Cornering the Goals Market

Traditionally set-pieces have never been all that productive for Blackpool. Down the years, Blackpool’s free-kicks and corners have normally been wasted, yet other teams always seemed to score against ‘Pool from dead ball situations. You would have to go back to the early ’90s when David Eyres took the corners to remember a time when you thought ‘Pool had a genuine chance of grabbing a goal. Not any longer.

Out of nowhere, Blackpool have established themselves as the Premier League’s most dangerous team from corner kicks. Going into the home game against Aston Villa, Blackpool had the record of scoring the most goals from corners – 10 – while their opponents had the worst record in terms of conceding from corner situations. True to form, ‘Pool scored their 11th goal of the season from a corner, Elliot Grandin chipping in with his first goal in English football with a near post header.

Corners in the Premier League

How exactly do Blackpool’s corner statistics stack up against the rest of the Premier League then? As already stated, ‘Pool are top of the pile, but how close are the other sides to their goal tally from corner kicks?

Blackpool’s 11 goals from corners edges out current Premier League leaders Manchester United by one, but some teams have scored as few as one goal from corner situations. Roberto Martinez’s Wigan will be unhappy of a return of just one goal from corners while if any proof were needed of Bolton’s style changing from the days of Sam Allardyce, this is surely it. In total 109 goals have been scored from corner situations in the top flight, an average of 5.45 per team. Blackpool therefore have managed more than twice the league average, an impressive feat.

Having scored from the most goals from corners, you’d expect the number of corner-kicks taken by ‘Pool to among the highest in the division. The graph below does not illustrate this however.

10 teams have had more corner kicks than the Seasiders, who have averaged five corners per fixture – a total of 130. Arsenal have racked up an incredible 177 corners, which makes their return of only five goals from these situations a somewhat meagre outcome. In contrast, Wigan have won a little over 100 corners, which goes some way to explaining their sole goal from corner scenarios.
If we look at the graph below, we can see, expressed as a percentage, how often teams score from corner kick situations, with Blackpool coming out on top once more.

‘Pool currently score from 8.46% of their corners, when the league average stands at 3.99%. Man Utd are over a full percentage point behind at 7.35%, with Blackburn Rovers the only other side to score from over 7% of their corners. Bolton and Wigan fare poorly again, converting fewer than 1% of their corners.
Blackpool Corner Takers in Focus
Now we have established Blackpool’s superiority at corners, it’s time to see who the key players are for the Seasiders when a corner is won. The following table identifies the nine different corner takers so far this season and their individual stats.
As you can see from the table, Charlie Adam has taken exactly half of Blackpool’s 130 corners, at the most successful conversion rate – 12.31%. David Vaughan’s 27 corners have resulted in just one goal, while Grandin is more successful managing a conversion rate of 11.76%, although both goals scored from his corners came in one match at the Reebok Stadium. Between the three regular midfielders they have taken 84% of Blackpool’s corners – other players have taken a handful without any tangible results.
Short Corners – Wasted?
A common train of thought among ‘a certain breed’ of football fan is that short corners are a waste of time, and that teams would be much better ‘getting the ball in the mixer’. Does this sentiment ring true though? Analysing Blackpool’s use of corners in the table below, this is proven to be a myth.
Blackpool have scored from 12% of their short corners, but from fewer than 8% of their corners hit into the box first time. In recent weeks it has been Charlie Adam’s inswinging corner that has drawn most attention, but the ability to switch things up and from time to time use a short corner could prove fruitful as Blackpool enter the run-in.
Near Post Danger Area
 
Arguably the most dangerous area for Blackpool’s corners has been the near post area. Be they short or long, eight of the Seasiders’ goals from corners have come from those aimed at the near post. The animation below highlight five of those instances.
One danger here is that ‘Pool are becoming over-reliant on dominating the near post from their corners. Other teams are sure to be picking this up, so it may require a different, or at least varied approach going forward. With the signings of James Beattie and Sergei Kornilenko, the aerial threat the Seasiders pose should be greater than it was previously. Rather than winning the ball at the near post, ‘Pool may have more ability to win contested headers at the far post – something that may be worth working on in training.

Conclusions

Taking all of this information into account, there are a few key points to consider.

  • Even the Premier League has its weaknesses
    • The oft-touted ‘best league in the world’ likes to paint the image of superiority over its European rivals, yet even at this top level, so many teams fall down to the simple corner. What makes this even more incredible is that Blackpool are hardly built to succeed in this area. Holloway’s team is largely founded with an emphasis on slick passing, not the hustle-and-bustle of physicality of other more agricultural Premier League sides. Despite this, ‘Pool have been able to exploit teams defensively from corner kicks to notch up 11 goals in this manner, proving that some of these teams aren’t quite as perfect as is made out.
  • Corners allow Charlie Adam to demonstrate his value
    • Adam has won plaudits from many pundits outside Blackpool for his performances this season, but those closer to the club will acknowledge some disappointment at his lack of goals, in particular goals from open play – his first coming in February at Goodison Park. From corner kicks however, he has contributed towards eight goals, with one memorable direct strike against West Ham. In the aftermath of the 3-2 home defeat to Man Utd, Sir Alex Ferguson famously claimed Adam’s corners alone are worth £10m – and if Adam can provide more assists from this area in the coming weeks to help keep Blackpool up, it would be hard to argue with him.
  • It might be wise to make more use of the short corner
    • A higher success rate from short corners would appear to encourage taking them more often. However, short corners are often a cause of circumstance – slack marking for instance – and may not be appropriate in all cases. When the opposing team is alert and doubles up on the short corners, an opportunity to get the ball into the box can be lost when going down this route. Nevertheless, it is food for thought and may persuade Blackpool to look for short corner opportunities more regularly.
  • Corners could be the key to survival
    • OK, so this is a bold claim. 11 goals is not insignificant though, and represents over 28% of all the Seasiders’ goals this season. If Blackpool had only scored from a league average five or six corners, then the current goal difference advantage would be wiped out, as well as taking off crucial points. If ‘Pool can continue their good form from corners, combined with the goals coming from open play, avoiding the drop will be a lot more realistic.

Whether Blackpool’s success from corner kicks will continue is as yet unclear. If nothing else though, it should spark a sense of excitement when a corner is won. Going back to the start of this article, I cited David Eyres as a deadly corner taker. In my formative days following Blackpool, an early memory is being sat in the West Stand with Eyres standing over a corner. Such was the expectation that something might happen, fans in the seats would stamp their feet, shaking the old wooden stands to their core. An old tradition, but one that should perhaps return when Charlie Adam steps up to swing his trusty left boot from the corner spot.

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Acknowledgement: 
Sincere thanks must go to the helpful team at Sidan Media, who run the scientific predictions site KickOff.co.uk. Sidan provided much of the data used in this article and without their help this post would have been nowhere near as comprehensive. Follow them on Twitter at @kickoffcouk.

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