However, were the season governed purely on shot-based analytics, rather than the reality of the league table, both teams would be comfortably clear in the top two.
|11||Queens Park Rangers||37||12||14||11||46||42||4||50|
|21||Milton Keynes Dons||37||9||10||18||31||49||-18||37|
While Middlesbrough have continued on their good form from last season, though arguably at a lesser level in a lower quality league this term, it is Hull that have been a cut above the division.
We can see that Hull started off relatively slowly (given their current standards) but were still above average (50%) in all three 11v11 shot share metrics.
But once Steve Bruce’s team found their stride around week 10 things really took off and the Tigers have never looked back – continually dominating games and outshooting opponents at a near 2:1 pace.
Middlesbrough too had a comparatively sluggish start to the season, but similarly, although to a lesser extent, improved after week 13 and have been hovering around 55% 11v11 shot shares since then.
To emphasise how good these shot share numbers are, the clubs are within the top four with regards to all shot share (Corsi/TSR), unblocked shot share (Fenwick) share and are actually the best two when it comes to shots on target share.
It’s also worth noting as well that there is virtually no difference between the teams now in shooting %, save % and as a result PDO (our catch-all metric for 'luck' and variance). They are both around league average at converting shots on target in to goals (circa 30%), way above the league average (circa 70%) in saving shots on target, and have a PDO of around ten points above average (100) suggesting they have been on the positive side of luck and variance - but no more than each other.
But returning to our shot share metrics, what gives Hull such a significant (approximately 5% points) advantage in all three?
Aitor Karanka’s team has been known for its defensive strength throughout his tenure and Middlesbrough went an ungodly amount of time without conceding a goal earlier in the season, so has Steve Bruce managed to top this?
Well yes. Bruce’s team have quietly bettered Karanka’s defence – at least in terms of shots conceded (by 22 in total; eight fewer from the danger zone, excluding headers).
Combine this with the best attack in the league in terms of numbers and location (most total attempts – 561; most six-yard box shots – 23; second most shots from the centre of the 18-yard box – 113; most danger zone shots – 136; best danger zone shots difference – 65) then Hull City is a pretty formidable beast.
This of course is not totally unexpected given Steve Bruce remained in place after the club’s relegation and retained most of his players as well.
Middlesbrough’s attack is the real difference between the two sides however.
Boro are pretty much league average in total shots taken and while they are slightly above average in terms of attempts from the danger zone, this is nothing to write home about.
Cracking Karanka's shell
However, this is all driven by Karanka’s game-state tactics.
At even score Boro can drive the bus as much as anyone, in fact they are third in Corsi and Fenwick (just behind Hull and Reading in both cases) and fourth in shots on target share.
However, when taking the lead Boro become a far less threatening side, claiming just 47% of all shots taken.
Hull, in contrast, do ease off a little, but still take almost 53% of all shots when one goal up.
And when two goals to the good Hull really drive home their advantage. Boro however remain in the Karanka shell.
|2+ Corsi||1+ Corsi||0 Corsi||1- Corsi||2- Corsi|
These trends are by-and-large replicated for both Fenwick and shots on target share as well.
Indeed, such is the magnitude of Karanka’s switch in style that Boro’s Corsi drops off more than any other team in the top six and only four other sides (Ipswich, Preston, Leeds and Bolton) do worse when taking the lead.
It’s likely this approach by Karanka will not have escaped many regular Championship watchers, but it is reassuring to see this visual theory validated and eye-opening to appreciate how pronounced it is.
With Burnley pulling away of late and set to have at least a four point lead over one of these teams after the match, it is a crucial one for their respective promotion challenges.
However Middlesbrough face (on paper at least) a much tougher run-in, including both other top four rivals – Burnley and Brighton – and it may be an imperative for Karanka’s side to claim all three points in this home fixture.
If Boro do manage to take the lead, it will be telling to see if they revert to their normal tactics and can manage to hold on, or for once appreciate the importance of the game and push on.
Karanka's futureAs a final aside, I was intrigued by this week’s discord emanating from the Riverside Stadium and questions over Karanka’s future at the club.
It’s impossible to say what would happen if Karanka were to leave Teeside – would a replacement be better or worse, more or less likely to secure promotion. But what is clear is the job Karanka has done in taking Boro to the brink of promotion for two successive years – no easy task.
Stresses and strains happen in high intensity jobs such as managing a football club with high expectation and scrutiny, and it’s surprising these flash points don’t happen in public more often.
If fences have been mended and Karanka achieved a desired break from the office for even one weekend, then it is probably for the best for the club and its promotion chances.
|Position||Team||11v11 Corsi||11v11 Fenwick||11v11 SoT||11v11 Goals Rate||11v11 Sh%||11v11 Sv%||11v11 PDO||Points|