“An analysis on the possession rate averages in the 2014-15 season Championship Season. Focusing on Birmingham City”.
Recently, I analysed whether the average rate of possession a team has over the course of the season indicates their actual league table position, in the 2014-215 Premier League season. The results did actually prove this to be correct and I wrote a blog on it which can be found in a link at the bottom of this.
From this I thought I would analyse 2014-15 Championship season, to see if similar results came up. The answer was no. It looks more like an earthquake reading. On the left hand side of the graph (Y axis) is the possession rate and at the bottom (X axis) is the list of teams in their actual league table position after 46 games. I gathered the data from every match played season. All 552.
You can see from figure 1, Bournemouth dominated the possession average rate at 58.58%. Other clubs such as Norwich City, Brentford & Derby also had their fair share of possession and were up there in the league table. Surprising stats from the data include relegated Wigan Athletic and Brighton, who actually had higher amounts of possession than promoted Watford & Middlesbrough. But still finished 23rd and 20th in the table.
But the most surprising statistic of them all, Birmingham City had the least possession average in the whole league over the course of the 2014-15 Championship Season. Even lower than Blackpool! Being a blues fan, I thought I would do a little write-up on this stat.
Lee Clark lasted just 12 games before being sacked, after losing at home to Bolton. In these 12 matches, Birmingham’s possession rate was at 45.5% and averaged 0.91 points per match. If this rate continued after 46 matches blues would have scored around 42 points. Enough to get us relegated.
The Rowett Revolution
In came Gary Rowett to save the season. He took charge of the final 32 matches. Under his management blues averaged just 43.15% possession, the lowest across the whole division. In fact in these 32 matches, Birmingham had control of the possession just 4 times. The 16 away matches blues played with Rowett as boss, not once did they have more possession than their opponents.
However the average points scored per match rose to 1.67. If Rowett was in charge at the start of the season and produced the same average points per match, Birmingham would be looking at 76-77 points. Level on points with Derby, and 1 point behind play-off placed Ipswich Town & Brentford.
It was no coincidence that Birmingham had the least possession average in the championship and performed as play-off contenders. It proves the strategy and game plan that Rowett possessed, was absolutely spot on. Birmingham became an inch perfect organised team and allowed the opposition to have the ball, where they struggled to break us down.
There were plenty of quotes from Rowett throughout the season which reiterated the defensive, counter attacking, organised philosophy. One was from the very first game in charge away to Wolves. “Most of our focus this week has been working on our defensive shape and structure”.
Bolton Away- “The game suited us – Bolton tried to play through us because they have good technical players in the middle of the park.”It was about blocking up that area, breaking wide and counter-attacking. With a bit more composure and better timing in the final third, we could have scored one or two more with our breakaways.”
Another quote from Alex Neil (Norwich Manager) last season, after having 65% possession Vs Blues, but failing to break them down- “It was a case of us dominating the ball for most of the game and them sitting in.
The 4-2-3-1 formation-
Rowett knows all the ins and outs of this formation. Birmingham used it to absolute perfection and at a devastating effect defensively. I will now explain how and why I believe what worked so well within this formation. Most obviously, the 2 defensive midfielders aided the back 4 throughout the whole season. The screening of the ball into the opposition front men and also the support offered to the full backs was tremendous all year round. This was shown with David Davis being awarded with players player of the season.
Next is the pass that always got us out of trouble, the opposition full backs turning and also dragging centre halves out of position with the willing runner Clayton Donaldson and at times Andrew Shinnie. I attended home matches last season where this ball happened time and time again, it became very boring to watch.
Eventually I noticed just how effective this ball actually was. First and most important to this ball, were the full backs Caddis & Grounds. They became masters of it. The ball im referring to can be seen in figure 2.
Apart from troubling the oppositions back four, it also allowed Birmingham to push their own back line up, which then pushed the 2 defensive midfielders on. With one simple accurate clip from Caddis or Grounds into the right area, blues started attack from defence. Often at times i noticed the amount of little throw-ins Birmingham would win from Donaldson pressure. These throw-ins or hopefully the ball being held up by Donaldson, would leave blues just 30 metres from the opposition goal in prominent positions to attack.
More importantly to Rowett, the opposition would be 70 yards further away from the Birmingham goal with a simple clip from either full back.
Clearly due to the possession rates being so low, Birmingham would not regain possession from this very often. However it pushed the opposition back 60-70 yards, or if regaining the ball, 30 yards away from scoring.
In other words, Birmingham and Rowett never were the side to play the ball around the back, through into the midfield, with careful build up play. This may be the reason for the lowest possession rates In the championship.
It may seem all too obvious that this ball is going to happen so the opposition left back and right back would just drop off in order to stop that pocket of space being exploited by Donaldson curved run?
However with the blues wingers dropping short, it meant the opposition full backs had to follow them or risk the likes of Gray & Cotterill having a 5- yard run on them. As a result of the opposition full backs having to get close to our skillful wingers, the space was there in behind and hence got the opposition turning often, and pulling centre backs out of position.
Evidence of this was in the post match interview with Rowett at Huddersfield away-
“I just felt we weren’t positive enough in the first half, and at half-time, we said to the lads either we can look to get a 0-0 and try to nick one, or we can aim to get higher up the pitch and take the game more to them, which is what we did.”
“We aim to get higher up the pitch” are the key words from the gaffer. Another example of Birmingham’s direct play was again the interview with Alex Neil, the Norwich manager. “We moved the ball through the zones while Birmingham were much more direct – albeit just as effective”.
The moral of this write-up blues fans, is if you are getting frustrated with Birmingham’s lack of build-up play, attacking flair and minimal possession, next season, it is all part of Rowett’s mastermind. I hope this mastermind is carried forward to next season and Birmingham go one better and make the play-offs. I also hope it has gave a little insight, and you see matches differently next season!
My final hope is that you enjoyed reading this, any comments are welcomed. Here is a link to the 2014-15 Premier league analysis previously mentioned at the start of the blog!
Keep Right On!
By Tom Allard