HomeOTHEREPLO'Neill defying stats to raise spirits

O’Neill defying stats to raise spirits

O Neill's enthusiasm has been infectiousAfter eight games, a string of fine performances and a vast improvement in results, it is fair to say the Martin O’ Neill revolution is firmly under way at Sunderland. O’ Neill arrived to great expectation from a  public wearied by the prosaic stagnation in the latter days of the Bruce era.

The results speak for themselves. Already, O’ Neill’s Sunderland have amassed more points in his eight games in charge than in Bruce’s thirteen. The table below compares the records of the two managers this season.

*Note the defeat to Wolves is omitted as Erik Black was in charge.

[table id=11 /]

The table above shows the improvement has been as impressive as it has been drastic. In every area O’ Neill hugely outshines his predecessor. Sunderland and O’ Neill have turned what looked to be a relegation scrap into a top half position.

Even more incredible is the minutiae that can be found within these impressive results. After some extensive trawling, we found that although the results have vastly improved under O’ Neill, the individual team stats have remained remarkably similar, and in some case were actually slightly superior under Bruce. In a couple of instances O’ Neill’s are notably better which may assist in the analysis.

Below is a table of averages of performance indicators under the two managers.

[table id=12 /]

As the tables show, in many instances there is little or nothing to separate the two managers with regard to many of the performance indicators. Perhaps significantly, the tackle success rate is slightly higher under O’ Neill. Also, there is a large gap between the rate of headed clearances between the two. In this instance there is a 10% swing in favour of O’ Neill. Significantly, in many of the indicators analysed above, it is perhaps the volatility of the figures that tells most.

In many cases the swing under Bruce was far higher than in the case of O’ Neill. For instance in the tackle success indicator, Bruce’s range went from 62% in one game to 96% in another. O Neill’s range went from a low of 74% to a high of 87%. That may partly account for some of the more wayward performances of the Bruce era. O’ Neill appears to have instilled consistency as a means of building his foundations.

Nonetheless, the above stats can scarcely account for the huge turnaround in performances and results. And so what is it about the O’ Neill effect that has reaped such instantly impressive results? Perhaps it is the intangible measurements, (which count for so much in football) which cannot be borne out by mere statistics.

Undoubtedly O’ Neill has brought a feel-good factor to his fledgling weeks at the club. The increased enthusiasm of the terraces has been matched by those on the pitch, where players are operating in an environment where the belief system is reciprocal.

O ‘Neill’s initial success seems to have been in reviving the confidence of a squad that seemed perilously close to implosion. Bruce may not have actually “lost the dressing room”, but there can be no argument that the players are showing more belief, conviction and determination under O’ Neill. That Bruce was unable to foster these traits was most likely due to the precariousness of his own position, the manager sub-consciously transmitting his own position of weakness to the team. O’ Neill has had the complete opposite effect.

The Irishman has brought James McClean in from the cold to devastating effect. It is still early days, but the youngster’s performances since the Blackburn game have been hugely encouraging, offering width and directness to the teams play. O’ Neill put his faith in the player and has been duly rewarded. It is a scenario unfathomable under the previous regime.

McClean’s story has been replicated elsewhere in the team. Craig Gardner finally appears to be getting a run in the side and is reaping the benefits, while Seb Larrson looks increasingly at home with every passing performance.

The harnessing of Stephane Sessegnon’s considerable talents appears to have worked superbly, the Benin man’s attacking instincts providing the verve which is essential in any O’ Neill side. Finally, Lee Cattermole may yet prove the doubters wrong, after producing a decisive performance in the win over Manchester City; a performance that could prove defining in his Sunderland career.

The positives are innumerable. It’s just that all of that isn’t represented in the statistics. O‘Neill will spend the rest of the season cementing the belief within his squad, and come the summer will be able to cherry pick who he wants to keep and who will be surplus to requirements. Only then will we see what the real Martin O ‘Neill revolution will be. Until then, lets’ just admire the transformation.

Sean Duffy
Sean Duffy
Writer on all things SAFC for EPL Index.Media liason for Basketball Ireland and staff writer for MEG.ie and The Liberty newspaper-But generally just a slave to football.
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