Friday, 30 October 2015

Championship Week 13: Are Birmingham legit?

This week marks the anniversary of Gary Rowett being appointed Brimingham City manager and with the Blues sitting in the playoff spots it seems the Championship has been awash with articles about how successful Rowett’s tenure has been.
To top it all there's a big West Midlands derby against Wolves this weekend too.

But are the plaudits warranted?

When Lee Clark was sacked Birmingham were 21st just one point off the relegation zone. By the end of the season they were nicely in the top half of the table having secured 10th position.
With relegation successfully avoided and now an apparent push for a playoff place on the cards this season it seems case closed – Rowett is a success.

Let’s have a look at the numbers to see if they back this up. (I’m using statistics under all situations in this instance to be able to compare last season and this.)

Clark left with an overall shot share (Corsi/TSR) of roughly 46% - his teams took 46% of all shots in games they played, and therefore conceded around 54% of all shots.
Most worryingly the shots on target share was worse at below 42%.
Add to that Clark had seen shots scored and saved by his team at a slightly below average rate and the place just off the relegation zone was rather obvious.

So what of Rowett’s tenure so far?
Last season Rowett’s overall shot share actually dipped below Lee Clark’s, but crucially, his shots on target share lept eight percentage points to just below average. These figures have been maintained so far this season, indicating it may well be a product of Rowett’s tactics.
If we look at the per game figures last season we can see Rowett’s team took and conceded a near identical amount of shots per game, but managed to get 1.2 more per game on target, while only conceding one more on target every seven or so games.
Certainly that is a happy improvement to make.

This season, Birmingham have been tighter at the back, but have also been similarly conservative up front.

The other significant difference between Rowett and Clark is the rate chances are being scored and, most importantly, saved at.
Somehow Birmingham’s GK got 10 percentage points better under Rowett’s stewardship last year, and it has continued at the same clip so far this term.
While the scoring rate was largely unchanged last season, the increase in shots on target gave 0.32 goals per game (almost 11 actual goals) more than Lee Clark would have expected.

This season the shooting rate has seen a 10 percentage point increase as well, meaning Birmingham have the second highest PDO in the Championship at present.

Given this it’s no wonder Rowett’s team is almost unrecognisable from the one Lee Clark was regularly fielding.

So is Rowett the greatest thing to hit Birmingham since Tim Sherwood?

I would expect this massive run of form to cool off at some point (above average shooting and save rates are pretty tough to maintain over a long term – indeed it already has done over the last few games) and Birmingham to drop back into the middle of the pack.
But Rowett certainly has improved the team’s shots on target generation while seemingly not damaging its defensive performance, and that deserves some praise.

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