Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The strange case of Daniel Grimshaw

I have never played football at any notable level, but in the few teams I got picked for I played as a goalkeeper. That means I have particular sympathy for goalkeepers and the way they get the blame but also a particular appreciation for the talent and abilities that goalkeepers have. You can consider me as 'an expert pundit' therefore for the rest of this article, on the basis that I was in a school team about 30 years ago... 

Rewind just over a year and all seemed to be going very well for our Daniel. He hadn't yet had his head kicked off by Cameron Archer and he'd established himself as the firm no1 choice with a series of excellent performances. He's not a dominant keeper, but he showed himself to be an absolute master of anticipation and angles. It's the combination of those two things that, in my humble (expert) opinion puts him ahead of Maxwell. He's capable of reading the game very well and putting himself in exactly the right place to make the stop. He often makes saves less spectacular than they could be, with the ability to make a spectacular one if needs be. That's a quality that reminded me strangely of Neville Southall.

This article is not intended to be a critique of Chris Maxwell. The man has produced several of the best saves I've ever seen and one of the most wondrous goalkeeping displays of our history (Sunderland away in Lg1). It's just intended to explore the oddness at the heart of the ongoing decision to permanently bench one of our brighter young prospects in a season where we've essentially tried everything else twice over and then one more time for good luck. 

Grimmy had a really good 21/22 season. The numbers back up the impression his performances gave. If we look at Footmob's 'Goals Prevented' stat (basically speaking, the number of goals a keeper would be expected to concede from the shots they face) Grimshaw comes out as the 4th best keeper in the division with a score of +4.3. For reference, Maxwell this season is 17th in the division with a score of -4.1 - Yes, Maxwell has been in front of a weaker defence, but the metric simply considers whether or not any given shot could be expected to be saved - and the more shots you face, the more saves you can make. By this simple measure 21/22 Grimmy is worth 8 goals more than 22/23 Maxwell. 

That was last year vs this year though. It's not a fair comparison. Grimmy was playing behind a much more cohesive unit and thus his decision making was much easier. Maxwell has played behind an ever changing and ever more calamity prone unit and we have to understand how that can eat away at the keeper's ability to make the right choice in any given situation. His own stats for the previous season were a far more respectable +1.4 which suggests he also benefited from a more stable defence in front of him. 

Lets look at this season instead in a bit more depth than Footmob can provide. 

This season, Grimshaw struggled a bit with the more possession based style of play that Appleton attempted to enforce. He'd thrived in Critchley's more direct style - to the point where Grimshaw to Madine was the single most frequent successful pass by any keeper in the league (whoscored) - but playing triangles with the equally struggling Ekpiteta and hapless Williams exposed one of his weaker abilities. 

When Maxwell came into the side, I could see the logic. Grimshaw isn't a communicator - or, at least, he isn't a voluble organiser like Maxwell is. Without any particularly experienced defenders, it made a certain amount of sense to try the goalkeeper in an attempt to bring some leadership to the backline. 

What I find really strange however, is, how we've continued with this all season, despite it palpably not working. The stats below (fbref) show a story. Grimshaw's (even this season, where he was not, in the limited number of games he played, close to his best) numbers suggest he has been worth another opportunity

Grimshaw has conceded goals at a lower rate than Maxwell (1.46 per game compared to 1.71) 
Grimshaw has made more saves per 90 minutes than Maxwell (3.62 vs 3.07) 
Grimshaw has a higher clean sheet rate than Maxwell (23.1% vs 17.1%) 
Grimshaw's 'post shot XG 'is a lot higher than Maxwell's (+1.2 vs -3.0) 
Grimshaw's 'post shot' XG vs GA per 90 (no, me neither) is higher than Maxwell's (+0.09 vs -0.11)
Grimshaw's completion rate of long passes is higher than Maxwell's (39.5% vs 35%) 
Maxwell has the edge on stopping crosses (5.4% vs 1.2%) 
Grimshaw's overall pass completion rate is higher than Maxwell's (61.3 vs 52.9) (whoscored) 

Analysing the data reveals another interesting element between the two. Grimshaw plays much deeper in general than Maxwell. That's a surprising fact given his history as a Manchester City keeper, presumably groomed in the art of 'joining in' with outfield play. Both of them have played deeper this season than they did last year - Grimshaw in particular has retreated about 4 metres - IS that tactical? Is it a product of defensive changes or uncertainty? Is it a product of the team being under more pressure or setting up deeper in defence? It's difficult to know. 

The only notable area I can find where Grimshaw is palpably weaker is 'stopping crosses' - which is possibly a product of Grimshaw making an active decision to react as opposed to intercept - there is an argument that a keeper who always stays is easier for a defence to work around than a keeper who is indecisive. Maxwell's relative strength in this area isn't absolute either - the previous season, Grimshaw was marginally (3.8%) better than Maxwell (3.2%) at stopping crosses - but both of them are very low in the overall standings for that particular metric in both years. 

I want to reiterate that I'm not writing this article to make any particular point about Chris Maxwell. What I'm writing it for, is to question the oddness of the fact we've willingly left out a goalkeeper who, whilst not good on crosses, is demonstrably good at other things. Here's a few more interesting stats to back up the idea that Grimshaw has evident strengths that have been overlooked. 

In 21/22 Grimshaw was the 1/65 keeper in the entire championship for accurate long kicks. It seems, therefore, particularly bizarre to have left him out in the latter part of the season where we've played directly. This season he has been 7/50. (fbref)

In 21/22 Grimshaw was 7/65 at shot stopping in the championship per 90. This season he was 13/50 (fbref)

Both seasons he has played for us, his passing average overall has been superior to the other keepers on our books. (whoscored) 

Both seasons his goals per game conceded has also been lower. (fbref) 

In short - I'm mystified by the ongoing decision to leave him out. He may not be the greatest on crosses, but every other available metric suggests he's at very least, worth another chance. It has been mooted that he's been involved in some kind of bust up or falling out - which is of course, possible, but it seems genuinely strange that if that were the case, that he's travelled across the country with the squad as back up all season, instead of being shipped out on loan to allow another goalkeeper to come in?

I have no idea what the situation is - but what I see, is a talented goalkeeper - not perfect (but what keeper is? A big lad who takes all the crosses often lacks agility or mobility) who is being left to gather dust at a point where he could and should be learning important lessons and improving. As the stats above show, whilst Grimshaw didn't have as good a start to the season as he might have done, he's still at very least, performed no worse than the player who replaced him (and arguably, better) and it therefore seems bizarre that the lad has been pushed to the fringes, when squad selection has at times seemed to be done via a bingo machine.

It makes no sense to me at all in any respect - Grimshaw on 21/22 performance was becoming a valuable asset. We gave him a new contract to acknowledge that. He was a valuable contributor to the team. A few questionable games (mainly Rotherham away) shouldn't render him completely valueless and indeed, the majority of the data paints his performances this season as far from calamitous.

I wouldn't seek to blame Chris Maxwell for everything that's gone wrong this year - I'm just perplexed as to why the football club appears to have made Grimshaw the individual scapegoat for a season of disaster.  If the reason is simply that he's poor on crosses (which is the only reason the numbers suggest) and our team is collectively tiny, then playing a keeper who is not that much better either (and actually a little bit smaller) is hardly addressing the concern. 



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