John Horgan: Playing by numbers is vital but only one stat counts 

Possession doesn't always equal goals in the modern game
John Horgan: Playing by numbers is vital but only one stat counts 

Brighton and Hove Albion's Alireza Jahanbakhsh is challenged by Crystal Palace's Jordan Ayew and Gary Cahill. Picture: Mike Hewitt/PA Wire.

STATISTICS now play a huge role across the sporting landscape and form a key part of half-time team talks and full-time analysis.

Some teams employ two or three people to gather statistical information and the laptop is often as important as the team talk.

Huge emphasis is placed on the various aspects of games and on our TV screens on a nightly basis we see those analysing games digest the statistics available to them.

But is there too much emphasis on these kinds of figures because in every code only one statistic counts and that is the score at the final whistle.

You can talk ‘til the cows come home about the possession one team had over the other, how many shots on goal that they had, corners and so on. But it all comes down to the figures on the scoreboard when the referee calls time.

Last Monday night we had the most glaring example of one team’s dominance over the other when Crystal Palace faced Brighton in a key Premiership game that may yet have far-reaching consequences for both sides at the end of the season.

Brighton absolutely dominated the entire proceedings, it was as lopsided a contest as we have seen for quite some time.

Brighton had 75% possession throughout the game. They had 25 shots on goal as against just three for Palace whilst they had 13 corner kicks and Palace had none.

They had 625 completed passes as against just 165 for Roy Hodgson’s team. Coming down the home stretch they should have been home and hosed.

But if ever the term, ‘sport is a funny old game’ came into play it did here and in the game’s last moments, Palace delivered a wonderful winner, courtesy of Christian Benteke who volleyed home spectacularly If you were a Brighton fan you would have been in despair.

Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke and Gary Cahill celebrate after the Premier League win at the AMEX Stadium, Brighton.
Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke and Gary Cahill celebrate after the Premier League win at the AMEX Stadium, Brighton.

Brighton defender Joel Veltman said afterwards that the Palace winner had felt like a robbery, how right he was Palace boss Hodgson took a different viewpoint when he reflected on the contest afterwards on Sky Sports.

“It’s always great to score in the last minute, especially when we had to soak up a lot of pressure.

“The defending was very good, they threw their bodies on the line. We worked hard to make certain they didn’t get many sights at goal. We didn’t create as many chances we would like. The two we created from crosses were goals.

“Tonight from the very start we showed we’d make it hard for them to score. The bodies were there, headers were there, blocks were there. We took maximum advantage from the counter-attack.

“We get so hung up on statistics these days. The game is decided by goals. Goals are a question of how well you take your chances and defend theirs.”

Week in, week out we see this kind of an occurrence, maybe a game not as one-sided as this one was or the type of outcome that we got.

But it happens, total dominance by one team not being translated into scores at the other end and the result can be a heavy price being paid.

This type of occurrence is frequent too in GAA games, one team having bagfuls of possession but when it comes to splitting the posts, their radar is miles off.

How often have we seen a team shoot 20 or more wides in a game, a free-taker having a very off day and a reluctance to change?

Of course, a management team has to have a factual account at the end of a game, given something to work on and try to eradicate for the next day.

But is it going too far, is too much time being spent discussing statistics.

Even right down to junior level we have people discussing how often a player hits the ball from his right-hand side and his left.

They say possession is nine-tenths of the law and that might be right but possession in a sporting context does not add up to much if you cannot put the ball in the back of the net.

And never was that more obvious than that Premier League game last Monday night when Brighton found that out to their cost.

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