Sunday, January 15, 2017

Caley Thistle's case for the defence

Edinburgh-based Caley Thistle fan Chris Lindsay analyses why Caley Thistle can't seem to defend at all this season.

When Richie Foran took over as manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle from John Hughes, there were mixed feelings from the fans but the overall mood was positive. Foran was a dedicated club man, had been a leader on the pitch and, importantly, had the benefit of a settled squad of experienced players to build his team around.

Seven months on and things look different in the Highland capital. Caley Thistle’s season started badly, rallied and has since hit a slump that has seen the club go on the worst run since joining the senior leagues in 1994 – ten matches without a victory. The club had gone from to-ing and fro-ing in the ‘pack’ of teams in the SPFL Premiership to sitting bottom below Hamilton Accies, four points from safety. Only three victories have been achieved in the league by ICT all season and the league cup campaign saw an ignominious exit at the hands of part-time Alloa. Underlying the whole season is a leaky defensive unit. In league matches up until the winter break, ICT conceded 40 goals in 21 matches, 1.9 goals per game – by far the club's worst goals conceded per game ratio ever in the top flight of Scottish football.

Goals Conceded total
Goals per game











21 games played

Clearly something has gone wrong with the previously reliable ICT defensive unit. However, the defensive partnership of Gary Warren and Josh Meekings has been the basis of the ICT defence for several seasons and far fewer goals were conceded. In addition, the club has retained experienced full backs Carl Tremarco and David Raven, while the much-criticised Danny Devine departed last summer.

Several radar charts show the difference in performance between 2015/16 and 2016/17 for the ICT defenders.

Gary Warren


Warren showed exceptional results in 2015/16, despite it being a relatively difficult year for ICT. He registered close the top with aerial duel success and interceptions per 90 minutes along with good passing accuracy and positive forward passing scores. These remarkable scores are made all the more impressive by the fact that Warren missed the first three months of 2015/16 with a broken leg.

2016/17 shows significant drops for all of those measures, with only the passes to the final third figure showing a rise.

Josh Meekings

Meekings figures show a boost from 2015/16, with all areas measured in the chart improving. However, Meekings did miss significant parts of 2015/16 through injury and the impact of this on his numbers should be taken into account. Also, Meekings played as a right back for part of the 2015/16 season, covering due to injuries to dedicated full-backs.

Deputising for Meekings and Warren during their injuries in 2015/16 was Danny Devine, a fill-in player in defence since his arrival in Inverness in 2013. Devine left Inverness in the summer of 2016 to sign for Partick Thistle.

Danny Devine

Devine showed good ratings in aerial and defensive duels but poor pass ratings. Both in terms of completions and passing forward he rated less than Warren and Meekings both in 2015/16 and in 2016/17. Devine incurred criticism from supporters during the season for his mistakes, including hitting a short pass in his own box to Stuart Armstrong at Celtic Park, resulting in a goal, and inexplicably handling within his own box at Dens Park for a penalty, fortunately saved.

Carl Tremarco


The robust full-back was previously most noted for his red card in the 2015 Scottish cup final but came to the fore following the departure of star left-back Graeme Shinnie to Aberdeen.

Tremarco’s defensive figures have improved from 2015/16 to 2016/17 but his passing figures have set back slightly. Unmeasured in this chart is his emergence as an unlikely goal source with six goals already scored in league and cup this season, making Tremarco ICT's leading goalscorer.

David Raven / Brad McKay
Raven has made the ICT right back slot his own, capping his time as a stalwart of the team with an unforgettable winner against Celtic at Hampden to put ICT into the Scottish cup final. John Hughes’ intention to release the Liverpudlian following a fall-out lead many fans to conclude that they’d prefer the manager to leave over the right back.

Brad McKay was signed following his release from St Johnstone and was surprisingly slotted into the right back straight from the start of his stint in the Highlands

Raven 2015/16
McKay 2016/17

Raven’s solid figures from the previous season are significant higher than McKay’s. McKay has a significantly lower percentage of wins in defensive duels and in the air and fewer passes to the final third. Like Tremarco though, McKay has contributed in unexpected ways, with four assists provided so far this season, behind only Celtic’s Moussa Dembele in the Scottish Premiership.

The radar charts show us that most of the defenders stats have slipped back since the previous season. Can any weaknesses be pinpointed in the defence by looking at other available information? In terms of where the methods of goals against ICT, the goal sources have not significantly altered over the two seasons

Goals from crosses balance out roughly equally at 20% for both left and right with approximately 40% of goals coming from through balls. The composition of the final 20% has changed, with dead balls almost doubling in terms of the percentages but in absolute terms only from three goals (all penalties) in 2015/16 to five this season, two penalties and three direct free kicks. 

 The number of goals conceded from long range shots or direct runs at defence by an individual has doubled but these figures again are relatively small – rising from two in 2015/16 to four in 2016/17. One positive for ICT is that no goals have been conceded so far in 2016/17 from own goals or direct passes to the opposition forwards.

Without a glaring weakness accounting for the increase in defensive frailty in Inverness, further analysis is required. The following charts show the areas of the pitch where the opposition played the ball during their goals, including scoring shots. This doesn’t represent individual touches of the ball, just the times opposition played the ball in these areas of the pitch during goalscoring moves. The pitch is divided into 24 boxes, with the ICT goal at the top.


In 2015/16 a higher percentage of opposition goalscoring moves against took place in the 18 yard box than in 2016/17 – 44.3% against 32.4%. Other significant differences are seen in touches in the ICT half in wide areas – in 2015/16 16.6% of opposition goalscoring moves touched on the wide areas of the ICT half, whereas in 2016/17 the figure was 25.2%.

Looking into midfield, in 2015/16 14.7% of opposition goalscoring moves touched on the midfield areas immediately in the opposition half and then in the ICT half – the ‘centre circle’ areas. In 2016/17 that figure rises to 25.3%.

These figures are a bare analysis but appear to show opposition having greater success at maintaining possession and building attacks on the ICT defence when around the centre circle and moving into the ICT half. The scope of this blog post is not to analyse the performances of ICT's midfield and forward players but the move from having pacier forwards like Miles Storey, Jordan Roberts and Andrea Mbuyi-Mutumbo in 2015/16 to having a forward line based more on aerial targets like Lonsana Doumbaya and Alex Fisher could have resulted in opposition regaining possession in better attacking positions and the forward players not stretching opposition defences and midfield players with attacking runs off the ball.

Another point for further analysis is on the ICT midfield players – how much protection are the ‘2’ in the 4-2-3-1 favoured by Richie Foran offering the defence? Ross Draper is typically the Inverness powerhouse in the middle of the park but, at least early in the season, he was utilised in more attacking roles, with his strength and power used against opposition defences rather than their attacking players. Greg Tansey’s performances are widely perceived by fans to have dipped since the transfer speculation linking him with Aberdeen. The players the in the ‘3’ have also interchanged continually through the season with Iain Vigurs, Larnell Cole, Liam Polworth, Billy King, Aaron Doran, Jake Mulraney and, briefly, Ross Draper having filled roles there. A more settled and organised line could provide further pressing and protect ICT further up the pitch.

With Richie Foran promising to be active in the transfer market and the club facing several crucially important matches in the final ten days in January, ICT fans can only hope that the clubs uncharacteristically leaky defence is improved – in the last five years only Dunfermline in 2011/12 with 2.15 had a higher goals conceded per game ratio than the current ICT team.

The pitch grids measure the areas of the pitch where the opposition moved the ball during a goal. If the ball is passed from one grid to another, that counts as a ‘score’ for both grids. If a player dribbles from one grid to another both grids are counted. If a ball is kicked from the halfway line into the box and then put into the net then only the boxes at the halfway line and the penalty box are counted.

The author is an enthusiastic amateur, fully open to any comments, positive or negative about the article and any of the measures used in it.

Radar chart data kindly supplied by superb Twitter analyst and resource @TheSPFLTwitter.
Goalscoring videos for 2015/16 and 2016/17 viewed on

Thanks to @ASutherland1983 for making the playlist for 2016/17.

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