Kilmarnock's Ready Made Replacement for Kris Boyd

Written by: Matt Rhein @TheBackPassRule

Though he has had an illustrious career, 2017-18 might have been the most impressive season of Kris Boyd's career. The Scottish striker scored 18 goals in SPFL play, leading the league, and helped lead Kilmarnock to a surprise fifth place finish in the table. Boyd also had impressive underlying statistics, with an xG total of 14.39 which was 2nd in the league, 0.52 xG per 90 which was 4th in the league, and 2.75 attempts per 90 which was 12th in the league.

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Previous to this season, you could have been forgiven if you thought Boyd's best days were past him. The past three years, the goal totals in league play for the 34 year old were 8, 5, and 3. Michael Caley has discussed the idea of applying an age curve to football. Using Caley's age curve shown here, Boyd's reduced goal totals in previous years would be expected as the striker is past his prime years. Yet, I have previously discussed players either younger or older than what we would consider in their peak years still able to thrive in the SPFL, which Boyd has done this past season.

While Kris Boyd has been able to buck the trend of regression as he gets older last season, there is an apt cliche in American sports that says "Father time is undefeated." Boyd may have been able to overachieve what you would expect based on his age last season, but he likely will not be able to match that type of performance again in his career. While replacing a club legend like Kris Boyd is for Kilmarnock is never easy, Killie already have a promising replacement on their books in Eamonn Brophy.

 Comparing the Goals and Expected Goals per 90 for Boyd and Brophy in 2017/18.

Comparing the Goals and Expected Goals per 90 for Boyd and Brophy in 2017/18.

Kilmarnock signed Eamonn Brophy after he left Hamilton this past off-season. The 22 year old striker had shown flashes of good form as a substitute in the Accies first team, but never seemed to be able to secure a spot in the starting XI. It seemed Brophy would again only be destined for substitute appearances behind Kris Boyd and fellow new signing Lee Erwin at Kilmarnock this season though. While both Boyd and Erwin got more league minutes than Brophy this season, it could easily be argued that it was Brophy's most successful pro-season in his career.

In SPFL Premiership League play, Eamonn Brophy appeared in 1,390 minutes for Kilmarnock. This was the highest minutes total in the Premiership for Brophy in his career. He used this additional time on the pitch to score 7 goals and had an xG total of 7.31, which were 14th and 12th in the league respectively. If we compare Brophy's per 90 metrics to his teammate Kris Boyd, we see some promising numbers. Brophy had a non-penalty xG per 90 minutes of 0.47, compared to Boyd's 0.52. He also scored at a similar but lower rate to Boyd in his time on the pitch, with a 0.45 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes compared to Boyd's 0.58. Brophy also attempted the same number of chances per 90 minutes as Boyd at 3.2. 

 Eamonn Brophy's shot map from SPFL play in 2017/2018

Eamonn Brophy's shot map from SPFL play in 2017/2018

Given that Eamonn Brophy is only 22 years old compared to Kris Boyd being a seasoned veteran at 34, the numbers for the young Scottish striker are promising. Keeping in mind Michael Caley's age curve, we can still expect to see some improvement from Brophy as he moves towards his peak age as a striker. We could be even more confident with further improvement of the young Scottish striker with Steve Clarke at the helm of Kilmarnock.

Of course, if a striker is at Kilmarnock by way of Hamilton (after a few years in the Celtic youth set-up, to be fair), they likely have a flaw or two. There are certainly things that Brophy still can work on. When we look at Eamonn Brophy's Expected Shooting Percentage last season, mentioned on this site previously, we see it was 27%. He finished with an actual shooting percentage of 28% so we would not expect any type of serious regression based on this, but these figures are a bit lower than we would like.

This is likely due to Brophy seeming to fancy a long range shot. Comparing him to the rest of the top 20 in xG per 90 minutes in the SPFL this season, we see him 10th in the percentage of shots he has taken in the danger zone (or the area in the 18 yard box in between the 6 yard box where you are more likely to score) at 48%. At 5 feet 9 inches, Brophy cannot rely on his size to force his way into quality shooting positions. He will need to figure out a way to get better shots in the future, though that could come with more experience on the pitch. Compare his percentage of danger zone shots to Boyd, who was at 64% last season, and it seems an area that can help propel Eamonn Brophy to the next level.

 The Top 20 in xG per 90 in the SPFL for 2017/2018 and the % of shots they took in the Danger Zone.

The Top 20 in xG per 90 in the SPFL for 2017/2018 and the % of shots they took in the Danger Zone.

Steve Clarke's arrival last year helped to lead a Kilmarnock club to fifth place in the table and some impressive wins over the likes of Celtic and Rangers. Kris Boyd was responsible for the highest percentage of any team's total xG for any player, but Eamonn Brophy, along with the likes of Jordan Jones and Greg Kiltie, represent some promising young players that Killie could build success in the future on. Kris Boyd will eventually see his performances drop due to his age. Yet, if Eamonn Brophy can continue to improve and get more playing time, he could possibly provide the same type of contribution that Kris Boyd did last season.

This article 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.