The revealing performance data that shows the impact Aiden McGeady's departure has had on Sunderland
Aiden McGeady’s future on Wearside has been a key talking point in recent weeks – but how have Sunderland’s performances altered since his exile?
Phil Parkinson’s decision to remove the wideman from first-team action last year was a contentious one, but one which looked to have reaped rewards in the short-term.
But does a deep delve into the data suggest that Sunderland were a profoundly better side without McGeady? We take a look:
Setting the scene
McGeady was a regular in the Sunderland squad at the start of the season, particularly under former manager Jack Ross.
However, he dropped out of favour following Ross’ departure in October and was exiled by Phil Parkinson – with the winger spending much of his time training with the under-23 squad before a January loan move to Charlton Athletic.
His last appearance for the Black Cats came on November 26 in a 2-1 defeat against Burton Albion, a game in which McGeady scored from the spot.
That reverse came in the midst of a dismal run of form for Sunderland, who slid down the third tier table.
A resurgence followed, which begs the question – did Sunderland perform better without McGeady in their ranks?
Here, we examine the performance data to see how the Black Cats’ performances have been affected by his exile...
The baseline statistics
While examining Sunderland’s performance data, we will refer to the period before McGeady’s exile (i.e. all League One fixtures in the 2019/20 season, up to including that defeat to Burton) and the period and McGeady fell out of favour (i.e. all League One games from November 27 onwards).
When McGeady last pulled on a Sunderland shirt, the club were sat on 26 points – averaging 1.53 points per game – and had scored 24 league goals.
Since the wideman’s exile, however, Sunderland have improved upon that points per game total. In the 19 games since McGeady was left out of the squad, Sunderland have average 1.74 points per game. Interestingly, they’ve netted the same number of goals in league action during that period than they did in the period when McGeady was in favour – 24.
Sunderland, therefore, have a slightly better record with McGeady out of the side when it comes to picking up points.
But how has their all-round play been affected by the omission of the former Celtic man?
The key attacking data
For many, McGeady was viewed as Sunderland’s key creative influence. To remove him from the side was to deprive the Black Cats of one of their main providers in the final third.
But interestingly, Sunderland have actually been creating more chances since McGeady was taken out the side.
While the club’s shot count has slightly dropped since the winger’s omission (Sunderland were averaging 11.59 shots per game while McGeady was in the side, compared with 11.32 shots per game when he dropped out the side), their expected goals (xG) statistics have shown a notable improvement.
Sunderland’s xG stands at 1.54 in the games since McGeady was removed from the first-team fold, compared to 1.46 in the games during which the winger was involved.
According to data from WyScout s.P.a, Parkinson’s side are also averaging more meaningful attacks per game (32.6 v 33.1) and attacking crosses per game (18.53 v 20.68) since the winger was withdrawn from action.
There are, of course, a host of other factors which could affect this data – which we’ll go on to shortly – but this data does suggest that Sunderland certainly haven’t been negatively affected by McGeady’s absence.
Whether they are a drastically improved side without him remains up for debate, though.
It’s important to note that there are plenty more factors at play here than the removal from the side of McGeady. To say that the winger’s exile and subsequent exit were the sole reason for these improved statistics would be unfair.
Parkinson’s new style of play, coupled with the return to fitness of a number of key players – not least Lynden Gooch – also served to aid Sunderland when it comes to creating chances in the final third.
And there is no hiding from the fact that Sunderland have missed certain aspects of McGeady’s play. His experience, nous and creativity are also qualities lacking in the Black Cats’ squad at present – and his set-piece ability is also a handy asset.
So what comes next?
It’s unlikely that McGeady has any form of long-term future at Sunderland while Parkinson remains in the dugout.
Indeed, when quizzed on McGeady’s future by BBC Newcastle last week, Parkinson suggested that another loan exit could prove an option next year.
“There’s that possibility,” he said.
“We’re just seeing how he progresses at Charlton from now until the end of the season, and once Charlton’s season is finished we’ll sit down and have a chat with Aiden.”
Parkinson’s comments suggest that the door is not quite shut for McGeady yet, especially given the 34-year-old still has a year remaining on his current contract, but there would need to be some frank and honest discussions held between manager and player for any form of first-team return to happen.
Charlton may yet look to tie-down the winger on a permanent deal, although much will depend upon whether they are able to retain their Championship status. Indeed, Addicks manager Lee Bowyer has spoken of his delight at how McGeady has improved his fitness in the months since his arrival – and he has been a near ever-present since football returned in June.