Central Channel Passes, Pt. 3: A goalkeeper’s point of view

written by – Rangers Report   photo courtesy of – Gerry Lafferty

This is the third part in a series that introduced something called the Central Channel Pass.  It is borrowed from a similar concept in ice hockey & I conducted a small study to see how the results would bear out in football.  The results shared in part one, indicate that shots that come from  these kinds of passes have a higher Conversion Rate & Shooting Percentage then shots that do not come via this kind of pass.  In part two, I shared how Central Channel Passes turned a historically low percentage shot into a legit Scoring Chance.  There is way more detail in these posts, & they should be read before reading anything here…..so go here & here & then come back in a few minutes.  I’ll be waiting for you…

Despite being a very small sample size, the statistical results suggest that there’s something here.  The higher Conversion Rates are intriguing but what is really peeking my curiously is the fact that the Shooting Percentage is so much higher on shots from Central Channel Passes.

When a shot was on target, it beat the keeper 53% of the time if the shot came via a Central Channel pass, while all others shots beat the keeper 32% of the time.

When we peel back some of the underlying layers, the results get even more intriguing.

When you only focus on Scoring Chances (kicked shots from heart of the box & kicked or headed shots from the six yard box), the Shooting Percentage was 60% on Scoring Chances set up by Central Channel passes compared to 47% on those shots that weren’t.

On headers from the heart of the box, the difference in Shooting Percentage was 71% (!) compared to 43%.

Let’s face it, the data suggests that the goalkeeper is truly struggling to react to shots coming from Central Channel Passes.

The data is one thing, but what’s missing is the point of view of the player tracking the ball….on the pitch.

Derek Gaston, courtesy of GMFC

I reached out to Derek Gaston, who has been the starting goalkeeper for Morton since 2011.  Prior to that, he started in goal for Albion Rovers & has been getting regular minutes as a professional goalkeeper since 2009.

Derek has helped me in the past when I tracked stats during Rangers 2015-16 season in the Scottish Championship and yes…he actually makes the save in the cover photo of this post.

I sent along the first part of this series & he generously sent back his analysis of Central Channel passes.

Gaston explained, “The problems that these passes causes for a keeper are that generally when the shots come in from this pass the keeper is usually still on the move across their goal which makes it more difficult. Most of the times there is more than one player making moves across the eye-line of the keeper which can be distracting”

Most shots that come from a pass from one area of your red zone (8,9,10,11) in your graph to another in that zone will probably result in a high chance of a goal as if the first player is free in the box, the first instinct for defenders is to rush towards the ball therefore leaving someone else to be free to get a shot away. These passes cause defences to become disorganised.”

Watch Paul Hanlon on this clip as he gets caught chasing the ball rather than marking the player he was originally tracking – which leads to an open shot on goal.

Gaston added, “If shots come in without passing this channel then it becomes easier as goalkeepers can ‘set’ themselves in whatever position they wish to make the save, usually in centre of the goal and defenders can stay rigid and organised.”

The difficulty for teams looking to make these passes is that it’s difficult to get one player free to make the pass and another player free within the width of goal to receive the pass.  I think this season teams like Motherwell in particular are adopting a tactic where if they attempt these passes often enough throughout the match then they will eventually convert a number of them. Motherwell, unlike most of the teams in league, will try to play crosses from deeper areas of the pitch from open play or set pieces across this channel and into the box and use their strengths in height and physicality to create chances instead of playing short and trying to generate a better instance to make that pass.”

Gaston’s perspective is very much aligned with what former NHL goaltender, Steve Valiquette claimed when he introduced the concept of the Royal Road pass.  Goalies are forced to move across the goal, which makes it more difficult to them to deliberately close down shooting angles.  Additionally, Gaston’s comment about the movement of multiple players moving along the sightline of the goalie is a layer of distraction that gives the attacking team a real advantage.  I’d assume a goalie’s eyes are always tracking the ball & when they lose sight of the ball, even if it’s for a second, then that will impact their reaction to the pending shot.

Next Steps

The data from this little study suggests there’s something here.  That spike in Shooting Percentage on Central Channel shots is an entry point to a potential tactical advantage.  The insight shared from Derek Gaston adds another layer of validity to the statistical results.  Everything is pointing to going all-in on a large scale study looking at shots that come from Central Channel passes.

For now, given my current project of tracking stats for the Scottish Premiership season, anything else will have to hold-off until the summer.  However, if anyone reading this has a WyScout account & is willing to help track some shots – then feel free to reach out to me.  If I had the help, this is something we could do sooner, rather than later.

Thanks again to Derek for his time & his insight.

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