Defensive Zone Exits: Tracking how Rangers defence handled Hibs’ advances

James Tavernier, courtesy of SNS

written by – Rangers Report

With so much attention being focused on Rangers’ struggles on defence, particularly with how they handle counter attacks, I decided to shift some of my attention towards tracking who is getting the ball out of the defensive third & how they are doing it.  Much of this work is inspired by Jen Lute Costella’s tracking similar concepts in hockey for her blog & now for her start-up company – LCG Analytics.

The Hibs match was my first attempt at tracking this kind of play so there likely will be a margin of error but this is what I was looking for –

  • controlled exits from the defensive third – when a player either dribbled the ball out of the zone or when they completed a relatively short pass out of the defensive third
  • clearances – the opposite of a controlled exit.  Basically, the defender kicks/heads the ball out of the zone with no real passing target.  I think it is safe to say that we all know a clearance when we see it. Additionally, I tracked how many of the clearances were headers.
  • pressured v unpressured exit- was the player under pressure from an opposing player when they made the defensive zone exit or clearance
  • flipping possession to the other half – regardless of how the ball left the area, did it lead to Rangers establishing possession in the opposing half of the pitch?  Ideally, Rangers defenders are able to trigger a counter of their own in order to attack an unorganized defence.
  • Only defensive zone exits in the run of play are accounted for…meaning when Wes Foderingham triggers the team bringing the ball up the  pitch – those plays were not tracked nor was the play tracked if Rangers voluntarily played the ball back into the defensive third.  So basically, plays were tracked only when Hibs got on the ball in their attacking third & a Rangers defender retrieved it to get it out of the zone.
Player Controlled Exit Pressured Opp Half Clearance Pressured Opp Half Headed Cl Total Exits
Rob Kiernan 2 0 2 8 6 2 6 10
James Tavernier 1 0 1 4 1 1 1 5
Danny Wilson 0 0 0 3 3 0 1 3
Nicky Law 2 0 2 0 0 0 0 2
Andy Halliday 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 2
Dean Shiels 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 2
Barrie McKay 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Lee Wallace 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 1
Jason Holt 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 1
Martyn Waghorn 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1
Totals 10 4 9 18 13 4 8 28
1st Half 6 0 5 5 3 2 2 11
2nd Half 4 4 4 13 10 2 6 17
  • Rob Kiernan was by far the busiest defender on the day, accounting for 36% of the team’s total exits from the defensive third.  Of his clearances, 75% were via headed balls.  Of his eight clearances, only two came without pressure from a Hibs player.
  • When a Rangers player had a Controlled Exit, it led to the team gaining possession in the attacking half 90% of the time.  Of course, only 40% of those exits were under pressure from a Hibs player – but surprisingly, each of those occasions still led to Rangers getting the ball into the offensive half.
  • Of course, when a defender is under pressure it is difficult to make a Controlled Exit & of Rangers clearances, 72% of them came under pressure.
  • James Tavernier was more involved then one would expect as Hibs likely make it a point to attack up the left flank given Tavernier’s reputation as a hesitant defender.  This is also indicated by the fact that Lee Wallace only had one exit from the defensive zone.
  • It is interesting to see the statistical evidence of Hibs pressure in the second half as they were forced to play from behind after Jason Holt’s second goal.  Of Rangers defensive zone exits, 61% came in the second half.   Hibs’ reliance on the counter in the first half is indicated by the fact that Rangers’ exits went unpressured 73% of the time in the opening 45 minutes, but then only 18% of the time in the second half.

Analytics is relatively straight forward & illuminating when it comes to assessing attacking play but is a bit of an enigma when it pertains to defensive play.  This is merely my attempt, a first attempt at that, to begin using statistics to evaluate which players are having an impact defensively & to look for trends in play that could be entry points to improvement.

As this process continues, we will either learn new insights about Rangers defensive play or we will hit a brick wall in the constant struggle to use numbers as a means of analyzing defensive play.  We shall see…

You can follow Rangers Report on Twitter @TheGersReport



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