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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

In Defence

After a glut of goals and high-scoring games in recent weeks in the Football League, Turls analyses the case against the defences.

There were ten goals as Preston came from behind to stun Leeds

It's Saturday afternoon and I'm listening to the football results come in. I tend to zone out most results because I'm usually moaning at how crap Forest are, or jumping up and down and thinking that we'll win the league.

Both these reactions tend to last for a few seconds until I calm down and realise that it's only a game. However, after back-to-back 1-1 draws, I was allowed to bask in the insanity of the remaining scores.

In midweek, ten goals were scored at Elland Road as Preston came from 4-1 down to win 6-4. Incredible game, and the type of thing that rarely happens.

Then I heard that Norwich had beaten Leicester 4-3 at Carrow Road. I wasn't sure what to make of this and then, when the scores kept coming, I heard three games that ended 3-2 and another that had ended 4-2.

Wow! When I looked at the scores online, I realised there were another ten games that involved four goals or more.

Now I'm only a young lad and haven't got many seasons under my belt, but it seemed quite remarkable that one day could provide such a flurry of goals. I worked it out that 98 goals had been scored - that was despite eight games ending 0-0.

It took me until the weekend to recover from that attacking onslaught and I thought I would be looking back on that Tuesday night with a sense of awe.

Instead, I wandered into my house at 5pm - after a day with the lady - to find that another 88 goals had been scored in one day's play.

I didn't know what to say. I just stood there with the remote in my hand trying to figure out what had happened in the last week. Accrington won 7-4 and Chesterfield and Crewe drew 5-5. On the back of that 6-4 and 4-3, I was shocked.

186 goals. In 72 games. At over 2.5 goals a game. Only ten games remained goal-free.

I woke up on Sunday thinking that everyone would be going on about how exciting the Football League is but, when I drew back the curtains, it was raining. A lot.

This dampened my mood, but it also made me realise that, although goals are good for some, they also represent a complete inability to defend.

I'm not one of these people who believe that goals make a great game. I must admit that I do enjoy a game with goals in, but I also love a tactical game of football that ends goalless.

Now this last week has got me thinking. Have strikers got better or have defenders got worse? Maybe a bit of both?

So far this season there have been 19 games that featured six goals or more. Huddersfield have finished either side of a 4-2 score, Peterborough have played in a 5-1, a 4-2, and a 5-2.

Gillingham have lost 5-4 and 7-4. Leicester, Leeds, and Preston have all been involved in two high-scoring games.

I decided to look at the highlights for the following games to see what the quality of defending was like for the following games:

Norwich City 4-3 Leicester City
Leeds United 4-6 Preston North End

Chesterfield 5-5 Crewe Alexandra

Accrington Stanley 7-4 Gillingham

I'll stress that I have only seen the highlights of each game, so can't provide a full picture of the match. If you were at any of the games and can shed some more light on the defending then get in touch with us at

Norwich City 4-3 Leicester City

Norwich 0 Leicester 1:

First of all, the Foxes winger is allowed to run about 20-25 yards without anyone putting a tackle in.

Then, upon reaching the area, the Norwich centre back refuses to charge him down and, instead, stands on the corner of the six yard box with his arms out.

He should have closed the gap and stopped the winger from getting the shot away. Still, the keeper should have saved it.

Norwich 1 Leicester 1:

This is a difficult one to claim as bad defending, but it is very much a case of ball watching. As the ball was played in from the left, two Norwich players were allowed to run into the box unaccompanied, thus giving them a numerical advantage.

The ball is then played across the box from the right where a Norwich player is standing with nobody marking him. All a little haphazard in my eyes.

Norwich 2 Leicester 1:

Penalty. Arms raised. Silly.

Norwich 3 Leicester 1:

Can't blame the defence here. The left winger just outpaces Leicester's right back and a beautifully weighted ball frees the scorer down the middle. Good finish.

Norwich 3 Leicester 2:

Bizarre, and quite fluky. A mishit is flicked in a Leicester player's path, he then has his shot cleared off the line before hoofing in the rebound.

A picky man could say the guy who flicked the ball on shouldn't have been able to turn so easily, but it looked like a good piece of play to me.

Norwich 4 Leicester 2:

A 25-yard screamer. Nothing the defence could do.

Norwich 4 Leicester 3:

Good through-ball, good touch past the defender, good finish.

Leeds United 4-6 Preston North End

Leeds 0 Preston 1:

Good wing play down the right, skidding a cross/shot across goal. Keeper can only parry it into the striker's path. Good attacking football.

Leeds 1 Preston 1:

Left winger cuts inside too easily. Shouldn't have been allowed to go inside with that much comfort. Then, when the ball is played in, Preston are outnumbered right in the centre of the goal. Poor defending all round.

Leeds 2 Preston 1:

Long ball pumped in from the left flank towards the back post. When the ball is headed back across goal, Preston are caught ball watching resulting in three Leeds players to line up and head it in.

Leeds 3 Preston 1:

Right winger goes down the flank. Never looks like going past his man after some good jockeying from the full back. He pokes it inside to a player about 15 yards out in acres of space.

How has he got that much space in the box? It's shocking. This guy then scores - unsurprisingly.

Leeds 4 Preston 1:

Preston look a little stretched, despite it only being the first half. The ball is played out to the left where the winger cuts inside past one player, sells a dummy to another, and then drills it into the goal.

Allowed to go inside far too easily and should have been shepherded towards the byline.

Leeds 4 Preston 2:

Ball picked up in the middle after a weak Leeds challenge. It's played out to Preston's striker, who makes a little space to create a shooting chance. Keeper beaten at near post. Rubbish keeping.

Leeds 4 Preston 3:

Scored straight from a corner. Rubbish keeping again.

Leeds 4 Preston 4:

Penalty. Ball played out right, full back does the right thing by herding the winger to the byline but, instead of following his plan through to the end, he decides to dive in when the players is running away from goal.

Ridiculous penalty to give away.

Leeds 4 Preston 5:

Long ball to a fat Preston striker who uses his bulk to turn his man and fire past the keeper. Good strike work. Defender could have stayed squarer instead of getting turned, but Jon Parkin is very good at working defenders over.

Leeds 4 Preston 6:

Long diagonal ball from left to right. Preston man ghosts in at the far post and heads it back towards the far post.

Again, another example of ball watching rather than following the man. There is no way a ball should be travelling that far without being cut out by a defender.

Chesterfield 5-5 Crewe Alexandra

Chesterfield 0 Crewe 1:

Nicely weighted ball aiming towards the back post that splits two players. The onrushing striker nods it in at the far post. The guy who made the cross was closed down well and it was a very well taken goal.

Chesterfield 0 Crewe 2:

Free kick. Don't know why it was given - blame the BBC for that, for me - but it was a beautifully taken goal.

Chesterfield 0 Crewe 3:

Long ball from the back. Nobody attacked the ball properly and when a Chesterfield player did come out to meet it he completely misjudged the bounce and saw the ball fly past him.

Awful defending. They were outnumbered at the back as well, so take your pick on the mistakes made in defence.

Chesterfield 1 Crewe 3:

Nice cross, and the striker gets in front of his man to nod it into the net. You could maybe could argue that the defender should have seen the run, but there is a reason these guys play in League Two.

Chesterfield 1 Crewe 4:

Now this is a great goal. Man cushions it down to a team-mate, makes a run through the middle and receives the return pass and rounds the keeper.

However, nobody is near the goalscorer when he originally brings the ball down and his run is straight. No deviations. No clever stop and starting. Just a straight quick run through the middle.

Defence done for pace, but they should have learned by then that this guy was quick - they were already 3-1 down.

Chesterfield 2 Crewe 4:

Cross from the right. Jack Lester ghosts in at the back stick and nods it in. Clever run, but the full back was caught ball watching.

Chesterfield 3 Crewe 4:

Penalty. Dived in close to the byline. Stupid challenge.

Chesterfield 3 Crewe 5:

Free kick drifted in from the right, headed towards goal, and turned in by a striker. The guy who headed it looked to have no pressure on him, but he seemed to engineer his room well.

Chesterfield 4 Crewe 5:

Another penalty. This one wasn't as stupid as the last one. A good lay off allowed the striker to run through where he was bundled over.

Contact was made, but it wasn't an overly stupid challenge. Over excited shoulder barge would be one way to put it - but a definite penalty.

Chesterfield 5 Crewe 5:

Shot from outside the box. Well taken, but should have been closed down. Crewe were probably mentally and physically tired, but it still doesn't excuse how he just sauntered to the edge of the box to have a pop.

Accrington Stanley 7-4 Gillingham

Accrington 1 Gillingham 0:

Smart work down the right freed up space for the cross where the man was picked out brilliantly.

Maybe he should have been marked, but the winger turned the defence around and put them out of position with his skills. Well taken goal.

Accrington 1 Gillingham 1:

Long throw in flicked in at the near post. Long throws are difficult to deal with, as anyone who has played Stoke will tell you, so it's hard to question the defending here.

Accrington 1 Gillingham 2:

Although the start of this was a long ball, the end was nice. Big man flicks it on to another big man, who flicks it down to a little man, who flicks it on to the original big man who has made a run into the box. Goal.

It happened quickly so Accrington shouldn't be too hard on themselves. I wouldn't be.

Accrington 2 Gillingham 2:

Another well worked goal - the player had the defence twisting and turning before the ball was slotted into the corner. Can't do too much as a defender apart from drop a reducer in there.

Accrington 3 Gillingham 2:

The ball has been played inside and two players are running on to it - attacker and defender. Defender slides in - meaning he has to win the ball or foul the man.

He did neither, allowing the attacker to chip a beauty inside the far post. If you're going to go to ground as a defender, you have to win the ball.

Accrington 3 Gillingham 3:

Not sure how the winger broke free, but the way he got round the last man is ludicrous. The defender thinks a shot is going to come in, so jumps in front of the onrushing attacker to block it.

Said attacker pokes it past him and lifts it over the keeper. If that were me, I'd be looking back and asking myself why I didn't just stand my ground.

Accrington 4 Gillingham 3:

Penalty. Looked a little harsh, but he had his hands all over him so the ref had to give it if he saw it.

These types of penalties should be given more often but, because they aren't, defenders think they can get away with giving an attacker a hug.

Accrington 5 Gilingham 3:

Penalty. Wingers dances past full back on the left and cuts inside. Full back gets back and makes the tackle. Looks like he wins the ball in a very good tackle. Harshly given.

Accrington 6 Gillingham 3:

Long ball down the right. Man is in acres of space. Defence has clearly tried to play an offside trap that hasn't worked. Striker keeps going and slips it under the keeper.

Accrington 6 Gillingham 4:

Penalty. Who knows what was happening here? Long ball flicked on and the ball is then allowed to bounce. Defender nods it back to the keeper who makes a right hash of it and ultimately brings down the striker.

Accrington 7 Gillingham 4:

Ball lifted cleverly over the top down the right and the attacker hammers it into the far corner. Done and done.


Out of those 38 goals, I calculate that at least 14 of them came as a result of bad defending. That means about a third of the goals could have been stopped had the defence been more organised.

Unsurprisingly, five of these examples of poor defending came in the Leeds/Preston game. Neither team has a particularly good defensive record - and it's easy to see why.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh on the defenders, but it seems to be that the quality has reduced over the years. Maybe they are struggling to adapt to the change in centre forwards?

Gone are the days of a huge lumbering striker leading the line, instead, more emphasis appears to be placed on quick and lightweight players who are able to create space and turn the defence more easily.

For many of the goals, the defenders are caught ball watching - a problem that should not be affecting professional footballers. Ball watching should be an issue saved for Sunday League football, not the Championship.

Diving in also appears to be a problem. Most of the penalties were conceded in positions that didn't pose a direct threat to the goal and a few of them when the attacker was running away from goal.

They are silly fouls to give away, and the managers should be forcing the issue that you should not dive in on a man who is on the edge of the area at the byline.

Goals make games more exciting for the majority of fans so maybe we shouldn't be complaining too much.

However, I honestly feel that if the defensive lines aren't shored up, we could see more and more games finish with at least six goals in them.

Turls will be analysing the defending for goals in our Big Matches over the coming weeks as part of his focus on the state of defences.

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