11 SPFL Premiership stats and what they tell us about the new season

Jamie Walker led the Scottish Premiership in shots on goal. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Jamie Walker led the Scottish Premiership in shots on goal. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Craig Fowler has collated 11 of the most surprising statistics from the 2016-17 Scottish Premiership season and how they relate to the new campaign, which begins on Saturday.

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Leigh Griffiths remains goalscoring king (via SPL Stats)

Though the Celtic striker didn’t sit atop the goalscoring charts, he remained the scoring king in a pound-for-pound sense. For the second season in succession, Griffiths had the best goals-per-minutes ratio in the top flight. His chances may have been limited by the rapid rise of Moussa Dembele, not to mention a couple of injuries picked up across the course of the season, but it didn’t affect his form when he did get the chance to play.

With Dembele out until September at the earliest, following a recurrence of his hamstring injury, the chance is there again for Griffiths to make his mark and keep the highly-rated Frenchman out of the team, even when he’s fully fit.

Aberdeen had four of the seven players who played every game (via SPL Stats)

Health is a skill. If a player is able to stay injury free over the course of a campaign, that gives them a serious advantage over players who miss five to ten games through various knocks and strains. After all, it doesn’t matter how good a footballer is, if he isn’t playing then he’s not contributing.

Maybe it’s a case of luck, maybe it’s medical expertise, or maybe it’s been a deliberate ploy by Derek McInnes to sign players who remain free of injury. Regardless, Aberdeen always seem to be able to put out their strongest XI.

Joe Lewis, Shay Logan, Kenny McLean and Adam Rooney were four of only seven players to feature in every single league game in the 2016/17 Scottish Premiership. The other three were Joe Shaugnessy of St Johnstone and Partick Thistle’s Ryan Edwards and Ade Adeez.

The departure of key players over the summer means it’s a new look Aberdeen side, but with those four, and other injury-free stalwarts Andy Considine and Graeme Shinnie, it likely won’t be particularly awkward transition from one “cycle” to another.

Hamilton use academy talents more than any other

There’s a lot of sneering towards Accies. They have the lowest crowds in the division, appear to shop in a different market from the rest, and continually struggle to keep their head above water. But what the club must be commended for is their dedication to developing homegrown talents.

Club-trained players played over 30 per cent of all Hamilton’s minutes last season. In fact, they were the only Scottish side to appear in a top 100 of teams from around Europe who rely on their own developed talents.

The argument for our clubs going out and attracting players from abroad, even when they’re just squad players, is that we want our teams to be as strong as possible. Especially with the current European football crisis.

It’s a small sample size, but Hamilton’s reliance on homegrown players to such an extent, while continuing to punch above their weight, is a strong counter argument. Though everyone is picking them for relegation, once again, they’ve become used to proving the doubters wrong and have kept a solid core of last year’s team.

On a similar note, Aberdeen’s Scott Wright became the first teenager to score a top flight hat-trick since Anthony Stokes did so for Falkirk way back in 2006 (according to SPL Stats).

Hearts were the most profitable team to bet against (via Dougie Wright)

Calculated by hypothetically placing £10 on every possible result in the Ladbrokes Premiership last season, it was found that Hearts were the best team to bet against. It took the bookmakers a while to catch up to the fact that Ian Cathro’s side were just not very good, as their league placing, boosted by the pre-Cathro period, indicated they should be favourites against the likes of Partick Thistle, St Johnstone and Ross County, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Across the final 20 games of the season, Hearts’ record was just as bad as Inverness Caley Thistle’s. That run stretched out over the course of the campaign would have saw the Jambos saved from automatic relegation only on goal difference.

Maybe the most surprising aspect of the Cathro sacking wasn’t that it occurred the week before the start of the season, but that it wasn’t made a lot sooner.

Ross County lead the league with most headers scored (via Dougie Wright)

You wouldn’t have thought that a Ladbrokes Premiership side other than Celtic led any scoring category. But while the champions found the back of the net 106 times across the course of the campaign, only 12 came via headers, just 11 per cent of their total goals.

For Jim McIntyre’s side, 15 headed goals made up a whopping 31 percent of their total tally, with Liam Boyce nodding in eight of those.

With Boyce having departed for the English Championship, it’ll be interesting to see whether County can continue this trend next season. McIntyre does prefer his teams to play a direct style of football, funnelling play down the channels so wingers can whip balls into the penalty area. It will give summer signing Thomas Mikkelsen plenty of opportunity to make his mark, but, having failed to set the heather alight in the second tier, it remains to be seen whether he can make the leap to the Premiership.

Partick Thistle were the only team Rangers had a 100 per cent record against last season

Rangers were lucky to inflict this ignominy on the Maryhill Jags. Twice Alan Archibald’s side held 1-0 leads entering the closing stages against their Glasgow neighbours and they failed to take something from the game on either occasion.

Compared with Celtic, Rangers are still lagging way behind. Getting closer is not going to be a short-term thing and they need to start with taking care of business against some of the league’s weaker sides, the teams they used to dispatch with ease in years gone by.

Surprisingly, they held a 59 per cent possession ratio across the season, second only to Celtic and a massive six percentage points higher than Aberdeen. They can dominate games in the middle of the park, but lose their fair share in both boxes. That, more than anything else, is what Pedro Caixinha has to address this season.

Jamie MacDonald and Gary Woods were statistically the best shot-stoppers (@TheBackpassRule)

Using a ratings system based on the number of saves, the number of goals conceded, the average distance of goal conceded and various other factors, @TheBackpassRule came up with a rankings for Scotland’s top flight goalkeepers last season.

Craig Gordon sat in third but, curiously, two stoppers who didn’t even finish the campaign as their team’s No.1 choice were ahead of him.

If fairness to the list, and the goalkeepers involved, both Jamie MacDonald and Gary Woods earned plaudits for their play at varying times, with a number of Kilmarnock fans perplexed when the club brought in Freddie Woodman during the January transfer window.

Backed up by data though they may have been, they failed the eye test from their respective managers and it could be a similar story for the pair this term. Hamilton have signed Ryan Fulton from Liverpool, while Kilmarnock have brought former goalkeeper Cammy Bell back to Rugby Park.

Meanwhile, the league leader in saves was Ross County goalkeeper Scott Fox. With the Staggies expected to struggle again, Fox is sure to be near the top of the table once more.

Aberdeen had both of the top two players in total crosses (via Wyscout)

Niall McGinn delivered the ball 227 times, Jonny Hayes 206. With Adam Rooney very close to the top of the aerial challenges lists, and Aberdeen joint-second in headed goals, it’s safe to say cross balls were a big part of their gameplan. It remains to be seen whether Derek McInnes believes plugging in Gary Mackay-Steven and Greg Stewart will bring about similar production, or if he’ll choose to adjust the attack.

Marcus Haber contested the most aerial duels of anyone in the league by some distance (via Wyscout)

Louis Moult was third with 439. Adam Rooney was one aerial challenge ahead in second place on 440, TWO HUNDRED AND FOUR behind overall leader Marcus Haber.

644 aerial battles in 2016/17 is an astonishing total, especially for a player who didn’t make his debut until late October. It highlights how dependent Dundee became on the striker. The entire attacking gameplan was built around getting high balls up to him, whether from their own box to the halfway line as they desperate looked to release pressure, or from wide areas into the opposing box.

It’s a formula new boss Neil McCann has tried to address this pre-season. Haber has featured in only one league cup game, while the additions of Scott Allan, Roarie Deacon and Randy Wolters represent a bid to get more variety into the side, even if new striker Sofien Moussa is a bit of a target-man type himself.

Jamie Walker led the league in shots (via Wyscout)

You would have assumed a Celtic player topped this particular stat given the fact they obliterated the entire league. But, as it was, Walker struck 110 shots at goal, ten more than Scott Sinclair in second.

In fairness, one of the biggest reasons Walker was able to finish on top ahead of any title-winning player was the various injuries sustained by those in green and white. Leigh Griffiths, Tom Rogic and Moussa Dembele were one, two and three for shots per 90 minutes, but the latter two suffered long-term injuries, while Griffiths was behind Dembele for around half the season.

As for Walker, while demonstrating his threat and value to the Heartsattack, the midfielder maybe needs to rein in it a little, whether he’s at Tynecastle, Ibrox or anywhere else this season.

He should maybe try to be more like Steven MacLean or Kris Doolan, who were one and two in the league in terms of shot percentage.

St Johnstone won more away games than home games

Saints were one of only two teams to do so (along with Kilmarnock), winning nine times on their travels and eight times at home. They were the third best team away from home, even better than Rangers, but sat in fifth place, behind even Hearts, in total league home victories. It doesn’t exactly line up with the old ‘McDiarmid Park is a though place to go’ cliché.

An explanation can be found in their possession stats, which sat at only 43.4 percent over the course of the season. The rest of the top five were all over 50 percent.

They are at their best without the football, frustrating opponents and striking quickly on the counter-attack. At home there is an impetus to go and take the game to the opposition and, in 2016/17 at least, it threw Saints off their stride. It still meant they were a tough opponent for the better teams in the league - except Celtic, who netted eight times in two games in Perth.

The club have made few personnel changes this summer, so we may see more of the same this season, especially as a key signing saw the return of Michael O’Halloran. The winger’s pace makes him the perfect attacker to play on the counter attacker.

Meanwhile, St Johnstone were the lightest team in the league, and the third shortest (via @ThomAlexWatt). It doesn’t really suit the team’s battling reputation, which just goes to show: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

• Thanks also to @TheSPFLRadar to help with research.

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