Who Is The Most Long Ball of All?

Scene of a League Two title party, 2019

Does it Work?

Ok, here’s the killer question. The point being made might be about which teams played long ball and which did not, but remember all these teams have had a degree of success. Wycombe are in the Championship now, Northampton came up through the play-offs and Lincoln City won the League Two title. Little ‘ol Gillingham as I’m sure they like to be called, with a little budget, no agents fees and their belligerent manager, are on the cusp of a top-six finish. Argue all you want about long ball, but we’ve picked four teams who apparently played it most and have three promotions and one possible promotion between them. No wonder fans are eager to praise the approach, right?

What else do fans like though? Chances? Shots? Goals? Yup to all three, so how did each team do on those metrics? We have picked three to finish on, shots per 90 minutes, goals per 90 minutes and touches in the box per 90 minutes. This isn’t an indication of a long ball approach, by the way, this is an indication of pure excitement, how many chances a team has and how often a fan sees their team get into the opposition box. Which of our teams thrilled fans the most?

Goals per 90

1st: Lincoln 18/19 – 1.45

2nd: Northampton 19/20 – 1.4

3rd: Wycombe 19/20 – 1.3

4th: Gillingham 20/21 – 1.29

Bury 18/19 – 1.64

Shots per 90

1st: Northampton 19/20 – 11.15

2nd: Wycombe 19/20 – 10.57

3rd: Lincoln 18/19 – 10.56

4th: Gillingham 20/21 – 9.72

Bury 18/19 – 13.15

Touches in Box per 90

1st: Gillingham 20/21 – 16.34

2nd: Lincoln 18/19 – 15.86

3rd: Wycombe 19/20 – 15.36

4th: Northampton 19/20 – 14.8

Bury 18/19 – 20.24

How To Control A Ball In The Air | Quik Touch Soccer

 

 

Conclusion

Using this metric and adding the total of each finish together (4pts for a 1st, 3pts for  2nd, etc), which sides are the most ‘long ball’ of the four we have chosen?

Northampton Town would score 15 on our metric and could be described as the most ‘long ball’ of our sampled teams. Wycombe and Gillingham are close, 10 points for Gareth Ainsworth’s Championship side and nine for Steve Evans’ current crop, with Danny Cowley’s Lincoln way back on 5 points.

In terms of excitement, using the same metric, Lincoln come out on top, followed by Northampton, Wycombe and finally this season’s Gills in last place. What does that mean?

Nothing.

Yup, that’s right. 1500 words trying to settle an argument means nothing at all. Maybe Northampton did play the most direct game of all the teams, but would they prefer to be Forest Green, stumbling around in League Two playing like a poor man’s Brazil? No. Would Gillingham fans honestly prefer to be Rochdale, going into today’s game worrying for their future, not hopeful of a top-six spot? No.

The point is that football snobbery will always exist. Ask any League Two fans about the 2018/19 season and you’ll hear Lincoln City were the most direct team of all, but were they? These figures suggest not by a long shot. The problem is when you are successful, other fans want a reason to knock you down. For Gillingham, the target is easy to find, it’s Evans and that is enough. For Northampton, it was Keith Curle and Vadaine Oliver, whilst Akinfenwa took the flak at Wycombe. Still, all the so-called long ball teams we sampled won matches. All had something to play for entering and exiting Easter.

You can’t tell me that fans of teams that knock it about and go through the thirds wouldn’t take that, especially those already playing for nothing at all, again, and with more pretty but underachieving football expected next season? Of course not. It’s every team’s dream to win playing great football, Lincoln have transitioned nicely to doing just that to be fair to them, but after that the choice is this: win ugly, lose pretty. If you chose the latter, you’re lying to yourself.

Finally, whilst Bury undoubtedly played nice football, were more exciting than the others on every metric and earned promotion, all the squabbling and contrasting styles in the world cannot comfort their team now, can it? So whether you play neat football, the opposition knocks it long or you don’t know what the manager will do from one week to the next, at least your club is solvent after the most turbulent period in football’s history.

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