What Difference Has Slade Made?

10 league games in to Russell Slade’s reign and we’ve finally managed a league victory, and although survival seems like a long distance away, it seems worth asking the question now whether Slade has actually improved the team and ultimately, whether we can expect further improvements between now and the end of the season.

10 league games is a good point to assess Russell Slade’s reign, as it’s more-or-less, the same amount as Tony Mowbray and Mark Venus had in charge – well, exactly the same amount as Mowbray, Venus had 12 games in charge. It allows us to take a look at how did the best with the squad, and who might be most accountable when relegation happens (aside from the owners, but this article isn’t about that).

The concisest way to look at this is to count how many points we’ve earned under each manager. Mowbray and Slade both took six points from the ten games they had in charge, while Mark Venus’ spell saw us take 13 points from 12 games. In that regard, Venus has been our best manager this season by some distance.

However, that doesn’t take into account underlying performances. There have been several occasions this season where it’s felt like we haven’t taken what we’ve deserved from games, while we’ve also helped ourselves to a few wins that we didn’t really have a right to, such is football. So the question then is which of our managers got performances that deserved to win games.

To calculate this I’ve taken the difference between the shots on target we’ve had in games versus the shots on target we’ve conceded. The games in which we’ve had more than one shot on target compared to our opponents is deemed a game we should have won, any game where it’s been even or one either way is deemed to have been a game we should have drawn.

It’s not a perfect metric to calculate whether a team deserved to win a game, considering that an effort that trickles into a keeper’s arms is considered a shot on target while a sitter smashed onto the post is considered not to have been on target. However, over a period of several games, it goes some way to representing how well a team has played.

Shot Difference Under Each Manager
Shot Difference Under Each Manager

During Mowbray’s ten games in charge, we should have taken eleven points. In particular, the Northampton and Shrewsbury home games both deserved wins, considering we took four and three extra shots on target than our opponents. We over-performed under Mark Venus, taking 13 points when we deserved 11. We’ve also over-performed under Slade, taking six points when we’ve only deserved three.

That stat should be particularly concerning regarding our chances for survival. We’ve consistently been out-shot by our opponents, and, by metric, we haven’t actually deserved to win a game under Slade. If we are to find the eight or nine wins we realistically need to survive under Slade, we’re going to have to improve by a significant amount.

Those stats also show how costly our inability to convert chances into goals under Tony Mowbray have been for our survival prospects. Overall, we should be on 35 points, which isn’t great, but would have meant we would currently be outside the relegation zone.

It’s a philosophical question more than anything. Is it better to be consistently unlucky in football, or is it better to nick points that you don’t deserve?

Over the short-term, it is probably good to be able to scrape results from bad performances, which is maybe a reason to be somewhat encouraged by Slade’s football. However, luck tends to even out over a longer period and you need to make sure you’re putting the odds in your favour.

Some other interesting shots stats to point out in comparing our three managers this season is looking at the individual attacking and defensive performances. Mowbray managed 0.6 goals per game, Venus 1.1 and Slade a round 1 goal per game. Not getting a goalscorer in early in the season seems to have been one of the biggest reasons why we didn’t get the points we deserved under Mowbray and thus, why we’re struggling now.

Attacking and Defensive Performances Under Our Three Managers
Attacking and Defensive Performances Under Our Three Managers

In terms of the amount of shots overall we’ve had per game, Mowbray managed 12.5, Venus 13.5 and Slade sticking out with just 7.2. However, we’ve been far more clinical under Slade than Mowbray or Venus, nearly 40% of the shots we’ve taken under Slade have been on target, which is nearly 10% better than both Mowbray and Venus, and 36% of the shots on target we’ve had under Slade have gone in, more than double what it was under Mowbray. This is probably why we took more points than we’ve deserved under Slade and why we didn’t under Mowbray, by creating better quality chances and then going on to take them.

Defensively though, we’ve gotten worse with each manager. Mowbray’s team conceded 1.2 goals per game, while Slade has us conceding a costly 1.9 per game – which is significant considering we’re only averaging one goal per game. For a defensive manager, that should have been where Slade made a real difference and if he’d been better able to tighten our defence. On the other hand, if we can quickly improve defensively, we have a formula for survival given our clinical nature in front of goal since Slade’s arrival.

Ultimately, Slade’s arrival has seen us become a worse team – we create fewer chances and we’re incredibly leaky defensively. We would do well not to read too much into the win over Gillingham, a game that could easily have lost given the number of chances we conceded. We’ve been a team that’s pretty much deserved to be around the relegation zone all season and we’ve gotten worse.

If we do survive, it would be truly remarkable, and not just because of our position in the division. On the bright side, there is a formula for survival, it just depends on our defence being able to consistently hold firm.

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