The importance of Plan B(ent) for Derby County’s promotion prospects

For much of the earlier part of this season, there was a sense among fans that Derby required a ‘Plan B’, for when ‘Plan A’ – the 4-3-3 system – wasn’t working.

The Rams are third-top scorers in the division overall, second best from open play and improving from set pieces, due to superior delivery of Omar Mascarell.  Nevertheless, there have a few frustrating home games in which visiting managers have set out – with varying levels of success – to stifle Derby.

Martin, for all of his many qualities, is not exactly blessed with pace.  With Craig Bryson’s lung-bursting runs apparently now a thing of the past, we have struggled to get runners past the often deep-lying (you could say ‘false’) number nine at times, which has allowed opponents to shuffle up, condense the space, press hard onto our defenders and prevent us from enjoying the room in which to play.

Will Hughes is so good that he will generally find pockets anyway, but still – there will be times when it simply isn’t happening and we struggle to break teams down through intricate short passing and meticulous link-up play.  And I’ve noticed recently that Derby’s average amount of shots per game has been dropping, quite rapidly in fact.

We’re third in the league and scoring an average of almost two goals per game, so the statistic has to be put into context – but it’s still a bit of a worry that Derby are now only 17th in the division in terms of total shots per game and ninth best for shots on target per game.

The important thing in the two graphs that follow is the two trendlines, which are both going the wrong way, as far as Derby are concerned.

Against Cardiff, we were comfortable winners, but didn’t exactly carve them open – scoring twice despite only having three shots in the entire match (I’m unsure whether Jamie Ward’s cross for the opening own goal was counted as an attempt on goal or a pass).

So, there’s clear statistical evidence to back up the hunch that fans had been discussing for some time, before the arrival of a truly predatory striker, Darren Bent, to replace the wholly ineffective Leon Best.

Bent has bagged three Championship goals from a total of 133 minutes in the hallowed white shirt, plus the assist for Tom Ince’s excellent strike at Bournemouth.  His longest spell on the pitch came at the Goldsands, due to the hamstring injury which will presumably deprive us of ‘The Wardrobe’ for at least a couple of weeks.  So now Bent has his chance to get a run of games.

The ideal scenario would be that, with Bent opening space with his often immaculately timed runs and Ince prowling freely from a wider starting position, we will to stretch teams more and create more shooting opportunities; but even if we’re unable to, the hope is that with these two new players possessing real attacking quality, we will continue to take enough of the chances that we do create to keep winning games.

As it stands, we’re far from being the statisticians’ favourites to go up – that honour goes to Middlesbrough, Bournemouth and Norwich.  But then again, in terms of the stattos’ favoured measure of Total Shots on Target Ratio (TSoTR, or similar), Brighton are top six contenders – I can tell you that Brighton and Norwich ruined a fair few stat-based accumulators for me earlier in the season, before I gave up on the naive idea that I was going to get rich quick by gaming the system…

The more metrically-minded among my readers might like to have a look through the following blogpost, which has a sortable table arranging the Championships clubs by all sorts of measures.  PDO and Corsi are derived from ice hockey and I can’t be bothered to go into them in depth right now (sorry Owen, if you’re reading this) – but arguably the most important one, the stattos would say, is TSoTR.

Derby have the highest PDO rating in the division, which, the theory goes, means that we are overperforming – scoring more and conceding less than our shots on target ratio suggests we should be.  I would argue that the signings of Bent and Ince should prevent that predicted regression from actually happening – at least, that was the point of drafting them in, along with Jesse Lingard (remember him?)

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