Monday, 16 March 2009

Defensive solidity

One of the more interesting things about the second half of the season has been our new found defensive solidity.

The coinciding of three trends - the arrival of Shay Given, the return of Richard Dunne from suspension, and the introduction of Nedum Onuoha at centre back have all contributed to a 2009 which is much stronger defensively than 2008.

The first of these - Onuoha at centre half - started in the 1-0 win against Wigan on January 17. Nedum has played the last twelve games since then (his longest run of first team starts for years). In those twelve games we've conceded ten goals - an average of 0.83 goals/game. Contrast this to our games this season up to that point: 30 games, 43 goals conceded and a 1.43 goal/game average.

The second, chronologically, was Shay Given's debut - in the 1-0 home defeat of Middlesboro on February 7. In the nine games since we've conceded eight goals - that's 0.89 goals/game. In the pre-Given era we conceded 45 from 33 - 1.36 goals/game. The third was the return of Richard Dunne from suspension at København on February 19. Since then he has played all seven games, in which we have conceded six goals (0.86 goals/game). Or, if we isolate the season before Dunne's return, we're left with 1.34 goals/game.

So there's a statistically clear defensive tightening after each of these three events. It is interesting that the one event which provides the clearest contrast between two halves of the season is the re-introduction of Onuoha rather than the introduction of Given or the return of Dunne. But the stats can only tell you so much. The point is that these three have provided a solid base at the back perhaps unlike anything we've had since the James - Distin - Dunne era.

More interesting is that the solution to our centre back dilemma (Richards and Ben Haim, anyone?) should have been the one of longest standing at the club. As we all know, Dunne is the four time Player of the Year, with 285 league appearances. He made his debut under Joe Royle in October 2000. Onuoha, though, is our second longest serving continuously serving player, having made his debut in October 2004. (Wright-Phillips also played under Royle, debuting before Dunne, although he did later spend three seasons at Chelsea). This suggests that there may well be something in Hughes' talk of having players 'with an empathy for the club.'

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