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League 2 Top Attacking Players

At the end of each season, we always hear that the table does not lie. We hear that the teams that finished in the bottom three deserved to be relegated and that the team that finished top of the table was the best team in the league. To an extent, this is correct. However, the reality is that a 46 match season in League 2 is not necessarily a big enough sample for the table to actually be correct.
Matt Tubbs was the top scorer in League 2 this season
Last month, I looked at various metrics to help determine which were the better teams in the division and which teams were less good. This article will focus more on looking to determine some of the better attacking players in the division. The table below shows the division's leading scorers:

Matt TubbsAFC Wimbledon/Portsmouth21
Jamie CuretonDagenham and Redbridge19
Marc RichardsNorthampton Town18
Reuben ReidPlymouth Argyle18
Tom NicholsExeter City15
James CollinsShrewsbury Town15
Barry CorrSouthend United14
Jed WallacePortsmouth14
Danny HyltonOxford United14
Mark CullenLuton Town13
*minimum 7 goals

We can see that Matt Tubbs was the leading scorer in the division with 21 goals for AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth, followed by the evergreen Jamie Cureton, then Marc Richards and Reuben Reid. This list on its own shows the strikers that have scored the most goals, but there is plenty more that we can do with this list to try and refine the list of the best strikers in the division.

The first step would be to look at the number of non-penalty goals (NPG) rather than the total number of goals. While scoring penalties is a skill in itself, it is not really what we are looking to focus on here. If we remove the penalties scored, the top scorers in the division now looks like this:

Matt TubbsAFC Wimbledon/Portsmouth19
Jamie CuretonDagenham and Redbridge19
James CollinsShrewsbury Town15
Marc RichardsNorthampton Town14
Mark CullenLuton Town13
Adebayo AkinfenwaAFC Wimbledon13
Reuben ReidPlymouth Argyle12
Tom NicholsExeter City12
Jed WallacePortsmouth12
Barry CorrSouthend United11
*minimum 7 goals

Matt Tubbs remains top of the list, but he is now level with Jamie Cureton as his two penalties have been taken out. We can see that Reuben Reid has dropped from third down to seventh as six of his eighteen goals last season were from the penalty spot. We also notice that Oxford's Danny Hylton has dropped out of the list completely - of his fourteen goals, six came from the penalty spot, so he drops down to just eight non-penalty goals.

The next aspect to consider is that the list does not take into account how many matches that each player played to score his goals. For example, we would probably view a striker that has scored fifteen goals in twenty matches more favourably than a striker that had scored fifteen goals in forty matches. While looking at the number of matches would be good, an even better way to look at it is to look at the number of minutes played. Thus, the table below shows the top ten attacking players in terms of NPG per 90 minutes played:

Andy ManganShrewsbury Town0.71
Danny RoseBury0.52
Marc RichardsNorthampton Town0.51
Tom NicholsExeter City0.49
Jamie CuretonDagenham and Redbridge0.48
Daniel NardielloBury0.45
Matt TubbsAFC Wimbledon/Portsmouth0.44
Ryan BirdCambridge United/Hartlepool United0.43
Tyrone BarnettOxford United/Shrewsbury Town0.41
Mark CullenLuton Town0.41
*minimum 7 goals

We can see some bigger changes in this table. Matt Tubbs and Jamie Cureton both still show favourably in seventh and fifth respectively, but there are a couple of new names that now appear in the list. Northampton's Marc Richards moves up from fourth in the previous table to third in this table, while the top two are new entries.

Bury's Danny Rose scored ten goals in 19.1 90-minutes, which is a solid return, particularly a 21-year old striker, but we can see that Shrewsbury's Andy Mangan is the standout performer in this list with 0.71 NPG/90. Over the course of the season, he scored eight goals in 11.2 90-minutes as well as goals in the League Cup against Premier League opposition in the form of Leicester City and Chelsea. However, an ongoing knee issue meant that his minutes had to be carefully managed over the majority of the rest of the season, which limited the number of goals that he was able to score and potentially cost Shrewsbury the title.

Let us investigate some of these players in slightly more detail to attempt to determine whether their excellent seasons might be repeatable or whether they were driven by unsustainable metrics. The table below shows the same players with various further statistics:

PlayerTeamNPG/90Shots/90Conversion Rate% on Target
Andy ManganShrewsbury Town0.712.726.7%46.7%
Danny RoseBury0.522.917.9%50.0%
Marc RichardsNorthampton Town0.511.929.2%51.9%
Tom NicholsExeter City0.492.223.5%63.0%
Jamie CuretonDagenham and Redbridge0.482.419.6%36.1%
Daniel NardielloBury0.452.221.4%55.8%
Matt TubbsAFC Wimbledon/Portsmouth0.441.923.2%54.8%
Ryan BirdCambridge United/Hartlepool United0.431.528.6%57.1%
Tyrone BarnettOxford United/Shrewsbury Town0.412.616.0%48.0%
Mark CullenLuton Town0.412.020.6%44.4%
*minimum 7 goals

We now have data on the number of shots taken by each player per 90, conversion rate and the percentage of shots on target. The average conversion rate for the division as a whole was 11.4% last season, but as we might expect, the majority of the leading attacking players had conversion rates that were higher than this. This is likely to be due to the majority of their chances coming from relatively good scoring positions, rather than shots from distance, although I do not have access to shot location data to determine this for certain.

Even in this select group, we can see that Marc Richards had an exceptionally high conversion rate of 29.2%. One might suspect that this rate is probably unsustainable over the longer-term and combined with his lower shots/90 score, we might expect him to regress slightly if he does not increase his shot rate next season.

Andy Mangan also has a relative high conversion rate, but we can also see that his 2.7 shots/90 is the second highest in this group. So, while his conversion rate may drop slightly next season, he appears to fire in plenty of shots, so we would probably still expect him to score a few goals.

Danny Rose had the most shots/90 in this group at 2.9, but we can see that he also has the second lowest conversion rate. With a relatively low conversion rate, the fact that he still appears in second for NPG/90 is impressive and it certainly suggests that Bury may have acquired a very good striker for this level. He was signed on a permanent deal last summer after impressing on a loan spell and his numbers bode well for Bury next season.

Tyrone Barnett began the season on loan at Oxford United from Peterborough, but Shrewsbury spent £100k on him to act as a replacement for Andy Mangan. It was a relatively large sum of money for a League 2 club, but he was certainly able to replace the shot volume lost from the absence of Mangan, although his conversion rate leaves a little to be desired.

*All data from BBC Sport

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