Statistical Comparison: Keates v Mills

Apologies for harping on about it: I swear there’ll come a point where I’ll stop banging on about how Gary Mills was bad and Dean Keates is working a miracle. But I haven’t got to that point yet. Sorry. Here, on the day Mills’ two previous sides clash, is another riff on the theme.

Having said that, at least I’m going to base my arguments on facts this time. Just how big a statistical impact has Keates had on the side? The answer – a massive one,

Let’s split the season into its three, obvious sections. The first is when Mills was n charge; the second, when Keates laboured with Mills’ side; and the third, when Keates put his own side together.

You might argue that I’ve arbitrarily selected these phases to suit my statistics; my reply is that the results clearly are the effects of obvious causes: the third phase is determined by Keates’ shrewd recruitment (a clear reason to help Build The Budget!) Anyway, the third phase doesn’t reflect what Keates can do with his own team. Instead, it shows us that, while going through a transition which has not yet been completed, he is still able to affect a significant improvement in results. And hasn’t he just!

Table 1: Wrexham’s record under Gary Mills and Dean Keates

Under Gary Mills this season we averaged 1.27 points per match, a full 0.23 fewer per match than last season. To put that into perspective, over the course of a season we’d have won 11 fewer points. It’s interesting to note that defensively the side wasn’t too much worse than last year’s. However, we scored less than half as many goals per game!

The inadequate squad Keates inherited from Mills didn’t give him much scope for a new manager bounce, and the stats show that it didn’t happen. Indeed, up until the defeat at Southport on New Year’s Day we actually won fewer points per match than before Mills’ departure. However, scratching below the surface showed that a failure to turn draws into wins was the main area of deterioration: we lost roughly the same percentage of matches and actually scored more and conceded fewer per match. One could tentatively suggest that these stats suggested an improvement in organisation and use of what resources Keates had available to him. It was just that he couldn’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

There’s nothing tentative about the conclusions to be drawn since that Southport defeat though. A whopping 2.22 points won per match is a superb achievement. To put that into perspective, league leaders Lincoln have won 2.12 points per match over the course of the season!

Table 2: National League Table, including points won per game

Of course, there are holes in this argument: Lincoln have managed that points average over 34 games; Wrexham over 9. Furthermore, we have been fortunate in the nature of opposition we’ve come up against since Christmas, as almost all our games have been against teams who are mid-table or lower. I’m not for a second suggesting that this side is the best in the division; clearly it’s a work in progress. Having said that, the statistic does show that this is title-winning form which Keates has coaxed from a side as a result of good preparation and judicious recruitment. It also tells us that we’re very good at putting weaker teams away, which is an invaluable trait.

Out of interest, and again with an admission that this sort of analysis doesn’t necessarily extrapolate across a larger series of matches, our average points per game across all Keates’ matches would see us sitting 10th in the table, and the same measure applied to games under Mills this season would see us three positions lower.

Table 3: Mills and Keates’ records this season

However, one might wonder if things actually have turned out that way if Mills had stayed. If Gary Mills was a football club, his results over the whole season would see him 20th in the National League, as with Wrexham and York he has averages 1.09 points per game. He has made a marginal improvement to York’s form, improving their average points per game from 0.87 to 0.95, but that still puts them firmly in the bottom four: fourth bottom Torquay are averaging exactly one point per game.

With four points earned from eighteen in Mills’ last six games, negative momentum was building under his leadership, and his increasingly unenthusiastic demeanour suggested his heart wasn’t fully in it: his remarkably muted behaviour at Macclesfield, where he remaining seated throughout the second half, was in stark contrast to his usual manner.

Table 4: York City’s record in 2016-17 before and after Mills’ arrival

At York he has actually seen the club’s win rate deteriorate 5%, but he has successfully made them tougher to beat – they now emerge from 65% of games unbeaten, compared to 47% prior to his arrival. They score fewer, but concede fewer. He has also been backed by a board which has indulged him in his favourite hobby: recruiting players in bulk.

I suppose the stats merely tell us what we already know: Wrexham made a mid-season upgrade and are now reaping the benefits.

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