McGlinchey would have been rewarded with the assist, which is still the go-to statistic when determining which players are the best cutting-edge passers in the game. However, putting an emphasis on assists makes the quality of the player finishing off the attack far too relevant.
That’s where “Shot Assists” comes into play. Shot Assists cares not for the quality of the finish, instead giving equal credence to every shot created. By taking out the variable finishing element, it gives a cleaner look at which players are capable of putting the ball in spots where the attacker is able to get a shot off.
So, who leads the way for the Phoenix this season?
Shot Assists (Phoenix 2014):
1st: Michael McGlinchey 24
2nd: Nathan Burns 15
3rd: Alejandro Gorrin 8
4th: Jeremy Brockie 6
5th: Roly Bonevacia 6
6th: Roy Krishna 6
7th: Vince Lia 5
8th: Albert Riera 4
9th: Louis Fenton 1
While assists are a nice and easy stat to comprehend, shot assists has a worthy place when discussing the value of passing – and McGlinchey has proven to be one of the best final-third passers in the A-League so far this season.
Hamilton raised, Niall Anderson now halves his time between university studies in Auckland and catching up on all things Waikato football in the Tron. Having covered Waikato FC and WaiBOP United in the ASB Premiership, Niall is also the lead writer at nzhoops.co.nz. Find him on Twitter @NiallGunner.