The ‘Martin Allen Effect’
When I posed the question to some of the Gillingham fans I know, asking what was different between Gillingham now, and Gillingham last season, the difference I was given was simply ‘Martin Allen’. I have to admit, I thought he was a strange appointment over the summer; mainly because he can polarise opinion so much and (as you’ll know from my blog on Bradford) I think consistency is the way to long-term success. That said, a good shake-up can do good, and he’s certainly making a good impression so far. With that in mind, instead of starting the same way as the previous two posts, I thought I’d look at Martin Allen a bit. I’m cynical, naturally, about such things. I would reckon there’s no Martin Allen effect; he’s probably a good manager, and teams improve under him – I get the feeling (no shocks here) that he’d probably be better motivator than tactician, but that’s something I might look at in a later post.
If, as I am led to believe, there is a Martin Allen effect; his clubs will perform noticeably well as soon as he arrives – like lighting a rocket under them. Its difficult to compare too accurately with previous seasons as managers, more often than not, take over jobs at the start of a season. Allen is a little different in that, in that only 3 of his 9 jobs have begun at the start of the season but, equally, 3 of the 9 have been for fewer than five games. Martin Allen is a little bit different. You can keep that one.
What I’ve done, then, is take the points from what came before Martin Allen at clubs he took over, be it a full season if he joined in summer, or be it the part of the season if he was getting Barnet out of trouble, and compared the points per game of the two spells – as a special bonus, on the occasions he managed teams from season to season, I’ve compared their records in the two season. What do I see from the figures? Well…I was wrong. There is a Martin Allen effect. Admittedly, sometimes it’s a small improvement – Brentford’s Division 2 performance rose one point from 04/05 to 05/06 (that tiny red bar represents 0.02 points per game) but he has, up to now, always improved on what came before, be it himself or anyone else.
I can see why he would be in demand. To get an improvement, even from such a few games in some cases (there’s 7 spells less than 10 games on that graph, including the current one, more often than not towards the end of a season) every time, suggests its not luck but judgement; Martin Allen is a man who can get his ideas across quickly and Gillingham are currently reaping the reward. So, what is he doing at the club to bring about the improvement?
The Simple Stuff
The first thing I’d say is that Gillingham’s defence has been pretty solid so far this season; four goals conceded in seven games is a fair record, especially when you consider they conceded four goals in one game four times last season. Looking, then, at the conversion rate for both Gillingham and their opponents, you see a marked difference between last season’s form and this. Whereas in 2011/12, Gillingham were finishing off 24% of their shots on target they have improved this to 27.8% this season (which isn’t a huge jump, to be honest); at the other end, meanwhile, the non-Kentish clubs are putting away only 10% of their chances, compared to 19% last season. Now, 10% is not sustainable over a season, so Gillingham’s defence – though it might have improved, can’t have improved by that much, so expect them to concede a few more in future (put another way – extrapolating current shot totals and conversion rates, Gillingham will score 71 and concede 23 goals this season) – we’ll probably see that conversion rate rise to around 25%.
Its worth pointing out at this point that Gillingham score a lot of penalties – 10 last season, 3 already this. Far be it from me to condemn people for it, but the ones that I’ve seen have been for fouls on Danny Kedwell and, I have to say, pretty generous fouls, too.
A Bit More Depth
Something else I would associate with Martin Allen teams is that they attack from the start; really try to take games by the scruff of the neck – and indeed, 69% of Gillingham’s 16 goals so far have been scored in the first half of games (compared to 35% last season); this has already reaped dividends in that by the time Gillingham were reduced to 10 men against Southend, they already had the lead, and something to hold on to, which they managed to do well.
Martin Allen, then, instills discipline into his team. I thought about the best way I could illustrate this, and something dawned on me. It stands to reason that a higher chance conversion rate means that it is likely that the players better at taking chances are getting the chances. Thus, if I divided the shot totals into positions, we might see a difference between last season and this.
As you can see, that is exactly what we do have. Under Martin Allen, defenders are taking fewer shots at goal (these are worked out as shots per player per game) and forwards more, thus maximising the potential of each of those shots which, as we’ve seen earlier, means Gillingham are taking more of the chances they create. It also stands to reason that, by not being involved in attacks, we can assume defenders are staying a little further back, which would go some of the way to explaining the improvement of the defensive record.
I get the feeling that this Gillingham team might well be the real deal. That’s not to say anything as foolish as to guarantee them promotion, but they’ve clearly found a system that works, the players are clearly willing to do the work for Martin Allen, and they’re reaping above and beyond the rewards you’d expect at this stage. Whether that will be enough when the going gets tougher during the winter remains to be seen, but at this stage you couldn’t ask for more.