Sunday, 10 May 2015

Terry Butcher did a good job at Hibernian... and should improve Newport County

Terry Butcher was appointed manager of Newport County before the last game of the season and arrived in south Wales with much fanfare.
But why?
Butcher left his previous club (Hibernian) under a fairly substantial cloud and with a much diminished reputation having been at the helm for the majority of the 2013/14 season as Hibs finished second bottom in the then Scottish Premier League.
Hibs relegation was confirmed after the team blew a 3-0 lead from the first leg of the relegation playoff against Hamilton Academicals.
Worse for the Butcher, the Hibees actually owned the worst record in the SPL that season and it was only Hearts’ 15 point deduction for going in to administration that kept them off the bottom of the table.

So what did Newport’s board see in Butcher that makes them think the Exiles are a good place for him to resurrect his managerial career?
Well, as Seth Dobson points out Butcher did a pretty decent job at his previous club (Inverness Caledonian Thistle).
He improved the shots on target share consistently and obtained a better shot share than his first year in charge in each of the following three.
(These figures are for games not involving the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers who tend to skew the league given their sheer financial dominance.) 

But that all came crashing down at Easter Road, right?
Actually, no. Terry Butcher did a pretty good job at Hibs and certainly improved the team’s performances compared to his predecessor Pat Fenlon – although that is not immediately apparent.

Looking at the simple league record it’s a pretty poor show.
Fenlon was ticking over at 1.15 points per games after 13 matches with the team in seventh place.
Butcher’s team went just 0.8 points per game over the remaining 25 games and ended the season in 11th.

But when we look at the shot metrics it was a very different tale.
Fenlon’s team had an overall shot share score (otherwise known as Corsi or Total Shots Ratio) of just 0.451 – meaning out of every 10 shots in a match, Fenlon’s Hibs took just 4.5 of them and conceded 5.5.
And the shots on target share was a paltry 0.437 – again meaning out of every 10 shots on target Fenlon’s team took just 4.37 of them.
What was keeping Fenlon’s team from being dragged into a relegation fight even then was a just below average PDO score of 95.11.
As the next two charts show, at the point of his departure Fenlon's team was almost as bad as Ross County, Hearts and St Mirren. 

But PDO is a highly volatile (uncontrollable) statistic which combines goal scoring percentage with save percentage.
A significant element of its variation (around 60%) is based on luck – the “goal off a beachball” factor.
Although it is hard to pinpoint, there does appear to be some influence of managerial tactics and player skill involved in PDO – keep allowing opposing strikers through one-on-one with your goalkeeper and it’s probably not going to end well.
So, the Hibees’ PDO of 95.11 under Fenlon was already below average and would be expected to regress upward slightly to around the 100 point league average over the course of the season.
In other words Hibs (and Terry Butcher when he arrived) were due a little bit of luck.

Instead what they got was an absolute cratering of PDO.
This was despite improved play that saw Butcher reverse Fenlon’s shot share (taking 5.58 shots of every 10) and also make a significant improvement in shots on target share to bring Hibs up to basically league average (taking almost 5 of every ten shots on target).

Butcher improved Hibs' overall shot performance by four shots per game – getting the team to take 2.69 shots per game more and restricting the opposition to 1.32 fewer shots per game.
There was also an improvement in the shots on target total (although not so significantly) with Hibs taking an extra three shots on target every four games.

Unfortunately, Butcher inherited a league average save percentage (around 70%) and saw that drop by 10 percentage points - meaning the team was shipping an inordinate amount of goals.
Meanwhile, the below average scoring percentage stayed right where it was.
Whether this horrible save rate was down to Butcher’s tactical decisions or just dumb luck is hard to say (I didn’t see enough of Hibs games to look at that). But I would usually lean more towards the latter – especially where we have seen both extremes in Butcher’s history at ICT.

At the end of the season that left Hibs looking like this compared to the rest of the league...

.... performances which should have had then in the top eight, and potentially the top six. Instead they finished bottom but one.

So to sum up – Hibs probably sacked Butcher far too readily (although given the relegation it is not surprising) and Newport potentially have a very good manager who should improve the team over the next few years.

Incidentally, Newport ended this League Two season with a very nice 0.53 overall shot share, a not quite so nice 0.483 shots on target share and a pretty much league average PDO of 100.26.

Enjoy the summer Exiles fans.

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