Why the stats don't tell the whole story of Sam Winnall's contribution to Sheffield Wednesday's win at Leeds United

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Football is a numbers game now we’re told, and in a sport where every movement of a player is tracked, logged and delivered on spreadsheets for teams of a dozen professional analysts to decipher, the man who can appease Opta is so often king.

Time and again, stats are torn from context and laid bare on social media for opposition supporters – and indeed, occasionally football writers – to mould to their preference.

To many Tweeters, it would seem, the fact that Trent Alexander-Arnold is fast-approaching Paul Scholes’ Premier League assist tally single-handedly settles the Gerrard/Lampard/Scholes debate; that Chelsea apparently accrue more points with Ross Barkley in the side proof that he should play for England.

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A cursory look at Sheffield Wednesday’s 2-0 win at Leeds United on Saturday through the kaleidoscope of statistics alone would provide those numbers-fetishists with all the ammunition they would need to deride the contribution of Sam Winnall.

The first man called upon in the post-Steven Fletcher mini-era laid ahead of Garry Monk’s men, Winnall’s statistics do not make for pleasant reading.

In his 69 minutes on the Elland Road turf he contributed only 13 passes – of which 10 found a Wednesday shirt. He wasted one of the Owls’ two ‘big chances’ and could not produce a shot on target. He won only two of seven aerial duels.

His tally of three shots in total was matched by centre-half Julian Börner and when placed alongside the match-turning cameo of his replacement Atdhe Nuhiu – one shot, one goal, 11 passes, one assist – it makes for grim reading.

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But the fact is that Winnall’s contribution was worth so much more than the sum of its parts and shines a light on the limitations of stats-based punditry.

Sheffield Wednesday's Sam Winnall put in a monumental shift at Leeds United.Sheffield Wednesday's Sam Winnall put in a monumental shift at Leeds United.
Sheffield Wednesday's Sam Winnall put in a monumental shift at Leeds United.

The 28-year-old forward crashed and harried around the Leeds back four, disrupting their rhythm and preventing time for them to pick out their creative powerhouses.

His running was important throughout, opening up space on the break and with Leeds chasing the game, his ground work allowed the exceptional Nuhiu to reap the rewards in the final stages.

The eye test is not dead and Sam Winnall should retain his place up front against Blackburn on Saturday.