What will Niall McGinn bring (back) to Aberdeen?

What will Niall McGinn bring (back) to Aberdeen?

By Niall Murray

Some things are just meant to go together. Scotland and rain, Killie and pies, and of course Aberdeen and Niall McGinn. After a brief sabbatical in South Korea the winger has returned to the Granite City; much to the delight of Aberdeen fans.


The 30-year-old endured a tough six month spell since swapping Scotland for Asia, but Derek McInnes will be hoping he can hit the ground running.


However, just how much of a difference will the Northern Irishman make to this current Dons side? We delved into the numbers to find out.


How does he compare to what Aberdeen currently have?


There’s no other way to put it; McGinn’s stats are impressive. In the four years of the Scottish Premiership the winger has scored or directly provided 88 goals for Aberdeen. Losing both him and his partner in crime, Jonny Hayes, was always going to be a big loss for the Dons.


McInnes brought in both Ryan Christie and Gary Mackay-Steven (GMS) from Celtic as replacements, but there’s still very much a place for McGinn in this side.



The graph above shows the average goals and assists per game for Aberdeen’s wingers. McGinn’s stats are based off last season, but they paint a clear picture.


The Northern Irishman provides 0.52 goals or assists per game which is matched by Celtic loanee, Ryan Christie. Conversely, this is a significantly better contribution that both GMS (0.36) and Greg Stewart (0.17).


McGinn is versatile, but given the option he’s most comfortable on the left flank. This makes good reading for Aberdeen fans given Christie is more suited to the right-hand side. In essence, having both McGinn and Christie in the same team could prove very fruitful for McInnes.


It’s more of the same when we look at the time it takes for each player to produce a goal or assist. Greg Stewart contributes a goal or assist around every 330 minutes. This emphasises that he’s not a natural winger when you compare it with the time it takes his three teammates.


McGinn comes out on top again as he contributes a goal or assist every 143 minutes. Christie and GMS aren’t too far behind, but the numbers highlight how Aberdeen will certainly benefit from the Northern Irishman’s return.


What else does Niall McGinn bring?


The signing of McGinn gives Derek McInnes more options. He’s a versatile player who can play on either flank. This was something that became particularly useful when he played with Hayes, who was also comfortable on both sides. McInnes used this as a tactical weapon to great effect and it’ll be interesting to see if he tries the same thing with McGinn and Christie.


Another quality McGinn brings to the table is his ability from set-pieces. Simply put, before he left Pittodrie no player had delivered more goals from set-pieces than the Northern Irishman.


Moreover, the numbers above highlight some of McGinn’s other attributes. Nobody put in more crosses in all of the 2016/17 season than the Northern Irishman. His average of 7.49 per 90 minutes was the best in the Premiership and is significantly higher than that of both Christie (2.49) and GMS (3.71) this season.



Similarly, the 30-year-old played an average of 0.63 key passes per game during his last full season at Pittodrie. In essence, Christie (0.28) and GMS (0.29) have a key pass rate which amounts to less than half of McGinn’s.


Limiting expectations


There’s no doubt McGinn is a good signing for Aberdeen. In fact there will most likely be high expectations for the Northern Irishman, and why wouldn’t there be? After all, the numbers emphasis how effective a player he’s been in an Aberdeen jersey.


There are a couple of potential concerns. The first mainly surrounds McGinn’s fitness. He saw very little first team action in Korea. Whether he’ll be ready to hit the ground running and start from where he left off is all a bit up in the air.


Secondly, anyone who believes McGinn’s return will directly correlate to a return in goalscoring form for Adam Rooney will be left disappointed. Last season just two of Rooney’s goals came from the Northern Irishman’s assists.


Furthermore, when you scratch beneath the surface to see who McGinn’s goals and assists have been against you discover something interesting. Only one of his ten goals in the Premiership last campaign came against top six opposition and that was Partick Thistle.



Similarly, half of his eight assists came against bottom six opposition; which in fairness is a pretty decent record. Moreover, there’s nothing that suggests he can’t contribute more goals and assists this time round against the bigger teams.


“Hopefully he (Niall McGinn) can help us maintain the standards we have set,” said Derek McInnes.


The key word in that sentence is “maintain”. The signing of McGinn will certainly help Aberdeen in the fight to regain second place. However it’s unlikely it will make any difference when it comes to playing Celtic or closing the points gap between the two clubs.


Could Aberdeen have hoped to do a better bit of business in this transfer window? Probably not. After all McGinn is proven at this level and has been extremely effective during his time at Aberdeen. If he does pick up from where he left off it’s very unlikely the Pittodrie faithful will have any complaints.


Photography by Scott Baxter. Buy images/prints here.


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