Nine Scottish football stats and what they tell us about the new season

Craig Fowler has collated nine of the most surprising statistics from the 2015-16 Scottish football season and how they relate to the new campaign, which begins on Saturday.

Celtic suffered through an unusually high amount of 0-0 draws. Picture: David Lamb
Celtic suffered through an unusually high amount of 0-0 draws. Picture: David Lamb

Celtic had as many 0-0 draws in one year as the previous five combined

In a season considered so underwhelming it cost head coach Ronny Deila his job, Celtic only lost four league games. What really made the campaign feel like such a slog were the draws, eight of them in total, the second most the club have tallied in a league campaign since the invention of the SPL. The defence was a little bit of an issue, with Celtic leaking in 31 goals (for perspective, they allowed only 42 the previous two seasons combined), but they’ve had more porous years and still won the title. The same goes for the attack. It was not as proficient as some seasons but they’ve been worse.

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The statistics just sum up how maddening the champions could be. They scored six against Dundee at Celtic Park a week after losing to Aberdeen, but failed to breach Paul Hartley’s men the rest of the season. They hammered eight past Hamilton and could then manage only one goal when the sides met again six weeks later. The St Johnstone defeat made them look as if they’d downed tools, only for a similarly experimental line-up to smash seven past Motherwell. If you were a betting man you’d be better tossing a coin.

Those hoping Brendan Rodgers would immediately fix this issue had a rude awakening when Lincoln Red Imps humbled the team in Gibraltar - with Celtic against reverting to Dr Jekyll by rolling past them at Parkhead and getting a credible draw in Astana. That’s not a slight on Rodgers’ credentials. It’s just that the issue with Celtic last season ran deeper than the manager and Rodgers will need to improve the squad before we’ll see these relative ups and downs come to a halt.

Aberdeen had the league’s longest winning streak

Celtic’s longest run of victories was only five games. It’s strange to put the word “only” before five consecutive victories, but that’s the nature of judging Celtic in the world of Scottish football. You have to go all the way back to 1995-96 for the last time they failed to win at least six league games in a row (by comparison, in 2011-12, they won 17 league matches on the trot). This left the longest winning streak to be the one Aberdeen put together right out of the gate. The Dons also managed a 12-game unbeaten run later in the season, which is tied with Celtic.

The reason Aberdeen finished 15 points adrift in the title race was because of two treacherous periods where their form completely dropped off. They went five games without a win, including four defeats, immediately after their seven-game win-streak to start the season, and lost six of their last eight games. Therefore, you can understand why Aberdeen remain confident in their abilities to mount another challenge despite the presence of Rangers.

Cynics would argue it’s a statistical anomaly. They were a team capable of gaining only 71 points and how they were accrued over the course of 38-game season is irrelevant. But optimists could argue they were affected too much by defeats with the increased pressure of battling Celtic, and now they’ve had the opportunity to learn from those mistakes. They’ve also added to their squad without losing any desirable first-team member during the summer. Although, making the leap and taking a title race down to the wire may depend on replacing a player they lost in January. Speaking of whom...

Danny Ward was (statistically) the league’s best goalkeeper (credit: @ThomAlexWatt)

You cannot definitively say he was the best. Statistics can only tell you so much. But taking them purely at face value, Ward had the highest save percentage of any ‘keeper in the top flight last season (of those that played at least 10 games). His 75.61 per cent record sat over two per cent higher than the nearest challenger, Celtic’s Craig Gordon. It’s no surprise that the top two goalkeepers came from the champions and runners-up, but Ward was the far busier of the two. Gordon made 2.11 saves a game, among the lowest in the league, while Ward made 2.95, higher than stoppers on struggling sides like Eiji Kawashima and Michael McGovern. Comparing him with deputy Scott Brown, you see a huge difference. After Brown took over when Ward was recalled to Liverpool in January, he made 2.62 saves a game with a percentage of 64.15, a full 11 points fewer than Ward.

While such stats should be taken with a pinch of salt as there are many variables to consider, everyone would agree Aberdeen suffered a significant drop off at goalkeeper after Ward left. Signing someone this summer to match his output became priority No.1 to the extent that Aberdeen went out and signed two stoppers to fight it out for the position. Joe Lewis has been entrusted to this point in the Europa League games, but should he fail Neil Alexander’s production last year at Hearts (2.71 saves on a 71.97 per cent) is still an upgrade on Scott Brown.

Dundee United used the most players of any team (credit: @SPLStats)

40! Forty players. Dundee United, in the league, last season, used 40 players. No, it still doesn’t make any sense.

Well, it does. If you’re struggling at the foot of the table you begin to get desperate. These players aren’t good enough, get another one in. This manager isn’t good enough, get another one in. Sometimes it works (Ross County saved themselves the season prior on this very strategy) and sometimes it doesn’t (er, Dundee United).

Celtic were next in line at 36 players. Though that number was bloated by struggles of their own, it’s typical for the better teams to use more players because they tend to have greater resources and, therefore, a bigger squad. In third place were Kilmarnock with 34, another example of a team struggling and feeling the need to make changes during the campaign to improve their fortunes. Expect them to figure highly again this season.

Motherwell had two of the five players to play every single game (credit: @SPLStats)

What’s particularly surprising about this stat is that both players are attackers, central striker Louis Moult and winger/forward Marvin Johnson. Typically it’s a goalkeeper or reliable defender that feature in every single match, mainly because a team’s attack is the area of the field most likely to be in flux.

Motherwell overcame a dreadful start under Iain Baraclough to make the top six, a reversal aided by a change in formation after January. New boss Mark McGhee went to a 4-3-3 with Moult and Johnson, along with Scott McDonald, making up the three-headed attack. When these guys are on form, Motherwell are a match for anyone in this league, but the stat does suggest they may be relying on their input and injuries could derail ambitions of reaching the top six again. Speaking of which, Moult is already out for the first four games of the new campaign after having surgery on his groin.

Both Scottish and League Cup have had five different winners in the past five years

This has never happened before. Such runs have occurred in each competition - twice in the Scottish Cup since the war (late 50s and mid-90s) and twice in the League Cup’s history (early 50s and late 70s) - but never at the same time. It shows that while interest in the Scottish game from outside our borders may have decreased as Celtic enjoyed a monopoly, the cups became increasingly competitive during Rangers’ absence from the top flight. Now that they’ve taken up residence at the top table again, expect the trickle down effect to begin. A duopoly is better than a monopoly as far as the league is concerned, but is it better when it extends to every competition?

St Johnstone won 25 points from losing positions

By comparison, Dundee United won only three. It’s no surprise St Johnstone pick up a plethora of points from losing positions, but 25 is still an eyebrow-raising amount. It just goes to show: never count out St Johnstone; never underestimate Tommy Wright. Every single year we write off Saints chances of finishing in the top six, and every year they make us look like idiots when it’s all said and done.

This campaign everyone is staying away from that trap. Despite Rangers’ return, which will (likely) lead to one fewer spot in the top six, Ross County and Motherwell both lost key players during the summer and none of last term’s bottom six sides look ready to make a significant leap. It will be St Johnstone’s sixth consecutive year making the top six. For a club of their size, it’s a phenomenal achievement.

Kilmarnock were the youngest team in the SPFL (credit: @SPLStats)

Unless there are increased roles for Steven Smith and Kris Boyd, which could happen as the former has been made captain and Boyd saw more game time once Lee Clark took over, then expect Kilmarnock to hold this honour again at the end of next season.

Clark went out and signed an entire team for the new campaign, the oldest of which is Callum McFadzean at the grand old age of 22.

There’s a bit of concern among Killie fans regarding the signing policy, but from the outside looking in it seems Clark has gone for the Inverness CT under Terry Butcher approach, bringing in a high volume of players in the hope three or four can significantly contribute. If they can then there’s enough about the rest of the squad to ensure their survival. Though rumblings of Clark having already fallen out with the players are a concern.

Celtic’s Jack Aitchison was the first player born after the year 2000 to appear in the Scottish top flight (credit: @SPLStats)

We’re all so very old.

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