Kevin Gage's Blades Column: Sheffield United's unbeaten run might be over - but the stats suggest that all hope is not lost just yet!

It's the morning after the night before, and I'm still at a loss as to how we didn't manage to get the ball into Walsall's net, legitimately anyway!

Wednesday, 30th November 2016, 4:07 pm
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 11:43 am
Kevin Gage Column

It appeared that the referee and his assistant were the only two people in the ground who saw anything wrong with our two disallowed goals. Billy’s scrambled effort at the death was apparently ruled out for handball, then it was changed to pushing. Today’s reason might be because the ref’s mum’s sister is a Walsall fan... who knows?

So sweet 16 unbeaten in the league it wasn’t, and whilst no-one realistically saw this home defeat coming (I certainly didn’t), the reaction from some quarters seems to be a bit over-the-top to say the least.

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A “poor performance,” “not up to the job” and similar phrases I saw on social media, plus everyone bemoaning various individuals.

Now everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, and it’s often said that football is indeed a “game of opinions” with Chris Wilder’s I’d suggest being the most important.

But how, exactly, are we to able to judge a team’s performance in either a certain game, or over a period of time? We can all obviously see the results, the points gained, and then look at the league table as this is what a team will ultimately be judged on, and after nearly half the season, the table doesn’t lie.

These days, we also get presented with a mountain of statistics for each and every game. Some are relatively meaningless and are just a record of the facts, but others give a true insight into the actual output of a team during a match. Last night’s game versus Walsall, on the basis of the important stats of the game, was one that 99 times out of 100 we would have won.

Why? Well let’s kick off with the two disallowed goals. Then add in a missed penalty. Then throw in the 21 shots/efforts we had at their goal (they had five at ours). Possibly add in the two/three other penalty claims we had. There’s also the 60 per cent dominance of possession, although their goalkeeper took up about half their 40 per cent with his time-wasting.

I could add the ten corners we had to their three, plus the numerous balls and crosses that were flying around the Walsall penalty area without a Blades boot being on the end of them. In short, it was a rout. Apart from the only important statistic that matters. They scored a goal. We didn’t.

So, 21 shots at goal by any standards is very impressive, and against a well-drilled, organised Walsall side is quite a good indicator of our performance I’d say. We are actually averaging nearly 16 shots per game with an even more impressive six on target when taken over the past 16 league games after we changed to this formation with this group of players.

It’s the most shots per game by a distance of any of our promotion rivals who average between 10-13, with only between four to five on target. An extra one or two shots per game on target may not seem a lot, but bearing in mind that the ratio of shots on target to goals scored is always about three to one for a decent professional team, you’ll realise the importance.

Scunthorpe are the only team to have scored more goals than us, and have also done so from far fewer shots. Their shots-on-target to goals ratio is 2.5 to one, which is usually a Premier League standard this season - matched only by the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and some other top teams... oh, and Carlisle incidentally in League Two!

At the other end of the pitch we also seem to be in excellent shape, despite that rare lapse last night. We are the meanest team in our league with regard to the amount of shots taken at our goal. It’s just over eight per game, with under four of these on target. In fact, of all the 92 teams in the four English divisions, we are the second meanest, which is actually quite amazing!

Today, I’ve read that Chris has refused to criticise his team after last night’s display, citing the desire, passion, determination and all the other usual traits that we’ve come to expect from this Blades team, and he’s right because those qualities aren’t in doubt.

Our other playing qualities, as you can see from the figures above, is that our defence is strong, we create numerous chances every game and we usually score enough goals to get the consistent results.

I say “usually” because last night we obviously didn’t. The quality of our finishing has been very poor in the past few games, and we need to be far more clinical when the goalscoring chances are created. It remains to be seen whether this current group of strikers are the ones to fire us to promotion. On last night’s display, it’s a question and a decision Chris will need to get right. I’m sure he will. He usually does. UTB!