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Originally Published on May 2, 2013 @ 12:30
James Vaughan is clearly a very talented footballer; his 13 goals for Huddersfield Town this season have seen them climb to a position where the team are on the very brink of Championship survival. Vaughan’s future, while on loan with the club from Norwich, is very much up in the air. The problem with Vaughan is obvious. He gets injured too often. When fit, when comfortable, he can score goals of all kinds; indeed, I don’t remember the last Town player who had a ‘trademark overhead kick’, as I heard a Vaughan attempt described on a highlights show a few weeks back. He just seems to miss too many games to stay fit and comfortable for long.
I want to have a little look at the numbers behind Vaughan to see what they tells us about this most talented but frustrating of players, to see if it helps us see if he would be a worthy permanent addition to the squad.
James Vaughan: True Ability or Liability?
It could be argued, easily, that 2012/13 is James Vaughan’s best season. He has scored more goals than in any other season; he has made more assists than any other season, and, most importantly, he has played more minutes than any other season – he’ll probably end up around six hours ahead of 2010/11 after Barnsley at the weekend. His 13 league goals make him Huddersfield’s leading scorer by a distance; and the 17 goals he’s been directly involved in equate to 33% of the 51 the team have netted. Its all good news, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no. Those minutes played equate to only 63% of the minutes available to him. That might be Vaughan’s highest percentage so far during his career (see above graph) but it is a little less than 2/3 of a complete season. That, to me, spells trouble. If you’re going to bring Vaughan in as a marquee player, knowing he’s likely to play only two-thirds of the game time, it means you’re gambling on that two-thirds being effective enough to achieve your aim; or you’re leaving yourself at an obvious weakness when Vaughan isn’t involved.
How do you fill that?
The expense of another top-player to act as super-sub, which kind of negates the point of having Vaughan in the first place – or a lower-rate player to paper over the cracks, thus making the rest of the team less good? I can see the appeal, don’t get me wrong….in fact…

…look at the graph of minutes per goal Town have scored when Vaughan has been on the field compared to when he hasn’t (time inclusive of him having to be taken off, and with games missed through injury or suspension) and the corresponding bars of points per game for the 32 matches he has been involved in rather than missed. Its clear how much of an impact he’s made on both those fronts and equally clear that to a certain extent he’s carried the team this season. (Extrapolating those points per game over 46 games, the figure of games with Vaughan involved was 65 points, and without him was 42).
And yet…
I just can’t get past the amount of time being missed; as good a player as Vaughan is, and he is, he’ll always be an injury timebomb, and I think there must be other players available – not unlikely to be on a free from other clubs after contract expiry, or looking for a move after relegation (perhaps Bristol City have someone, perhaps if Wolves go down?) – who could make a similar impact. I would say the pivotal stumbling block for me is how often Vaughan gets booked.

He must know his injury record isn’t great, and that he rarely completes 90 minutes either through injury or protection (only in 27 of 145 appearances – 18% – though obviously some of those were as a youngster on the fringes at Everton) yet he has accrued practically as many career cards as goals (26-30). He’s a professional sports person and yet shows no sign of improving the most obvious thing that’s within his contro – something that would ensure he features more and is able to flourish, as he is clearly able to do, on the field of play.
At the end of the day, Vaughan will probably be playing in the Championship again next season, and perfectly possibly in blue and white stripes. I’d like to think that the club at least considered their options before pushing ahead with negotiations to bring such a talented player to the club.
Maybe the way forward would be to offer Vaughan not just a pay-as-you-play contract, which would be the only sensible option, but maybe to load it with incentives if he goes through certain amounts of games without being booked, or on the flip side of that, maybe reductions if he is booked.
Republishing addendum.
This article was initially published on Trinity Mirror’s Huddersfield Examiner’s One Up Front At Huddersfield Town blog. That has now been removed, so I have performed a salvage operation on this post.