It was never going to be an easy ride for Stephen Kenny when he replaced Mick McCarthy as the Republic of Ireland manager in the summer of 2020. But nobody could’ve predicted what would follow. A combination of bad luck (COVID-19 cases & injuries), bad results (zero wins from eight games & EURO 2020 play-off heartache) and what ultimately let them down… the lack of goals.
In Stephen Kenny’s defence, every obstacle was thrown at him from day one. The final game of the international window against Bulgaria encapsulated the problems within the Irish camp. Approximately 13 players who were originally included in the Ireland set-up were missing due to injury or through COVID-related incidents, meaning the Irish manager was left with a severely weakened squad.
Nevertheless, that is all in the past. It is now time to focus on the present and the future. Goals were scarce in 2020 on the international stage, but how have Ireland’s current crop of strikers performed so far this season for their respective clubs? Let’s delve into the statistics and see who stands out, and who will be hoping for a better second half of the season? In part one we will focus on the Premier League.
Approximately half of the teams in the league have reached the halfway mark in terms of games played. Ireland possess three striking options currently playing at this level that are available for international selection – Shane Long (Southampton), Aaron Connolly (Brighton Hove Albion), and Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion).
Aaron Connolly and Callum Robinson both have scored two goals this season whilst Shane Long has failed to find the net.
Focusing on Robinson first, the West Brom forward has played the most minutes out of any of the three this season (1028 mins), starting 12 games and appearing as a substitute in a further six fixtures. Robinson has outperformed his xG (expected goals) of 0.92 with his two goals this season (three goals including the League Cup).
Both of his goals came in September’s 3-3 draw with Chelsea in what was a stand-out performance from the striker. However, he has failed to score since then, with this drop in form coinciding with the signing of Karlan Grant from Huddersfield Town along with West Brom’s poor performances in the league.
Minutes on the pitch were few and far between for Robinson under previous manager Slaven Bilic. Since his departure, the Ireland striker has been a more prominent feature in the West Brom side under new boss Sam Allardyce.
Last weekend the Baggies earned their second win of the season, defeating Wolves in the Black Country derby and although Robinson’s goal drought lingers on, his performance proved instrumental in gaining all three points. Both penalties – scored by Matheus Pereira – were won by the Irish forward. Robinson is occupying the right positions and will now be eager to convert chances into goals as West Brom continue their fight for survival.
Aaron Connolly is next on the list when it comes to minutes played. The Brighton striker’s progress this season has been hampered by injuries. Connolly has started just seven games and been substituted on for an additional four games, totaling to 584 minutes on the pitch.
Unlike Robinson, Connolly’s xG of 2.19 this season is almost spot on when compared to his actual scoring figure. What both Robinson and Connolly share is their ability to play both out wide and also centrally as a striker. Both have predominantly played through the middle this season, either as a loan striker (Robinson vs Chelsea) or as part of a front three (Connolly, Trossard and Maupay vs Wolves).
Connolly’s absence through injury and subsequent lack of games has positively impacted his statistics this season. He comes out on top in the average goal per game (g/90) metric with a score of 0.31, ahead of Robinson who sits on an average of 0.18 which is the second highest at West Brom after Pereira’s brace against Wolves.
Connolly’s last goal came against Wolves in the first game of the new year but unfortunately for the Galway man a hamstring injury followed which means another spell in the treatment room. If he can regain (and maintain) his fitness for the rest of the season then hopefully the goals will follow.
Finally, we take a look at Shane Long’s season so far. Game time, along with goals, has been hard to come by for the Republic of Ireland’s seventh all-time record goalscorer.
He has started just one game for Southampton this season in the league, standing in for the injured Danny Ings for the 0-0 against Fulham at the end of December. Even when Ings has been out for a sustained period of time, manager Ralph Hasenhüttl has opted to play Theo Walcott as a striker alongside Che Adams (i.e. Southampton’s trip to Leicester last Saturday evening) and thus limiting Long to a mere 267 minutes of action.
No goals will disappoint Shane Long. But then again, he has never been a prolific striker, and this is evident when you take a look at his xG of 0.08 this season. His best season came back in 2015/16 when he scored 10 goals for the Saints. What continually attracts players and managers to Long is his selfless work rate and ability to bring others around him into the game.
With Southampton in fine form this season, highlighted by their triumphant win over reigning champions Liverpool at the beginning of the month, it is difficult to see a route back into the starting eleven for Long. Yet who knows, a chance may arise and Long could reproduce the form (3 goals in 8 games) he showed before the 2019/2020 season curtailed last March.
Coincidentally, one striker is outperforming each of the players above. Unfortunately, this same striker retired from Irish international football in November after a brief but popular career wearing the green jersey. Yes, that man is David McGoldrick. The Sheffield United striker scored his 5th goal of the season (6th in all competitions) in Sunday’s defeat to Spurs.
McGoldrick also leads the way in goals per game (g/90) with a score 0.41 along with an xG of 3.36. Not a bad return considering his team have won just one game this season. A change of heart from the forward would be welcomed by Stephen Kenny and the Irish fans. Stranger things have happened!
In part two, we will take a closer look at the Irish forwards in the Championship along with other potential prospects with an outside chance of making the step up to the Ireland senior squad.
(Credit to whoscored.com, infogol.net & footystats.org for statistics)