Updated Projected League Table & a look at how to save Dundee's season


written by: @TheGersReport

This is part of an ongoing series in which I will regularly share a projection model that makes data based predictions of the final Scottish Premiership table.  It is rooted in projecting goal differentials for the season & the fact there is a direct correlation between goal differential & points earned.

The model banks points already earned by each club & applies Expected Goal differentials to project out the rest of the season.  For more, check out this introductory post.

As more matches are played:

  • Teams will have banked more (or less) actual points & that will be reflected in the projections

  • The Expected Goals Differentials will become more solidified

This means the projections will build accuracy as each week of the season passes.

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There might be a bit of pain before it gets better, but it will get better.
— Jim McIntyre, Dundee Evening Telegraph

Dundee have turned to 46-year old Jim McIntyre to fix the mess left behind by Neil McCann & surprisingly he actually has a pretty decent history of improving clubs that he takes over. 

His tenures with Dunfermline & Queen of the South ranked pretty high when I put together a statistical model that rated the jobs done by Scottish Premiership & Championship managers in recent seasons.  The model liked McIntyre because he led both clubs to improved results & better goal differentials than the managers he replaced.  He didn’t fare as well with Ross County, but it does appear that Dundee have made a pretty smart hire in McIntyre.

So, where should he start in his overhaul at Dens Park?  As regular readers may have predicted, this is when I tend to parse out these projections by isolating actual goals for & allowed, along with Expected Goals & Expected Goals against to see what is driving Dundee’s projected place in the table.

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Dundee have been horrible this season.  On average, they get outscored by their opponents by 1.8 goals per match. 

That’s just so bad.

They’ve only scored five goals, while allowing 23. 


Clearly there needs to be a philosophical shift for how Dundee want to play football.  Neil McCann’s dedication to playing ‘the right way’ was admirable to some…but outright stubborn to others.

He is a manager with very clear ideas of how he wants to play and for better or for worse he doesn’t abandon his approach. He would never compromise. He follows his ideas to the death, sometimes to the detriment of what the match is demanding. If you want to bring the ball out from the back, that’s fine and well – but there were matches where we risked so much bringing the ball out and then we would get the ball into midfield and play long balls.
— Julen Etxabeguren, Daily Record (August, 2018)

The numbers below highlight the passing profile in which McCann wanted his team to embrace.

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As Craig Fowler, highlighted in his analysis of McCann’s downfall - Dundee were able to control possession in their matches this season  (only Celtic, Rangers & Hibs have better possession rates) but it never actually led to anything.  McCann’s Dundee team never seemed to establish how they wanted to attack teams.  If the hope was sustained possession would eventually break down opponents, well that clearly wasn’t working.  Dundee have the fourth lowest shot totals in the league  (again, despite having the fourth highest possession rate).  Additionally, only St. Mirren & Hamilton have fewer entries or completed passes into the penalty area.

Jesse Curran, courtesy of David Young

Jesse Curran, courtesy of David Young

Ironically, some of the statistical indicators suggest that Dundee would be better off changing its focus from obsessive possession to becoming a team reliant on counter attacking.

Under McCann this season, only Celtic averages fewer counter attacks per match.  That makes sense…both teams stress retaining possession as they look for openings to break down a defence.  One team has players like Tom Rogic, Scott Brown, James Forrest, & Olivier Ntcham, the other is Dundee.

<Ironically, 13% of Dundee’s few counters led to shots which is the fifth highest rate behind Hibs, Rangers, Celtic, & Hearts.>

It actually seems like Dundee have been at their most dangerous when they diverted from the game plan. The average amount of passes in attacks that led to goals this season for Dundee is 2.8 passes.  For context, Celtic average eleven passes in the build-up to their goals, Hibs 10.8, Rangers 10.

Pass, pass, pass, shot sounds like a counter attack.  Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, shot is what Neil McCann dreamt about happening...only if....


Another indicator that Dundee may have what it takes to be a counter attacking team, is that they have the players that can beat defenders on a dribble.  Beating that first defender often can be the play that triggers a high tempo attack.  Dundee average the fourth most successful dribbles per 90 - only Celtic, Hibs & Kilmarnock average more.

There are fourteen players in the league who average three or more successful dribbles per 90 minutes & two of them play for Dundee.

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Adil Nabi had played primarily as a central attacking midfielder in his limited minutes, while Calvin Miller is a left back — which creates a bit of a line-up dilemma for Jim McIntyre.  Cammy Kerr is also a threat on the wings as a full back & averages 2.4 successful dribbles per 90, while Dundee’s best playmaker is usually deployed as the team’s right back.

Jesse Curran was a player I championed this summer as a someone who should feature a whole lot more this season & indeed, when he has played, he’s made me look good. Curran ranks 15th in the league when it comes to Key Passes per 90 (averaging more than the likes of Ryan Kent & Callum McGregor).  Among full backs, only Kieran Tierney & James Tavernier have set up more shots per 90 than Curran.

When you add Glen Kamara’s ability to transition the ball from defense to attack, Dundee has the players who really could transform them into a threatening counter attacking team. 

Now, it’s impossible to sugarcoat the fact that Dundee have real issues at either end of the park.

While Dundee could pass the ball and, therefore, win the midfield battle, they frequently lost the war due to their deficiencies in the two most important areas of the football pitch: their own penalty area and that of their opponents.
— Craig Fowler, The Scotsman (October, 2018)

Devoted followers of Expected Goals have sworn that Sofien Moussa is due to turn into a prolific goal scorer.  While I do see an argument for riding the odds that Moussa will eventually turn all of those chances into goals…I think Jim McIntyre would be much better served going in a different direction.

Matthew Henvey (courtesy of Callan Media)

Matthew Henvey (courtesy of Callan Media)

In 18-year old Matthew Henvey, Dundee have one of the better forward prospects in Scotland. I highlighted his exploits this summer, & ironically...Dundee shipped out their other two top young strikers in recent months. 

Most fans of Scottish football know the name Craig Wighton & may have been surprised when Dundee let him go to Hearts.  Unsurprisingly, he has failed to find the back of the net for Hearts this season.  That may seem harsh, but as I pointed out this summer - Wighton was easily the least promising of forward prospects coming out of Dundee’s system.

Whenever Wighton has played first team football he has been a below average goal scorer (outside of his time in League One). Interestingly, it was 17-year old Matthew Henvey who shined brighter in his brief stint in the first team for Dundee scoring a goal & getting three shots off in only 40 minutes. Couple that with the fact he finished third in age adjusted goals in the Developmental League & Neil McCann may just might want to give Henvey another shot at first team minutes.
— Your humble author, Modern Fitba (July 2018)

Side-note:  the other young forward who I had showing more promise than Wighton was Cedwyn Scott, who has been loaned out to Berwick Rangers this season.

He’s currently averaging 0.96 goals per 90. 

So, is Northern Soul Kitchen a Bands FC thing? courtesy of BRFC

So, is Northern Soul Kitchen a Bands FC thing? courtesy of BRFC

Back to Henvey.  The other two young forwards, who admittingly have a year or two on him, that I think of that proves that giving youth a chance can work are Oli Shaw & Bruce Anderson.  Shaw currently averages 0.58 goals per 90 for Hibs (after averaging 0.69 last season), while Anderson averages 0.70 for Aberdeen.  Neither have been given real, extended runs in the first team but have scored goals pretty regularly in their limited minutes. 

Would it hurt Dundee to see if Henvey could mirror those exploits….even if they are in isolated bursts of minutes?  Would they be any worse off than they are now having scored five goals in ten matches??

courtesy of Getty Images

courtesy of Getty Images

The biggest key to making that shift to being an effective counter attacking team will come down to McIntyre’s ability to improve Dundee’s defensive play. 

Dundee have been giving up lots of goals & the numbers suggest this doesn’t come down to a stretch of bad luck.

Below you’ll see a visual depicting each team’s Conversion Rate Against (% of shots allowed that are goals) & their Expected Conversion Rates Against (the % of shots that the xG suggest they should allow to be goals).

Basically, are teams allowing soft goals? Are they getting scored on because the consistently allow dangerous chances?

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Dundee has allowed a goal on 16% of the shots they have faced, only Motherwell has been worse.  However, you also see that Dundee has the worst Expected Conversion Rate Against rate in the league at 14%. 

Motherwell need to be looking at their goalie (they’ve allowed eight goals form outside the box, which is four more than the next worst team). 

Meanwhile, Dundee has allowed 18 goals from inside the box, which is the most in the league.  Teams are finding it to be way too easy to get into dangerous scoring areas.  Tactically something needs to be done to address this.

The formula for generating counter attacks begins with strong defensive play.  Dundee has the players to transition the ball up the pitch & have potential game breakers in the likes of Jesse Curran, Calvin Miller & maybe even a Matthew Henvey. But without the defensive play it doesn’t really matter.  Can Jim McIntyre find tactical approaches that will begin the limit the amount of quality chances they give up?  If he can, the team can stay up. If not......

Some notes…

  • This post was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.  Additional stats are courtesy of InStat Football.

  • Yes, I do remember that Kenny Miller is on this team. However, it’s time that management forgot Kenny Miller is on this team.  He currently is averaging 0.17 shots per 90.  Fifteen other Dundee players average more.

  • Dundee have three good full backs & need to find a way to play them all.  Jesse Curran’s defensive stats aren’t that bad. He wins 75% of his tackles which is better than the likes of Stephen O'Donnell, James Tavernier, & Jon Flanagan…but there is also evidence that he’s a real liability on defence.  Six of the eleven goals Dundee have conceded from open play originated from their right defensive flank.  Does Curran get caught out of position & not track back?  If this is the case, can Curran be playing more of a right midfield/winger role with Kerr slotting in as a right back with Cavin Miller out on the left side?

  •   This was written under the influence of The Byrds, Emmylou Harris, Insecure Men