While the Premier League, Champions League and European Championships are awash with statistics thanks to the likes of Opta, the Championship rarely receives the attention it deserves. Ben Mayhew’s forensic analysis has sought to address this imbalance, and here he evaluates Nottingham Forest’s attacking and defensive performance last season.

Over at Experimental 361, I’ve developed a graph to visualise and compare teams’ attacking and defensive performance, which I’ll be using here to briefly analyse Forest’s season. In a convoluted nutshell, the horizontal axis measures the average number of goal attempts a team either creates or faces in a match, while the vertical shows how many shots it takes on average for a goal to be either scored or conceded. These are quite simple metrics, but used together they can be quite revealing (as this post will hopefully demonstrate).

I’ve used it below to plot out Forest’s attacking (green) and defensive (red) performance, split by (H)ome, (A)way and (O)verall. The axes are centred on the average values for the Football League, which allows us to split the graph into quadrants (which I’ve labelled).

Click the image below to enlarge it in a new tab:

First of all, a quick word on why the graph is so large – it’s been sized to enclose these measures for every Football League team for ease of comparison, so you can see how a team compares to outliers as well as the average. So what does this tell us about Forest’s season?

Attack

Regardless of whether they were playing at home or away, Forest averaged a remarkably consistent number of attempts at goal, which in itself was very close to the overall Football League average. However, the efficiency of the attack was below average, and they were noticeably more accurate at converting chances away from the City Ground, needing two-and-a-half fewer shots on average to score each away goal. This could be due to Forest’s strikers snatching at their shots under the increased pressure of playing in front of their own (presumably expectant) fans, or caused by away teams setting themselves up more defensively and the home attack struggling to break them down. The coaching staff should definitely focus on both the quality of chances created (which could be down to both creativity and movement), as well as shooting accuracy in pre-season. For comparison, Derby (who we’ll touch on later) and Portsmouth also performed very similarly last season.

RONALDO NEEDS TO STOP WHINING.

Defence

‘Avoiding the issue’ is the most concise way I’ve found of describing a defence which takes fewer shots than average to score against, but is very good at stopping the opposition from shooting in the first place. Among the Championship teams, Forest’s defence have made the bottom left corner of the graph their own – no side was better at stopping their opponents from shooting, but nobody’s defence took fewer shots to breach. Here we see a massive difference between home and away performance: on their travels, Forest were pretty much an average Football League side, but at home they were a very different proposition. It only took visitors to the City Ground an average of four-and-a-half shots to send the ball into the Forest net, so it was just as well that the home defence was so stubborn at preventing shots being taken in the first place. This should surely be a major source of concern for the coaching staff over the summer – it could highlight the need for a new goalkeeper or for the defence as a whole to focus on the quality of chances they allow their opponents as well as the quantity.

After the January window

In the comments section, James Bolton and Husky Red suggested that it’d be interesting to look at how these numbers compare before and after the end of the January transfer window, and they weren’t wrong:

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As you can see, there was a significant improvement at both ends of the pitch. Up front it was profound, with the team creating over two additional chances on average every game and needing an average of four less shots to score each goal. This is a fantastic improvement and compares favourably with a side challenging for a play-off place (it closely resembles the overall performance of Cardiff’s attack, for example). Defensively things are also noticeably better, with approximately one-and-a-half fewer shots being faced per match and an average of two-and-a-half shots more being needed to breach the Forest defence.

The eagle-eyed among you will notice that I even had to add an extra notch to the bottom end of the vertical axis to accommodate Forest’s pre-February home defence, so easily was it breached. While resilience has improved noticeably in the latter part of the season, this is still an area which needs some work, although a lot less than you’d imagine if you’d just seen the overall picture. The good news is that the post-January Forest defence are truly expert at restricting the number of shots their opponents have on goal, so the aforementioned focus on reducing the quality of shots which do get through could well be all that’s required to ensure a top-half finish next season.

Comparison with rivals

For some context, let’s have a look at how Forest’s divisional rivals, Leicester and Derby, fared:

I mentioned earlier that Derby’s overall attacking performance was very similar, but their home and away variation was quite different from Forest’s. Rather than having a huge impact on their efficiency, playing away from Pride Park saw the Rams generate an average of four fewer shots per game. Defensively they were one of the division’s busiest teams, but were also stubbornly difficult to score against. This was particularly true at home, where they were able to repel an average of five more shots for each goal they conceded than when on their travels.

Now let’s have a look at Leicester:

A bit more boring this one. Leicester’s attack was consistently more dangerous home and away, with a narrow improvement at home as you might expect. Defensively they were adept at restricting their opponents’ chances at home but invited significantly more attempts at their goal on the road, which suggests that they might struggle to cope against more attack-minded formations, or lose their concentration under the added pressure of being the away team. If they’re going to turn their owners’ significant investment into a promotion challenge, they’ll certainly need to tighten up away from home next season.

Summing up

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never watched Nottingham Forest play, which in addition to leaving a gaping void in my soul also prevents me from interpreting these graphs using detailed knowledge of the team’s qualities and foibles this season. Please feel free to weigh in with your infinitely more informed interpretations in the comments section below.

Follow Ben on Twitter: @experimental361 and do take time to read his exceptional blog Experimental 361.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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