Being petty is something I believe I have shown I have no problem doing. After naming my SPFL projection model after “He’s probably compensating for something” Proper Football Man Craig Burley, my credentials in the petty game would hopefully be unquestioned. So what has set off my petty radar today? It is none other than Tony “Hey, did you know I scored against Barcelona?” Watt.
I was minding my own business, scrolling on Twitter when Craig Fowler, who I think has been doing a great job covering Scottish football with his colleagues at The Terrace and the Scotsman, posted an article chronicling five “hot takes” people who have been invited to promote the Scottish Cup this season have spouted. In February, after being sent home from loan early from Hearts for having another disappointing season in his disappointing career, Watt was strangely asked to perform this PR exercise. From there, Tony gleefully danced with a lit torch and gasoline as he burned his bridges in Scottish football. Craig in his article says:
“There was a reason Hearts never let the striker speak to the media either before or after matches during his six-month spell in Gorgie, and it quickly became apparent when he was invited back north to promote the Scottish Cup fifth-round in February. Instead of talking up the product, Watt said Scottish football was “not for me” and that he didn’t see himself in the SPFL for “the next five or ten years”. “Everything” about English football was better.”
Now, more illustrious football luminaries have made similar comments. These are nothing new and most football fans in Scotland are usually able to brush them off. I vaguely remember hearing these comments and thinking “Good luck in League Two in England next year Tony,” and went on with my day. However, a perfect storm of Craig posting that article bringing those comments back into my focus and updating the SPFL Premiership stats from the last round of fixtures put me on the stats warpath.
Along with the usual stats I publish, I have been calculating the Goals subtracted by Expected Goals for each player in the SPFL. The thought with this number is that you can see who is under-achieving and over-achieving on attack. If a player has a positive number with the Goals-xG, they are “overachieving”. From this we could gather that either they are due for some regression in their performance or if they are able to continually over achieve, you could be looking at a potential superstar player (for example, Leo Messi consistently outperforms his xG numbers).
On the other end, players with the lowest negative Goals-xG have been underachieving. Similar to those overachieving, if a player has a negative G-xG they are candidates to possibly see an improved performance as a season continues. The other option is they are just not a good player, constantly flubbing quality scoring opportunities. After looking at these numbers and finding the biggest underachiever in the league, can you guess who it is? Yes, it is our old friend Anthony “Barca” Watt.
Despite not playing in the league for months, Tony Watt underperformed his expected goals more than any player in the league by nearly a full goal. His xG total suggests he should have scored 4-5 more goals in his time in Scotland, you know 4-5 more than the 1 single league goal he scored.
Now of course, there are players on that underperforming list that are still in the league and haven’t compounded their lack of success by saying Scotland was “not for them”. I guess, Belgium, Wales, and England aren’t for you either, eh Tone? Regardless, we see
Adebayo Azeez second in the league in underperformance. However, we already saw luck bounce a bit in Azeez’s direction when he scored Partick Thistle’s equalizer at Celtic Park last week to earn the Jags a 1-1 draw. Though I applaud his gaul to be both the biggest underachiever in the SPFL not named Tony Watt this season and earn a yellow card for excessive celebration when he finally does score.
We also see four Rangers players on the list of the 10 biggest players underperforming in the SPFL. James Tavernier, while very attack minded, is a defender, so we cannot fault him too much for not being on this list. Jason Holt mostly plays central midfield, a position we wouldn’t always expect a high number of goals. But many of Rangers issues this season are very much linked with the fact that Martyn Waghorn and Joe Garner are on this list, each having expected to score between 3-4 more goals each this season based on their xG. Whether or not Rangers re-sign Kenny Miller, a striker should be a priority this off-season.
Of course, Kenny McLean appears on this last after I write 1000 words about how his improved performance has helped Aberdeen move into second. I would like remind that I predicted McLean to start scoring more (and he has scored since), as well as that it’s McLean’s forward position and passing that has really helped the Dons. Also on the list is Tom Hateley of Dundee. Hateley has been a player that has caused great frustration for Dee supporters. He has good xA numbers and key pass stats, but has clearly struggled also adding goals to his game this year. Dundee will need that to change as they very much find themselves in a relegation fight.
So in conclusion, perhaps if the thing you have known for most in your career is underachieving and not meeting your potential, maybe you shouldn’t talk about being better than the league you are leaving after you spent months continuing to underachieve. Of course, the applications of using Goals-Expected Goals goes beyond pettiness. A player could be in a run of bad luck and about to turn it around, or just not be what your team needs. Using this with other metrics and video analysis can help you make that determination. Though sometimes being petty is more fun.