Myth of the Poacher

Nearly every EFL team believes they’ll gain promotion once they’ve found that missing piece: the prolific goal scorer. Yet, many fellow League One and League Two supporters’ criticise Bolton’s signing of Eoin Doyle as being based on “one good season” and it being “too risky” because he’s shown that perhaps we “don’t know what we’ll get”. The truth is, if you look at his Wikipedia career statistics, you don’t know exactly what you’ll get.

This is a piece on why those critiques of Bolton’s business are vaguely and generally correct yet, in this precise instance, completely incorrect.

In the 2019-20 season, in the EFL, only five players (three in the Championship, one in League One and one in League Two) reached the celebrated and much vaunted 20 goal mark. 

The COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended the League One and League Two seasons’ but did not contribute to this low total of goal scorers as nobody else from those two divisions were on course to score 20 goals, based on their goal to game ratio. For example, Nicky Maynard had 14 in 33 for Mansfield so with only 9 games of the season to go, he was not on course to reach that 20-goal total; he finished second in the League Two goal scoring chart. 

The last time Bolton had a player hit 20+ goals was in 2001 when Michael Ricketts contributed 21 league goals in promotion to the Premier League.

11 seasons in the top flight as a side with flair players for half of that time but, as a club, punched above their weight and battled relegation the other half, followed by a decade of off-the-pitch chaos and styles of play in which the attacking intent was: “if we don’t concede, we can then maybe nick one” were not conditions for a poaching striker to thrive. 

The consistent 20-goal a season striker is not only not essential; it simply does not exist. A player will score 25 one season for a certain manager in a certain style of play but then 7 or 8 the following season with a different manager in a different style of play. For example, Eoin Doyle would not score 20+ this season in a Phil Parkinson team because no player has ever scored 20 or more league goals for a Phil Parkinson managed side; despite him being promoted with three different clubs. 

The thing that is essential: the tactics of the manager. 

Last season, Barrow created the most chances in the National League. They averaged 1.81 goals per 90 minutes. For context, Bolton averaged 0.79 last season and have averaged less than 1.81 for the last 23 years. 

Scott Quigley scored 20 in 35 for Barrow despite having only scored 10 in 28 previous appearances in the National League for Wrexham and Halifax. This is not a rising star or somebody that has come out of nowhere. At 27, this is a player identified as somebody who would fit Evatt’s system and be able to thrive in a side that creates lots of chances.

On to Bolton’s marquee signing. 

In 2017-18, Eoin Doyle scored 12 in 26 during the time in which Richie Wellens was manager of Oldham in League One. 

Oldham finished fourth from bottom and were relegated however they did not finish lower than 15th for any statistics related to chances created, shots taken, shots on target or any of those stats per 90 minutes. This shows that, despite struggling and eventually going down, Doyle did continue to score because the chances were being created; even in a weak side.

His following season at Bradford also ended in relegation. However, he scored 4 fewer goals in 14 more games that season. It is not a coincidence that he played in a Bradford team that created the least amount of chances of any team when playing at home and a team who failed to score in 20 of their 46 games that season, which was a league high.

Now, this is not to say that any striker can only be as good or as bad as their team allows. Some strikers score more than they should. In fact, Eoin Doyle is one of them.

Swindon, last season, had the second highest percentage of their shots hit the target and scored the second most amount of goals per game despite having the 18th most amount of shots in the division. 

So, despite quality chances being created, Swindon still took less shots than nearly everybody else. This highlights how impressive it was for Doyle to reach 25 goals. I’m not going to use the term xG because, although often helpful, it is frankly tedious and pretentious. Let’s just use the preferred terms of “efficiency” and the more football-y term of “clinical”. 

This is not an argument necessarily for or against the idea of actively searching and recruiting that “poacher”. It is more an argument to advocate a more balanced view before summarising a team’s problem as: “the only thing we’re missing is a 20-goal a season striker”.

The key is balance.

The balance being a combination of creating more chances, creating more good chances and ensuring that the player who has the responsibility of finishing the chances has plenty of them. This is good tactics and can be beneficial for any player. However, a good striker will then manage to create his own chances or finish the more difficult chances that have been created, this is not something you could say about “any player”.

It isn’t blind optimism and it isn’t short-sightedness based on “one good season” for Wanderers’ fans to be and get excited. 

There is a balance and a combination which could lead to a potentially very prolific season that Bolton Wanderers fans’ haven’t season for almost two decades. 

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