2018/19: Crunching the Numbers

It’s fair to say it has been a bit of a rollercoaster season for North End this year; with emotions ranging from distress at the thought of a relegation scrap in October, to the delight of the prospect of a potential play off push, and then the subsequent agony of missing out on them. I wanted to do this season’s excitement justice in the only way I know how, by picking out my favourite statistics.

Keep it solid for the first ten lads!

You can almost hear Alex Neil’s harsh tones reverberating around the walls of the Deepdale changing rooms just before kick off on a Saturday afternoon – ‘Nothing stupid in the first ten minutes lads, we don’t want to concede an early goal!’ Admittedly, I would hope Neil’s pre-match team talks are a bit more tactical than reeling off Sunday league clichés but if that’s what he had been saying then the North End defence were clearly listening. PNE were the only team in the Championship last season not to concede a goal in any game in the opening ten minutes, and they only conceded once in the first 20 minutes all season. To put that into context, the four teams that finished in the play-offs conceded a total of 31 goals between them in the first ten minutes. Obviously, it goes without saying that goals conceded in the remaining 80 minutes is the statistic that needs to be improved for next season, but this statistic is more than just an interesting quirk. At the heart of defence, 23-year old player of the season Ben Davies partnered 21-year old young player of the year Jordan Storey, who have both shown unbelievable maturity this season playing in a position that usually takes years to master. This statistic suggests that perhaps issues with concentration result in a higher proportion of goals being conceded in later stages of the games, but I have no doubt they will improve further with experience and the future of North End’s defence looks extremely bright. Embed from Getty Images

He only scores worldies

Alan Browne has won the goal of the season award at North End for two seasons in a row now and is deservedly getting a reputation for scoring a lot of cracking goals. The statistics back this up too, he scored 12 goals from open play this season with a total expected goal (xG) statistic of just 5.58; in effect, he scored twice as many goals as the fancy algorithms that calculate xG thought he should have done. In fact, he outperformed his expected goals total to a greater extent than any other player in the division who scored more than 10 goals from open play. While it is great to have a player capable of scoring eye-catching goals, I think the value of this is sometimes under-looked. Browne has a wonderful ability to finish difficult chances, finding goals where lesser players wouldn’t even think to look for them and he has often been the difference for PNE in tight games with few clear-cut chances. While the search for the mythical 20-goal a season striker at North End continues, it would be devastating to lose such an important source of goals from midfield in the current transfer window and extremely difficult to replace. Embed from Getty Images

Don’t dive in!

It is difficult to argue with the fact that Ben Pearson has been one of Preston’s most important assets over the last couple of seasons but as this season went on, he has received less and less patience from fans over his disciplinary record. Having received 14 yellows and 3 red cards, he has spent a frankly ridiculous 12 games suspended this season. In all, Pearson has been unavailable for over a quarter of Preston’s championship games this season (26%). Pearson has always played his football on the edge, a combative midfielder who gets under the skin of opposition fans and players alike. However, for the PNE faithful, he doesn’t appear to have got that balance quite right this season, overstepping the mark on multiple occasions and paying the price repeatedly.

For those that argue it is a part of his game we must accept, I’m afraid I don’t agree. Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United, deployed in central defensive midfield for the majority of the season, played his way into the Championship team of the year this season having once had similar disciplinary issues earlier on in his career. He was sent off twice in 33 appearances in the 2016/17 season but has since been sent off just once in 85 appearances, successfully balancing the physical nature of the position with the maturity of a player in a team competing at the top. He looks very likely now to move to the Premier League during the current transfer window and I find it hard to believe that he would have successfully hit these performance levels had he been unable to address his disciplinary record. I can’t help but wonder if Pearson, a player who won the Jimmy Murphy young player of the year award at Manchester United in 2013 and is one of the best CDMs in the division, would be in Phillips’ position if he cut down the number of cards he received. Not only did it hinder North End’s attempts to reach the play-offs this season, but his disciplinary issues are the only reason I think the ‘bigger’ clubs haven’t wanted to risk buying him. Embed from Getty Images

In summary, these statistics are just a small part of the tapestry that was North End’s colourful and intriguing 2018/19 season. However, they highlight the importance and the promise of our young central defensive partnership, the impressive goal-scoring ability that Browne brings to our midfield and the desperate need for Pearson’s discipline to improve.