Earlier in the week, we had a look at the Premiership’s most effective playmakers by…
Ah, the free kick. There’s nothing quite like seeing your team’s set-piece specialist step up to take a shot, lift the ball over the wall and zoom past a despairing goalkeeper.
For footballers, it’s the ultimate test of technique. You hit a dead ball once from distance and try and remove every opposition player from the play – which football fan doesn’t love them?
The beauty of a free kick lies in its rarity – the Premiership has seen 166 direct free kicks so far this season, but just ten have found the back of the net. With that in mind, then, let’s take a look and see who the Premiership’s deadliest free kick takers are this season.
The above table shows a list of the top free kick takers in the Premiership, measuring the percentage of free kicks that result in goals for each player. As we can see, Blair Spittal leads the way in this category – the Thistle winger has the highest number of free kicks scored with two.
Rangers’ new signing Sean Goss comes in second here, although it should be noted that the midfielder has only taken three direct set-pieces so far for the Gers. Still, Goss has already scored one – an encouraging early sign for Rangers boss Graeme Murty.
Interestingly, Leigh Griffiths, Kris Boyd and Antony Stokes – who have hit 34 free kicks between them this season – are amongst the worst-placed in this category, with none of the three scoring more than once from a dead-ball situation this season.
However, this might not be the best metric by which to measure our specialists. Sure, we know how many free kicks a player has scored, but this doesn’t tell the full story. What if in one instance a keeper makes a miraculous save, when in another case he makes a howler and allows a feeble shot to go past him?
In order to account for a goalie’s performance, then, we need to remove their ability from the equation. The fairest way to do this, it seems, is to judge the rate at which free kicks are on target – the results are below.
Again, Spittal tops the charts in this regard, with a massive 80% of his efforts on target. The runners-up are perhaps slightly surprising – Stevie May, Scott Allan, Ali Crawford and David Wotherspoon are all tied in second with 67% – whilst again, some of the Premiership’s higher-rated free kick takers such as Griffiths or Ryan Christie are languishing down the bottom end of our table.
What this tells us is that playing for a club that wins more free kicks isn’t necessarily an advantage when it comes to converting them. The likes of Griffiths and Olivier Ntcham have hit far more set pieces than Spittal, say, from a greater variety of positions, yet they still trail the Thistle wide man.
With no-one having scored more than two free kicks this season, there’s still plenty of opportunities for someone else to steal Spittal’s crown as the best in the division. Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen’s players will have more opportunities, as they win more free kicks than others, but it might not be enough. As it stands, it’s Spittal who’s leading the way.