EFL Column: Was it Chris Wilder's fault that Boro couldn't win?

Jack Goddard

3 October 2022

After his sacking on Monday, Chris Wilder has left Middlesbrough as a total failure. But is Boro’s abject league position - 22nd with quarter of the season already gone - actually his fault?

A manager can only affect so much, after all. It’s their job to give the players the tools and know-how to create chances, and stop the opposition from doing the same. But those players then need to execute the plan they’re given.

Wilder’s Middlesbrough had a method this season that should have worked. In the xG table - an alternative Championship table that decides every match on xG only - Boro are third. 

What that essentially means is that Chris Wilder’s side were creating plenty of chances and not taking them - while also conceding goals that wouldn’t normally go in.

Boro’s league position would have therefore most likely improved had Wilder been allowed to stay, but there is probably more at play here. The Teesiders' away form, for instance, was dreadful - with one draw and four losses on the road - a run that surely can’t be chalked up to sheer bad luck?

And, with just two wins from 11 all season, a new manager could instill fresh belief and ideas into a set of players who clearly weren’t delivering results for the previous boss.

Steve Bruce surveys the crowd while standing on a football pitch

Will Steve Bruce go the way of Chris Wilder?

West Brom have decided to give Steve Bruce at least one more match, in spite of the clear wishes of their own supporters - but their side face an almost identical problem.

The Baggies are actually top of the Championship xG table, and have the second-highest average xG too - sitting at 2.01 expected goals per game - while their xG against is lower than any other side. 

Steve Bruce really does have his side dominating matches - they played second-place Norwich off the park just over a week ago, yet drew anyway thanks to a Canaries goal that should have been ruled out due to handball. On Saturday, they lost to a Swansea side who have been wasteful all season - the Swans scored three goals from four shots.

The patience of West Brom’s board will likely wear out soon, as their latest defeat meant the Hawthorns side now haven’t won in six games. But, if they choose to stick, it will be fascinating to see in which direction these two sides travel.

Does xG eventually lead to tangible, real-life goals? Or, if you’re creating the chances but never actually taking them, is an altogether different approach and manager eventually necessary?

Jack Goddard

3 October 2022

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