Analysis: Which Rangers players are putting most pressure on goalies?

written by – Rangers Report

Rangers are clearly in ‘summer mode.’

Beyond the lukewarm results since the epic Old Firm victory & given the fact that Rangers next meaningful game is three weeks away – the club is likely looking back on the season & analyzing each player’s output.  It’s what every club does as a season winds down.

As Rangers go through this process, the question has to be:  Is this player capable of having a positive impact on the club’s fate next season in the Premiership?

There are so many sub-questions that can come from that inquiry.  One that resonates for me is:  Which Rangers players were the best at putting pressure on the opposing goalie to make a difficult save?  It seems like this is the kind of quality that could transfer over next season.

When it comes to getting the shot on target at a high rate, the usual suspects come to the fore:  Harry Forrester & Martyn Waghorn.  

Below you’ll find the rate of shots on target per 90 minutes this season.

Shots on Target per 90 Minutes

It should be noted that players with less then ten shots on the season were not included in any of the stats presented (so no Kiernan, Wilson, Walsh, Templeton, Ball, Aird, Thompson, or Burt).

Michael O’Halloran

It’s interesting to see the impact of the three January additions as Billy King, Michael O’Halloran, & Forrester have stepped in & been real driving forces behind Rangers attack.

However, not all shots are created equal, just as there are easy saves for a goalie to make, there are difficult saves to make.  Just because Nicky Clark actually averages more shots on target then Kenny Miller – does that mean he’s putting more ‘pressure’ on the goalie when he’s on the pitch?

In an attempt to see which players are most effectively forcing goalies into difficult saves, I figured the logical approach would be to see who is getting the ‘best shots’ & which players are the most accurate when they take a shot – i.e. they force the goalie into making a save.

That means we should be applying Expected Goals (described here) & shot accuracy (the % of shots that force the keeper into a save or beats them for a goal).  However, sometimes these statistics are muddled by the impact of blocked shots.  If a player has a shot blocked – he isn’t testing the goalie – is he?  So, when examining how much pressure players put on the goalie it is important to use Fenwick adjusted statistics.  Fenwick is a term used in hockey analytics & it simply means that you only count shots that were not blocked – shots that actually made it towards goal.

Below you’ll find the correlation this season between Expected Goals per shot & then shot accuracy for any Rangers player with at least ten shots.  Both sets of numbers do not factor in shots that were blocked.  For example, 48% of Jason Holt’s total shots this season were on target.  But when you factor out the shots that were blocked — then 64% of his shots forced the keeper into a save situation.  All hail, Jason Holt!

Putting pressure on the goalie

What you see here is when a player takes a shot – how dangerous is it?  Based on Expected Goals – when Kenny Miller takes a shot on goal (& it’s not blocked) there’s a 16% chance it will beat the keeper.  This is based on the kind of shot he takes & where he takes it from.

Let’s go back to the difference between Kenny Miller & Nicky Clark (beyond the goals, obviously).  As we saw earlier, Nicky Clark actually averages more shots on target then Miller over the course of 90 minutes & his Fenwick adjusted shot accuracy is actually higher as well.

Nicky Clark

Of Clark’s shots – 74% were scoring chances (shots taken from the heart of the penalty area or closer) & 70% of Miller’s shots were.  The difference (beyond sheer volume) was that 31% of Clark’s 16 unblocked shots were headers from the heart of the box.  Even though traditionalists love a good header from the center of the box – the realist sees that only 8% of those shots have scored all season long.  For Miller, only 15% of his 41 unblocked shots were headers from this area.  He did have one headed shot within the goalie’s six yard box – which is a very dangerous shot.  Miller does a far better job at creating a dangerous shot – finding space, in a dangerous area, to get a kicked shot on goal.

It does not bode well for Clark that there are ten other players in Rangers squad that averaged more dangerous shots then he has.

Also, you will see that the clearest outlier here is Michael O’Halloran.  He may not have won over the supporters yet, but you can see that the potential is there for him to be a real threat in Rangers attack.  Not only does he have the highest Expected Goals per shot average, 80% of his 15 unblocked shots have been on target.

There really isn’t too much to complain about in those results (beyond Nicky Clark).  Andy Halliday & James Tavernier lead the team in shots from outside the penalty box & that’s fine – that’s their role.  The fact that Lee Wallace has a higher xG per shot than a forward is a bit mind blowing & pretty awesome at the same time.  As much as I liked Nathan Oduwa, you can that he really wasn’t much of a threat to score in his time with Rangers.

Now remember, all of the aforementioned stats only factor in unblocked shots.  Is that a skill?  Is a blocked shot simply a good play by the defender, or is it an indication that a player did not create enough space for his shot? Or does that shooter tend to hesitate a half-second too long, making it more difficult to get the shot through the defence?

Gedion Zelalem

Percentage of shots blocked

Shots are going to get blocked, but is it a concern that 33% of Gedion Zelalem’s shots have been blocked?  The majority of Zelalem’s shots are low percentage shots anyways & given his youth there likely is a bit of hesitation in that aspect of his game.  But Dean Shiels is a 31-year old veteran.  Why has he had nearly 30% of his shots blocked?  The good news is that 60% of those blocks came on long range shots.  Shiels has been effective at getting quality scoring chances this season, but his Fenwick adjusted shot accuracy was the second worst of players in this study.

Side note:  both Nicky Clark & Dean Shiels see their contracts expire this summer.  Back to the original question posed here – are they capable of having a positive impact on the club’s fate in the Premiership?  Or are they better suited to playing for a Championship club next season?

courtesy of SNS

Of course, forcing the goalie into a difficult save is one thing – actually beating him is what turns the likes of Harry Forrester into instant icons.

Goals per 90 minutes

The above graph represents non-penalty goals per 90 minutes, that’s why Kenny Miller’s rate is better then Martyn Waghorn, who has scored 40% of his 20 league goals from the penalty spot.  Kenny Miller has actually now passed Waghorn for the team lead in non-penalty goals (13).  Of course, that is because Waghorn hasn’t played  for the past several weeks because of injury.  But even when you break it down to a per 90 minutes average, Miller has been more productive.

Can Miller’s success sustain next season?  Even as he turns 37 in December?  Remember when I said that when Kenny Miller takes a shot & it’s not blocked that he’s expected to score 16% of the time?  Well, he’s scored on 32% of those shots this season.  Is he that good, or is he on a bit of a hot streak that may turn cold at some point?

Non-penalty Goals minus Expected Goals

Kenny Miller has scored 4.52 more goals than his Expected Goal projections.  Back in Februarywe presented similar numbers as a means of showing that players like Jason Holt & Kenny Miller were due to see their goals dry up, while Harry Forrester was due to see a turn in his luck.  Well, Jason Holt has scored one goal in the ten league matches since then, while Miller & Forrester have scored four each.  Forrester is slightly outperforming his expected output, while Miller continues to score at a much higher rate than his projections.

Will Kenny Miller have a positive impact on the team’s play next year?  I think that’s a safe bet.  Can you expect him to score 10+ goals again?  I’m not sure that’s a smart bet.

One last thing:  you may want to put a fiver down on Billy King scoring tomorrow — just saying he’s due.

You can follow Rangers Report on Twitter @TheGersReport

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