Sheffield United have added a literal meaning to the term “calling the shots.”
Collins English dictionary definition: “The person who calls the shots is in a position to tell others what to do.” Or “where to go” might be the football translation when applied to the remarkable statistic propelling the Blades towards promotion.
Chris Wilder is calling those shots but even he must be amazed at the little gem unearthed by his one-time Bramall Lane club mate Kevin Gage, now the super statto of the Sheffield Star and Sheffield Live TV.
This column has always been a little suspicious of statistics, wary of giving them undue emphasis because, frankly, football is now absolutely awash with them and, for me, you still can’t beat the evidence of your own eyes and a manager’s interpretation of what he actually sees.
For instance, a team can have only 20 per cent possession and still win a match, as Sean Dyche’s Burnley have done several times in the Premier League this season. It doesn’t mean teams should suddenly aim to surrender possession, soak up and break. Everyone would like to enjoy as much of the ball as possible. What it’s about is ways to win.
If Blades boss Wilder had used a statistical breakdown of that rare and isolated home defeat to Fleetwood last month he might have been led to believe that his side needed to improve the final ball. Indeed, the crossing, from numerous promising positions, was wretched that night.
What Wilder actually did was recognise the need for a big target figure and, hey presto, those crosses began finding a destination. James Hanson is proving every inch the missing piece of the jigsaw that brings the whole together.
But where shots on goal is concerned, which is the entire aim of the game, I can find no challenge to what the stats are saying when it comes to winning a football match.
As Gage discovered to his own amazement, United have had more shots already this season (479) than Wilder’s Northampton mustered (457) in the whole of their League Two title-winning campaign last year. Shots on target average is the highest in England at over six per game since United’s rocky start, equal with Barcelona!
What we’re seeing is a fusillade in almost every match. “It says two things,” says Kevin. “Northampton must have been incredibly clinical and we at United should be doing even better, strange to say!
“But it does actually show how well we’re playing and I want to shout from the rooftops about that.”
Climbing onto 6’ 4” Hanson’s back would give him the elevation required. Yet, as is being seen, the former Bradford City striker is no head-it-only, battering ram type forward. “I have it on good authority that coaching staff are blown away by his technique – they feel ‘we’ve got something here,’” says Gage.
So have United, the team and the club, right now. Last Saturday’s relentless display in the 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe would have been raved about for weeks and months if the final finish and result had matched it. Bolton may just pay for that this weekend.