Sunderland Analysis – What the statistics tell us about the Black Cats’ start to the League One season

The early season statistics have produced some pretty surprising findings - here's the areas Lee Johnson needs to be focusing on as our League One season restarts on Saturday

In an attempt to try and make sense of what has been a very up and down campaign for Sunderland so far (and to provide more award-nominated-level content too, of course), we have teamed up with the good people over at The Near Post EFL to have a look at some key stats from the Black Cats so far this season, to see whether they can add some context to what we’ve seen, and – more importantly – what they hint at what’s to come in the future.

I know stats aren’t for everyone but one thing is clear whether you like it or not – the teams who have the best stats pretty much always get the best results – it’s not a coincidence.

First, some general stats and rankings from across our League One games so far. As you can see, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The standout positives are our points per game and shots per game stats – both 4th best in the league. This includes all of the games we’ve played so far, and so covers both our stronger performances earlier in the season and our more recent poor ones (more on this later). To still be 4th best after the last 3 league games was pretty surprising, and definitely points to where the good work is being done by this side.

The major standout negative here is undoubtedly the amount of shots we’re conceding – 20th place for us in this metric. You don’t need me to tell you that is nowhere near it needs to be, and clearly goes a long way to explaining why we’re also comfortable mid-table (13th) for goals conceded too. Again, clearly not good enough. As an aside it also points to both the probable inaccuracy of the finishing from some of the sides we’ve played, as well as that successive goalkeepers in Burge, Patterson and Hoffman have in fact all done a decent job at keeping a relatively large amount of shots out.

These next graphs takes these shots for and against stats, and breaks them down across the individual games we’ve played. First of all, it’s clear to see that although in a lot of the games we have won we had more shots, it has by no means been in all of them (see MK Dons, Accrington and Bolton for examples), and that across the board shots have been high in every game we’ve played – at least we’re not boring, eh?

Also, I would have expected there to have been a marked difference between our numbers in the early season and more recently based on the results we got in those games but it turns out there isn’t really – the peaks and troughs have remained throughout. This can be looked at both ways – it’s a positive that we were able to beat Wycombe so comfortably for example, despite them having on paper a lot more shots than we did (same goes for MK Dons and to a lesser extent Bolton).

However on the flip side it’s clear that throughout the season we have not been consistent enough either in attack or defence; and although we seemingly ‘got away with it’ to an extent (not totally, we have played some excellent football at times this season, let’s not forget that) the more recent results being so much poorer but the stats not being wildly different is certainly worrying.

Building on this, the comparisons across the board from the first 9 games to the last 6 tell a similar story – there has been a drop off to an extent but it’s been by no means as marked as the results and performances on the eye would suggest. The shot figures discussed above present by far the biggest fluctuation, and the fact we are winning more tackles but also having more possession is, quite frankly, weird.

One final graph is one produced by our very own Mr Chris Weatherspoon, which just serves to highlight Ross Stewart, and his role as both Sunderland’s most important player at present and one of the best strikers in the league. He is comfortably in the ‘good’ quadrant of this graph (the top-right) where both his number of goals and expected goals are high – indicating he isn’t just on a ‘hot streak’ and is also getting high quality chances created for him on a regular basis.

His importance passes the eye-test too, with him having been in great form all season with his goals alone not telling the whole story to how important he is, and him being by far the best performer for Sunderland in our recent terrible run of results, too. Keeping him fit and firing is absolutely vital to our chances at present. It’s by no means a ‘one man team’ scenario as every good team has a good striker who scores most of their goals– its normal. It just that he is the marker the rest of the squad need to work back towards in terms of their own performance level, and also serves to warn that depth up front is needed (hopefully Nathan Broadhead’s promising cameos address this partially, but I still think we will need to reinforce up front in January).

For me, these stats do what relevant stats should do – they add context to what we know already about this season. We have certainly improved in some areas but are by no means the finished article yet – there is clearly a long way to go. Not one of the metrics had us in the top-two, and for a side for whom promotion is non-negotiable once again this season, that is not good enough.

There is plenty here to question and it’s vital we continue to do that – at the end of the day Lee Johnson’s remit is the same now as it has been since he took over, and both the league table and these statistics indicate he is not delivering this as of yet. There is plenty of time left and football to be played, but margins are so tight when you’re in the hunt for promotion.

Quite simply, we need to be doing more and this needs to happen fast.