Last week Blackburn Rovers completed their first signing of the summer, bringing in David Goodwillie from Scottish Premier League side Dundee United. The Scottish international striker has been prolific in the SPL since breaking into the first team at Tannadice and Rovers beat off stiff competition from reigning SPL champions Rangers to secure his signature. Having agreed a four-year contract at the age of just 22 Goodwillie has plenty of time to shine at Ewood Park. Although time may be on his side, Rovers fans will be hopeful he can hit the ground running given the inconsistency displayed in front of goal by the current crop of strikers at the club.
The need for attacking reinforcements has been well publicised and is plain for all to see. Of the current squad no player has ever reached double figures for Premier League goals at Rovers or any other club and last season Niko Kalinic, Jason Roberts and Junior Hoilett topped the Rovers scoring charts with just five league goals apiece. This was not only the lowest haul for the leading scorer at all 20 Premier League sides but also equals the lowest tally posted by a Blackburn leading marksman since 1998/99, the season in which Rovers were relegated from the top flight. Such profligacy in front of goal dictated that acquiring a striker in the transfer window was the top priority this summer.
That Rovers turned to the SPL in search of an answer to their goalscoring problems is not altogether unsurprising. Despite a common assumption that football north of the border is not on a par with that displayed in the Premier League, the Scottish leagues have historically proved something of a happy hunting ground for Blackburn in the transfer market. Colin Hendry arrived from Dundee and ultimately went on – after returning from a brief spell at Manchester City – to become an integral part of the title winning side of 1994/95, while Tugay brought real quality to the Rovers midfield, becoming a worthy fans’ favourite during his eight year spell at Ewood having signed from Rangers. The last former Dundee United striker to sign for Blackburn was Kevin Gallacher, who went on to become the third highest scorer in the Premier League era for Rovers, finding the back of the net on 46 occasions, only surpassed by both halves of the title winning strike partnership of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton.
If Goodwillie were to go on to make half the impact of those that crossed the border before him then he will have proven to be an astute acquisition. Yet it is not just at Ewood Park where the fruits of players’ labours in Scotland are realised. For instance, taking two products of Rangers’ youth system who now ply their trade in England, Charlie Adam had an exceptional campaign with Blackpool last season which culminated in his move to Liverpool, while Barry Ferguson completed 3,485 passes at Birmingham City during the 2010/11 season, more than any other Premier League player. However, the most relevant current point of reference for Goodwillie will line up for the opposition in his first competitive game as a Blackburn player.
Steven Fletcher, like Goodwillie, arrived in Lancashire after a successful spell in the SPL. Two years on and he is an established Premier League striker with 18 goals to his name, having swapped Burnley for Wolverhampton Wanderers last summer. Goodwillie will be looking to make a similar impact in the English top flight and a look at Fletcher’s attacking statistics in 2010/11 alongside those of the Blackburn goalscorers who led the line at varying stages during the season highlights the need for a player of Fletcher’s calibre in the Rovers attack.
Evidently Fletcher outscored each of the Blackburn strikers by at least two goals to one in 2010/11. With both Blackburn and Wolves netting 46 league goals last season, this is not skewed by virtue of Wolves scoring more regularly than Blackburn, allowing for a fair comparison to be drawn. Nor can this increased goal haul be attributed to more playing time as, tellingly, Fletcher scored a goal every 140 minutes, while Kalinic’s goal every 214 minutes was the quickest strike rate for a Rovers forward. Rather, the key driver behind Fletcher’s higher goal tally appears to be the number of shots he takes during a match.
Fletcher fired 44 shots during the last campaign, 20% more than the Blackburn players who took the most shots at goal. Diouf and Hoilett each hit 36 shots for Rovers, but Fletcher still managed to shoot at goal more times despite considerably less playing time than the Rovers duo. Both Roberts and Diouf had a higher proportion of shots on target than Fletcher, adding further weight to the assertion that it is the volume of shots Fletcher makes that explains his higher number of goals.
In terms of shots per goal, Fletcher again tops the ranks, having scored a goal every 4.4 shots, just outshooting Roberts’ 4.6 shots per goal. Logically, therefore, it should follow that an increase in shots taken on by Roberts would see him deliver a higher goal return. Interestingly, despite having the highest proportion of shots on target, Diouf had the lowest shot conversion rate of all the players compared. Clearly Blackburn need to be more ruthless and clinical in front of goal.
This is where the arrival of Goodwillie should come into play. His record last season in the SPL speaks for itself, as he finished as the league’s third top scorer and was voted the Scottish PFA Young Player of the Year. Taking a comparison of the statistics* from Fletcher’s and Goodwillie’s final seasons in Scotland gives an indication of the impact Goodwillie may have in the Premier League this coming campaign.
As noted in the comparison between Fletcher and the Blackburn forwards in 2010/11, the number of shots Fletcher has per game is extraordinarily high, a feat replicated in the above comparison. However, Goodwillie comes out on top when looking at all other offensive statistics. The former Dundee United man scored 17 goals to Fletcher’s 12 in his final season in a Hibernian shirt and had a far superior shots per goal ratio, of a goal every 4.1 shots. Goodwillie’s shot accuracy last season was exceptionally high, firing 64% of his shots on target, resulting in a higher shots on target tally than his Scottish compatriot, despite Fletcher taking on 14% more shots.
While it is far too early to be judging Goodwillie’s impact in the Premier League, the initial signs are promising for Rovers. Goodwillie arrives with a first-rate scoring record from the SPL and the example of Steven Fletcher shows that reproducing this in the Premier League is achievable. With statistics last season in Scotland that eclipse Fletcher’s final days in the SPL, the potential for Goodwillie to take the league by storm is real. Yet, with Kalinic now departed to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Benjani yet to commit to a new contract and Roque Santa Cruz returning to Manchester City following his brief loan spell at Ewood, Goodwillie may have to step up earlier than anticipated.
*Statistics taken from SPL website: www.scotprem.com