Lee Johnson points claim backed up by data as stats show Hibs 'should be third'

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The late Ebbe Skovdahl once likened statistics to an item of women’s clothing in a bid to make a point about how numbers ‘give you good ideas, but hide the most important things’.

The Dane, who managed Aberdeen, Brondby, and Benfica among other teams during a managerial career of nearly 30 years, was making the point that stats tell part of the story, but not the whole story. Such has been the case for Hibs so far this season.

Manager Lee Johnson has often lamented the fact that statistics show his side should be ‘a few points better off’ than they are. According to the latest analysis of expected points (xP), Hibs should indeed comfortably be third in the cinch Premiership, five points better off than their current total.

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On top of that, the likes of Hearts and Aberdeen are both overperforming expectations. More often than not, overperforming teams are unable to sustain their progress. But that will be scant consolation to Hibs fans who have watched their side lost eight of their last nine league matches.

Hibs boss Lee Johnson quite often bangs the positive drum - but stats suggest he might have good reason toHibs boss Lee Johnson quite often bangs the positive drum - but stats suggest he might have good reason to
Hibs boss Lee Johnson quite often bangs the positive drum - but stats suggest he might have good reason to

Similarly hard to digest will be that when it comes to expected goals (xG) Hibs are not meeting, well, expectations. They have scored 20 goals so far this season but were they taking their chances, would have scored at least 25 goals. It’s a similar story with expected goals against (xGA), in which Hibs have conceded five more than they ‘should’ have. Fine margins, eh?

Perhaps a bigger concern would be if Hibs were underperforming in terms of xG and xGA. Johnson isn’t shy about his love of data, even going so far as to label himself a ‘weirdo’, saying earlier this season: “What’s that film where he writes all the things on the board with Matt Damon? Good Will Hunting? That’s exactly how I see football matches, I am always taking little reference points and playing the numbers game. It doesn’t guarantee you a win but playing the numbers game over a period of time does guarantee you progression.”

Johnson has also repeatedly suggested that Hibs have been hampered by not having their best players available. Kevin Nisbet has missed the entire season bar last week’s game against Rangers (in which he scored) while Aiden McGeady also made his first league appearance of the season at Ibrox as a late substitute. So Hibs now have a Scotland internationalist and an experienced left-winger available – something they haven’t had so far this season. The manager appears to be banking on the duo making a difference, along with Kyle Magennis now that he is fit and consistently available.

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An away game against Rangers perhaps isn’t the best example to judge whether things are progressing but for 45 minutes at least Hibs looked better in the final third than they have done. It was the first match in which they scored more than one goal since October 29 and just the second time this season that they have managed more than one goal away from home, the first coming in the 2-0 victory over Ross County on October 1.

It remains to be seen if returning players can help Hibs start meeting expectations. If they do, Johnson’s claims will be vindicated but most importantly, results and league position should improve. But it’s a big if.

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