Dropping shots into the goalkeeper’s hands – is it that bad?

Something that appears to drive both coaches and fans nuts is a forward dropping a shot into the opposition goalkeeper’s hands. The apparent calamity of a missed opportunity is enhanced by enabling the opposition to attack you when your defense isn’t set and you are vulnerable. It’s a double blow.
But is it really that bad?

Firstly just how often does it happen? In 23 Championship games last year I recorded a shot dropping into the goalkeeper’s hands on 80 occasions. That is less than two shots per team per game – 1.74 to be exact (80/(23*2))) – not exactly huge.

In total the opposition received the ball from a turnover inside their own 20m line on 428 occasions. These turnovers are broken into three types for the purposes of this piece

• Shots
(a) that drop into the goalkeeper’s hands
(b) that somehow end up with an opposition player other than the goalkeeper (a block picked up, a shot dropping short & the opposition picking the ball up, off the post etc.)
• other turnovers (tackle, pass) where the opposition picks up the ball

The outcome of the possessions from these specific turnovers are outlined below

# Turnovers Return Pts per t/over
Shots – into goalkeeper’s hands 80 0-22 0.28
Shots – other turnovers 94 3-23 0.34
Other T/overs inside 20m 254 2-60 0.26

Ignoring all other factors a ball kicked into the goalkeeper’s hands is no more dangerous than any other shot type that the opposition gets their hands on – and is only on a par with all other turnover types received inside the 20m line. Somewhat surprising. Averages hide a lot – and we are dealing with small volumes – but perhaps this is more of a reflection on goalkeepers than the attacking potential of the turnover. Goalkeeper’s, in the main, are not springboards for attacks but rather keepers (pun intended) of the flame whose primary job is to hand pass the hot potato to the first back that looks for the ball.

Of course there is an element to dropping a shot short that the above does not cover and that is the foregoing of a kickout. When a shot is dropped short you cannot gain any benefit from the possession that immediately ensues. This is most definitely not the case from a kickout.

Now we know that there are ways and means of controlling the kickout however at a macro level below are how teams fared in the above 23 games

# kickouts won Return Pts per t/over
Kickout team 760 10-214 0.32
Opposition 371 14-107 0.40

The kicking team wins 67% of the kickouts scoring 0.32 points per kickout. The opposition wins 33% of all kickouts with a scoring rate of 0.40 points. If you drop a shot short it is this element that you are giving up.

Taking it all together; if a team drops 100 shots into the opposition goalkeeper’s hands they will give up 28 points (100 * 0.28). If they kick it wide they will give up a net ((67*0.32) – (33*0.40)) 8 points. That’s a rather large gap.

So there is a drawback – not necessarily from dropping a ball into the goalkeeper’s hands but giving up a turnover from a shot as a whole. It is not that you are giving a springboard for a counter attack when your defence is not ready but instead you are foregoing the ability to score off the subsequent kickout.

So the question now becomes do you change a player’s shooting mind-set to ensure all shots go dead so that you gain, on average, 0.35 (1.74 * (0.28-0.08)) points in a game? Or is the gain so marginal as to not be worth the risk of changing your player’s style?

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5 Responses to “Dropping shots into the goalkeeper’s hands – is it that bad?”

  1. liamoggordon Says:

    Couple of other things to consider
    1. If the ball drops to GK it probably means you’ve missing a score. So would this be a net swing of 1 + 0.28?
    2. My gut reaction is the team that drops two or three balls into GK hands often looses the game. Anyway of testing this? Also there seems to be a clustering eg happens a couple of times in a short period, attacker’s heads drop as the crowd get on their backs, and they stop attempting longer range points

    • dontfoul Says:

      Point 1 above – yes if you do make sure that the shot doesn’t drop short you increase the chance of scoring. So that probably needs to be factored in but these were poor shots to start with so you can’t give the average. Much easier just to assume that these poor shots will go wide anyway!!

      Point 2 – I don’t maintain time so can’t really do clustering. Given that we only have 80 shots over 23 games I’m not sure it happens that often but that’s just an instinctive guess on my part.

  2. Kevin Says:

    How do you get your stats? Through watching video of the games and keeping track of all the numbers or through software?

  3. JP Says:

    I guess a major gain left in term of analysing footballers is how often they drop it to the goalkeeper or full backline when shooting. Paul Flynn I would imagine does this rarely as he kicks through the ball. A lot of forwards who really get under the ball might be dropping at least 1 per game into the goalkeeper/full back line?

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