Monday, 19 April 2010

Late goals

After the game on Saturday I was talking to friends about how terrible we are in the last few minutes of games. We seem to piss away good or decent situations at the death so regularly and very rarely win things late ourselves. Conversations taken in the despairing hours after a loss don't tend to be too data-based but I've had a look on Soccerbase and it does hold up. Here is our record this season and last season in terms of goals scored in the last five minutes of normal time and in stoppage time, which have changed the result of the game (so Danny Sturridge making it 4-2 against West Brom last April doesn't count.)

We'll run with the good news first: this season there is only Adam Johnson's equaliser at Sunderland. Last year we drew 2-2 at Ewood Park having been 2-0 down with two minutes left, thanks to Daniel Sturridge and Robinho. We also drew 2-2 at St. James' Park, with Stephen Ireland equalising with four minutes left. A Danny Califf own goal in the last minute took our UEFA Cup tie with Midtjylland to extra time, and we won the shoot-out.

It adds up to five goals across four games - because of the two at Ewood Park. All four were equalisers rather than winners (Danny Califf equalised the tie, but won us the leg.)

If you look on the negative side of things the numbers are much bigger:

This season there have been Paul Scholes' 93rd minute header in the 0-1, Rooney's 92nd minute header in the League Cup semi final, Kevin McDonald in the 89th minute in the 3-3, and of course Michael Owen in the thousandth minute of the 4-3.

Last season there was Robbie Keane's 86th minute penalty at White Hart Lane, that last minute equaliser for FC København, and Roman Bednar's injury time winner at the Hawthorns. We lost to both Merseyside clubs in stoppage at Eastlands, courtesy of Tim Cahill and Dirk Kuyt. We were progressing to the next round of the League Cup at the Withdean before Glenn Murray made it 1-1 with one minute left.

(UPDATE: A kind commenter reminds me of something I had tried to expel from my memory: Aalborg away - the tie was 2-0 to us after 175 minutes but we conceded twice in the last five minutes to go to extra time and penalties.)

So that's ten eleven games that we've thrown away. In the league games that's six goals which won the other side the game, plus one equaliser. In the cups we were denied extra time by Rooney, taken to extra time by Murray (and Aalborg) and we drew the first leg in Copenhagen.

It's an appalling record. If you want to find us winning a match in stoppage time you have go all the way back to November 2007 - Stephen Ireland against Reading. This was almost thirty months ago.

I think that 'typical City' can be used lazily, and given more explanatory weight than it should bear, but it's certainly worth considering. The three stoppage time defeats to United this season have perfectly underlined the difference in mentality between the clubs. Unfortunately there is a chasm of difference between saying that we need a 'winning mentality' and actually cultivating one: if it was easy then every club would have one. I can't see us buying Sir Alex Ferguson off United any time soon, but it does mean that we have to get our managerial decisions perfectly right if we want to nurture the same ethos.


thomas said...

it's a bizarre trait for a club to have.. Why we can not concentrate beyond 90 mins is deeply frustrating.

i put some of the blame on not being able to form a solid defensive partnership since distin left for pompey. richards, onouha, dunne, kompany, toure, lescott...boyata We still don't have solid foundations at the back.

Finishing 4th this season would do wonders for our confidence and mentality.

wizzballs said...

good analysis

first requirement is identifying the attitude that you need to instill.

IMO You want the players to take pride in retaining leads, and valuing clean sheets.

fwiw I think this is why I rate Mancini much more highly than Hughes. I saw far too many leads let slip, far too many late equalisers. It was a problem that predated Hughes, but I was not happy that he had made any real progress on the issue. With Mancini, the attitude towards defence, and tactical discipline has improved somewhat. we have not let a lead slip in the league, and have conceded fewer goals. It was clearly his first priority, and we have made progress, even if we are not there yet.

The second requirement is to instil this attitude as deeply as possible.

Hopefully, the manner of the derby defeats will be of use to the team, as they are the most painful possible example of the cost of losing concentration.

But the main requirement would seem to be maintaining this as a priority. That's why, although a Mourinho would continue this work, stability and sensible decisions are required from the men at the very top. Preferably this would mean sticking with a manager who appears to have a clear vision, and appears capable of impressing it upon his players.

But perhaps even more importantly it extends to player transfers, as any false moves could distract from the work that is being done.

I believe this may be what happened with Hughes and Robinho, but I also harbour a suspicion that he valued the spirit involved in fighting back from behind, to such an extent where the team lost sight of the importance of guarding what you have.

IMO it's more important for a manager to impress on his team that the only reliable way to control the result is not to get into trouble in the first place.

this is why I have no time for people who criticise his tactics as negative, because, as I see it, he realises we are still in the early stages of instilling that attitude. against chelsea, burnley, birmingham we saw tantalising glimpses of what can be achieved when our attacking powers are focused into explosive 15-30 minute periods. that has to be the aim. tight and miserly in defence, but potent in attack. the moment you forget about the first part, you are right back at square one. which is pretty much the story of our season!

thomas said...

wizzballs. i agree lol

Withingtonian said...

Andy Gray said on Sky recently that he hated being substituted just before the end of a game because goal scoring opportunities were bound to arise when the opposition were tired or losing concentration. City seem to have been on the wrong end of a few last minute scores but how do we compare with the rest of the league in that regard? Wizzballs talked about clean sheets - City are definitely not good at this with 10 so far this season compared to United's 17 and Chelsea's 15. Something to work on.

TPB said...

And of course there was the horror show vs. Aalborg - 2 goals in the last 5!

You could go even further and say we were better at defending leads under Sven. In the last 5 mins of games, we only lost 1 EPL point (Diomansy Kamara at Eastlands). OTOH, if you factor in the last 10 mins then we did concede a fair few.

And under Pearce, when we did get leads, we held onto them pretty well.

trinder said...

Yes Wizzballs, success is impossible on a leaky defence. Hansen has been saying that since the dawn of time. The best team in the world isn't just receive, pass, offer, Messi, gol; it has by far the meanest defence in La Liga. I'm happy to let Mancio tighten the defence at the expense of all else, as it will bring success far sooner than us keeganing forward ever will. The fun can wait.

While we're on a post with stats, did anyone see Daniel Taylor's in the Guardian yesterday? Bridge has this season not yet crossed a ball that has found a teammate. That is mindboggling.

BlueRain said...

I personally don't care about the stats. The bottom line is that we've lost three times to Utd in injury time and that is NOT acceptable. I am utterly disgusted with those overpaid t0ssers! Waste of space, the lot of them!

pjdemers said...

While I agree with much of what Thomas, Wizzballs, and Trinder have to say, holding on to lead not only requires defensive discipline, it also requires collective discipline, especially when City retain possession. We alarmingly seem to lack a hint of composure in the closing minutes of of a match, even ones we have gone on to win (the 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge comes to mind). Part of the problem (IMHO) stems from not only defending too deep but by not playing sensible football, stroking the ball side to side or running the ball to the corner flag.

I have no problem with a player trying search for a winning goal in the final minutes of a game should the opportunity present itself but even if Bellamy's hopeful diagonal ball had found SWP,he still wouldn't have been in on goal. It should be second nature to a player at this level to instinctively run to the corner flag.

While I rate Mancini highly I do think at times City defend way too deep. It allows the opposition to pump balls into the box hoping for a half-chance from a miscue. It also invites skillful players to run at at people in the box,fully aware that defenders will be hesitant to commit to going hard into a tackle for fear of conceding a penalty.

City need to find a balance between sensible, disciplined defending and sensible, disciplined ball possession.Something at which top teams like Barcelona excel.