Where’d My Shooting Boots Go?!?

Why prolific Championship strikers often fail to step up to the Premier League

Flashback to late 2007: The “David Nugent for England” bandwagon was in full swing. Signing for Portsmouth that summer for six million pounds, he scored in a pair of pre-season matches and suddenly the media was talking him up to be the next big England striker. How ironic, then, that Nugent did receive one call-up to the national team and scored in the match. So what followed this stunning rise? 6 goals in 45 appearances for Portsmouth over the next 3 seasons. He’s back in the Championship, struggling to play regularly for Leicester City.

Let’s look at the stats for a few more “prolific” strikers from the second division.

Jason Scotland (Wigan): Making his name in Scotland (no pun intended) before a move to Swansea City saw him manage a goal every two games, hopes were high that Scotland would help Wigan Athletic become more than perennial relegation candidates. In his one season in the Premier League, he managed just one goal in 32 appearances, and as usual, Wigan narrowly avoided relegation. Now back in the Championship playing for Ipswich Town.

Diomansy Kamara (Portsmouth/West Brom/Fulham): Kamara’s first stint in the EPL came with Portsmouth, where he managed 6 goals in 29 appearances. Followed that up with 2 in 29 for West Brom and 18 in 59 appearances for Fulham. He’s now playing for Celtic in the SPL, which is nearly the equivalent of the Championship these days.

Jermaine Beckford (Everton): Was prolific in League One for Leeds United and announced himself to the world by scoring the only goal in a stunning F.A. Cup upset against Manchester United. Everton took a punt on him last season, and he managed 10 goals in 40 appearances, which doesn’t seem terrible, but most of those goals came at the end of the season. Now in the Championship at Leicester City, where he hasn’t managed a goal yet.

Starting to see the pattern here?

The question is, why is it that strikers who can score for fun in the 2nd division are suddenly out of their depth in the Premier League? After all, many defenders and midfielders make the step up quite nicely (Scott Dann, Adam Johnson, Keith Andrews, and Charlie Adam just to name a few).

1.  The Media. Fans and pundits alike are always quickest to jump on the bandwagon when a striker is doing particularly well. Let’s face it: the sport is about goals, so strikers’ performances are the easiest to judge and when someone stands out, they are thrust into the spotlight. And with the media obsessed with every aspect of footballers’ lives in England, many players who spent their careers in the lower divisions struggle to adjust to the drastic changes. Each game without a goal brings a bit more uncertainty, but guarantees a lot more talk.

2.  Dependency. The majority of Championship strikers who make the step up are usually brought in by either teams who were just promoted or lower mid-table teams in the EPL. These teams often believe they can’t compete with the big boys by playing the standard 4-4-2 formation, choosing instead to go with 4-5-1. With the emphasis on defending, the pressure is turned up even more on the striker, who is on his own up front and is expected to score from the one or two chances he may get in the match (prime example: Jozy Altidore at Hull City). Even the best strikers would struggle with those odds, so a striker not used to the EPL and playing with lesser quality around him can only do so much.

So what are the results of teams often using 4-5-1 with these strikers?

Kamara: Relegated with West Brom.

Altidore: Relegated with Hull City.

Cameron Jerome: Relegated with Birmingham City.

Beckford: Everton’s worst season in years.

Scotland: Nearly relegated with Wigan.

Nugent: Relegated with Portsmouth.

There are exceptions of course, with Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher both performing admirably for Wolves. West Brom’s Shane Long has already scored against Manchester United and Chelsea this season, playing on his own up front both times. But these plans are only successful with a quality midfield backing up your striker.

Moral of the story for managers who use 4-5-1: either give your under-pressure striker a partner, or splash a bit more cash on some better quality in the midfield. Swansea City are reaping the benefits of the former, while Norwich City’s midfielders are providing quality service for Steve Morison up front.

Let’s hope the likes of Morison and Jay Bothroyd (QPR) can defy the odds and have successful seasons.