Five Bit Piece – Everton thoughts

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Now that the excitement has died down it’s probably a good time to forgive and forget, take a deep breath and take another look over the Toffees’ visit to the DW on Saturday. Okay so, it’s a little bit late and at least I’ve avoided that Thursday feeling where I realise it’s time to do a match preview and I still haven’t done my piece on the last game yet. And at least I’ve got a bank holiday and a day catching up at work to hide behind. The pressures I put myself under, for you people, eh?

Anyway, now that we’ve got that little ramble out of the way, here are my top five talking points from the weekend.

The Tactical Bit
I’ve read and heard plenty of views on where Latics went wrong on Saturday. They should have played 4-4-2, they should have pressed more, they showed too much patience in the early stages and ended up panicking late on. The thing is that, sometimes, you can approach a game in exactly the right way, but still end up feeling that you didn’t get what you deserved.

Above all else, Latics couldn’t afford to lose this game and they had to strike the right balance when going for the win that they would have desperately wanted. Despite good possession in the first half, this need for balance took precedence and ultimately kept things tight in both directions, both teams only managing 2 shots from open play.

Things opened up after half time, as Everton tried to find their way into the game, but Latics managed to keep things reasonably tight at the back restricting the visitors to just three shots before the equaliser, with Latics managing seven in the same period. After the penalty it was all Latics on the chances front, with six shots compared to a solitary long range effort from Seamus Coleman.

And the point? As much as there is one, it’s that after a slow start, Latics grew into the game and took a lead, that might not have settled them down too much, but after half time they responded to Everton pushing forward and took advantage of the space that it created. Whilst the fans might be feeling the pressure of a relegation battle, the flow of the game is pretty much what you’d expect from a side facing stronger much more experience opposition.

Latics even managed to up the tempo once the scores were level which is something that they’ve struggled with in the past.

The Statistical Bit
So what went wrong is pretty obvious then, isn’t it? Fifteen chances, ten of them on target across the ninety minutes and only one goal is, at best, not great a great situation to find yourself in. Compare it with Liverpool and Fulham, both hitting three over the weekend. Liverpool managed it from 14 shots (nine on target), Fulham from ten (seven on target).

It’s well reported by now that Latics have got the worse shot conversion rate in the Premier League. The figure that is getting banded about is a ratio of one in ten, which I guess makes us the Ali Campbell of the Premier League, but just how bad is it? I’ve managed to track the figure down to a handy blog by the name of soccerquantified.com, which carries a handy comparison of conversion rates in the first half of this season. The average for the division at that stage was almost, 2.5. One in four is a long way from one in ten and when you consider that Birmingham and Newcastle have a better than one in three ratio then, well, you might as well give up.

Conversion_Ratios_EPL_12-23-2010

Because it doesn’t get any better.

I the past, I’ve argued that you can’t judge Latics’ strikers on a goals per game basis, because of the lack of chances created for them. This defence has been used at different stages for anyone (Duke and JR apart) who’s played up front at the JJB. Not this time, because, the stats say we’re doing alright on that front. Going back to soccerquantified.com we find that in terms of shots from open play and “accurate” shots from open play, we’re decidedly mid-table.

shots_from_open_play

accurate_shots_from_open_play

So we get the chances, we just don’t put them away. Whose fault is that? Well on Saturday the finger is squarely pointed at the forwards. At the weekend 12 of Latics’ 15 shots fell to the four forwards that got time on the pitch, the other 3 being shared between McCarthy and Watson. As the picture below shows, these weren’t long range pokes, Watson’s pile-driver aside they were all in and around the box. The bottom line being that tactics don’t matter if people can’t do the job they’re paid for.

Shots_v_Everton

The Logical Bit
Not proper logic, but There’s a counter argument to all this, based on the simple, logical fact that there are always two teams in a football match. Of course that doesn’t explain away the shots/goal ratio across 30-odd games, but it certainly came into play on Saturday. Everton are a good team and more so they’ve got a good goalie who earned his coin in the second half.

I’m not skilled enough to say whether Latics could have worked him harder, but I can’t remember any of the saves he made being dollies. The same goes for the defence who did their job in closing off Latics options around the box, got themselves in the way off the ball when need be.

I suppose that brings us back to the original point that, on any given day, the stats can give lie to someone, or a few of them, having a good game like Howard did on Saturday.

The Stupid Bit
It doesn’t stack up though, does it? Latics played well, they kept things tight and should have scored more but Everton’s keeper had a good game. So why did we lose? Is rank, gross stupidity an excuse? That Latics managed to press the self-destruct button twice doesn’t make things any more palatable. May be temporary insanity would be a better plea?

To be fair, N’Zogbia’s foul on Osman was a combination of over enthusiasm from the Frenchman and smarts from his opponent. It was an avoidable challenge, but once Charlie was committed, the Billinger made sure he was brought down. C’est la vie is easy though, when you end up with a top notch save to keep the penalty out.

There were no such excuses for Rodallega though. It was one of those handballs that you might get away with on the training ground, if the cross was over hit and there was nobody but you to fag the ball after it’s sailed past you. I’ve seen it a few times now and the best I can come up with is Alan Hansen’s, pretty weak, he mis-timed his jump, and panicked. There was just no need, I know that, you know that and, going off his immediate reaction and tears at the final whistle, Hugo knows it too.

The Next Bit
So what now? We’ve not got a ‘one in three’ striker lying around, we’ve not got time to get a psychologist in to redress the mental strain this result might have had on the team, so it’s simply a case of knuckling down and getting on with it. Of course, pointing out that Hugo has got a couple

of games left to a) make amends and b) show himself worthy of some of the moves he’s been linked with since what must go down as his most wasteful performance to date.

First up it’s Aston Villa and despite the bookies leaning heavily in favour of the home team form is in the balance with both teams polling eight points from the last six games. Overall, it’s a very balanced league fixture with four wins each and three draws. Confidence wise though, it helps that the next fixture is at Villa Park as seven of the eight wins have fallen to the away side.

So a win is guaranteed then? Well if Latics can put in another performance like they did on Saturday, show a bit more composure in front of goal and cut out the silly mistakes, then anything is possible, no matter how impossible that seems.

Photo is courtesey Bernard Platt & WAFC, Stats from www.soccerquanitified.com and Guardian Chalkboards.

 

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