McInnes Midas Touch

Derek McInnes has been praised in recent weeks for seemingly having the midas touch as his substitutions against stubborn defences have earned the Dons crucial points.

In February the Dons were struggling to break down a resilient Partick Thistle at Pittodrie before McInnes called upon the substitute pairing of Jayden Stockley and Ryan Christie, who grabbed a goal apiece in a 2/0 win.  

A few weeks later Aberdeen were trailing Killie away at Rugby Park when the gaffer repeated the rabbit in the hat trick.  This time previous supersub Jayden Stockley, and Peter Pawlett found the net to win the game 2/1 for the dandies.

Willie Miller said after the turnaround in Kilmarnock “The Dons were stronger with the tactical change made at half time (Shinnie replacing Reynolds).”

God continued by comparing the disastrous decision by Killie caretaker manager Lee McCulloch, who brought on hopeless centre back Miles Addison, with Deek’s goal scoring Pawlett and Stockley double act.  

“The Kilmarnock substitution to bring on a defender disrupted their partnership at the back that had been working so well.  Derek McInnes’ substitutions have worked again,” explained Miller.  “The proof in the pudding is he made key tactical and personnel changes that changed the game in his favour.  The personnel changes have scored the goals that won the game.  The crucial decisions by the managers have turned the game.”

Whilst we’ve all revelled in McInnes’ apparent midas touch I wanted to discover whether this was only a recent phenomenon or has it revealed longer term in-game management talents.  

By using statistics to analyse substitutions made by the SPFL clubs over the first 26 games of the season (up to and including Aberdeen’s 1/0 win against Ross County on the 25th of February) I identified changes in result and scoreline following the introduction of the team’s first substitution.

Secondly, I looked at the average timing of substitutions made, and whether there was a difference in the timing of the substitutions based on if a team was winning, drawing or losing.

Most Points gained following subs

Team Points +/-
Aberdeen 15
Celtic 14
Rangers 8
Hearts 7
Inverness 7
St Johnstone 1
Dundee 0
Partick -3
Ross County -4
Kilmarnock -5
Motherwell -5
Hamilton -9

Following the first substitution made in a match, Aberdeen have gained more points than any other team in Scotland’s top league.

When the scoreline has been in the balance – either drawing or losing – the Dons have won 15 points following the introduction of the first substitution.  

The Dons are notorious for goals scored in the latter stages of matches (21 scored in the last 15 minutes of matches).  Coupled with points gained following the first substitution it indicates that the team has strength in depth and an ability to win tight games that are decided in the latter stages.

Celtic have gained the second most points following the first substitution (14), although they are clearly the strongest team in the division having dropped only two league points all season and are not required to call upon the same deficit recovery skills of the Dons.

Rangers are third with eight points gained, one point ahead of Hearts.  The other team in the hunt for a potential European spot this season are St. Johnstone but they have gained only one point following the first substitution to indicate their comparable squad weakness and an inability to turn around the match using players off the bench.

Unsurprisingly, given their well documented tendency to drop points from winning positions, it is Hamilton that have lost the most points following the first substitution at -9.


Second most goals scored

Team Goals +/-
Celtic 29
Aberdeen 11
Hearts 10
Inverness 2
Partick -1
Rangers -1
St Johnstone -2
Dundee -5
Hamilton -6
Ross County -10
Kilmarnock -12
Motherwell -18

After the first substitution is made the Dons have gained 11 goals.  Obviously this once again confirms the ability of the team to score later in the match, but it also identifies the positive impact of substitutions made by the manager on the team performance.  

Following the first substitution in a match, Rangers have conceded one goal more than they have scored, which compared to the positive return of Aberdeen highlights the inconsistent nature of the Ibrox club.

Unsurprisingly Celtic are well out in front in terms of goals scored after the first sub, having netted 29 times.  Selfie-baiting loose cannon manager Mark McGhee has upset his side with his alterations to the effect of losing a league high 18 goals.


McInnes patient in his approach

Timings in minutes of first substitutions after 26 games
Team Total Avg All W Avg/W All D Avg/D All L Avg/L
Aberdeen 1557 59.96 671 74.55 501 50.1 443 63.28
Celtic 1360 54 1114 58.63 218 43.6 89 44.5
Dundee 1533 58.8 491 70.14 486 60.75 550 55
Hamilton 1423 54.36 391 55.85 505 56.11 572 57.2
Hearts 1390 53.88 464 58 439 48.77 548 60.88
Inverness 1413 55.92 187 62.33 338 42.28 954 59.62
Kilmarnock 1307 50.58 481 68.71 388 48.5 486 48.6
Motherwell 1326 52.66 398 66.33 390 43.33 594 59.4
Partick 1578 61.08 588 65.33 401 57.28 592 59.2
Rangers 1445 54.6 538 59.77 531 59 437 54.62
Ross County 1433 55.52 362 60.33 460 57.5 637 53.08
St Johnstone 1428 54.76 554 69.25 664 55.33 274 45.66

Compared to other SPFL managers McInnes tends to wait until later in the game to shuffle his playing deck.  Only Partick Thistle’s Alan Archibald has, on average, made his substitutions later than the Aberdeen manager.

Interestingly McInnes tends to wait until the 74th minute to make his first substitution in matches that the Dons are winning, in contrast to the 50th minute when the Dons are level pegging.  Therefore McInnes has confidence in his starting lineup to see through the majority of the match when on top, but when not all is going according to plan he is not scared to make a change.

It is actually a common trend for managers to choose for later action when winning and for an earlier change when drawing.  McInnes is the slowest to change things when his team has the lead, but 5th slowest when drawing.

The two most trigger happy coaches are not renowned for their level headed temperament, with both former Kilmarnock coach Lee Clark and the aforementioned regular South Stand attendee McGhee making a change, on average, early in the second half.

Inspiration or greater resources?

The statistics may only be indicative but they do report positively on Derek McInnes’ in-game management skills.

The fact that McInnes plays his hand later in the match than his contemporaries tells that he is patient in assessing the match and will make substitutions when it best benefits his team.

The Dons do possess greater resources than all but the two Glasgow based clubs.  However, the points gained following the introduction of the first substitution is better than both Celtic and Rangers.

Only the green half of Glasgow has scored more goals than Aberdeen, but the Dons performance exceeds the teams that they would be expected to compete with.

McInnes has the midas touch when it comes to substitutions.  This isn’t a new phenomenon, and it seems probable that the Dons will continue to benefit from his level-headed in-play decision making.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s