If promotion and relegation was determined by the quality of the football played, the supporters of both Norwich City and Middlesbrough would be watching Premier League football next season alongside Bournemouth and Watford. Sadly, the Championship play-off final this Bank Holiday weekend will see only one of these two excellent teams promoted to the hallowed land of the Premier League, whilst the other will be forced to spend another season battling to escape Europe’s most competitive league.
Although Norwich had the more successful second half to their season, with Alex Neil’s team dropping a mere 17 league points out of a possible 63, compared to 22 by Boro; it was Aitor Karaka’s team who came out victorious in both matches, winning 4-0 at the Riverside Stadium in November and more recently 1-0 in a tense encounter at Carrow Road, three games before the end of the season.
The SportsMatrix database reveals that the main creative attacking force in recent months for Norwich has come from the feet of Wesley Hoolahan, who averaged most passes and attempted most dribbles in dangerous attacking areas as well as delivering most crosses. Winger Nathan Redmond, who as well as attempting most dribbles and crosses, delivered the majority of Norwich City set pieces. Up front Cameron Jerome has been the Canaries main aerial threat and along with Bradley Johnson has provided most of Norwich’s goal threat. During the regular season, Redmond (11) and Hoolahan (9) provided most assists.
The main attacking threat from Middlesbrough comes from midfielder Grant Leadbitter, who delivered most passes per game in dangerous attacking area and delivered most crosses. Norwich failed to deal with the threat from Leadbitter in both league games, allowing him to score twice at the Riverside. He also delivered two corner kicks which resulted in Boro goals, including the corner kick for the crucial winning goal at Carrow Road. During the regular league season the midfielder scored 10 times and provided the equal highest number of assists (8) along with Lee Tomlin.
Tomlin and Albert Adomah pose an attacking threat, with both attempting frequent dribbles. Tomlin delivered most passes in dangerous areas, whilst Adomah delivered frequent crosses. In the striking role, Patrick Bamford provides Middlesbrough’s main goal scoring threat, scoring almost all of his goals (13 shots and three headers) from close range.
Both teams attempt to shoot on sight, with Norwich posing the significantly greater threat when striking the ball from distance. During the league season as a whole 19% of the Norwich City goals came from shots from outside the penalty area, with Johnson scoring six times.
Norwich deliver amongst the highest number of passes and the highest levels of live ball possession in the Championship and ended the season as the third highest scorers, with 88 goals in 46 league games, scoring on average 1.1 goals per game from good build-up play. Middlesbrough in comparison scored 0.7 goals a game from good build-up play.
But when it comes to defensive solidity, Karanka’s team have been dominant, conceding only 0.8 goals a game, compared to 1.04 by the Canaries, who had the league’s third best defensive record.
Middlesbrough attempted more counter attacks per game (12.4) than Norwich (10.4), with both teams averaging 27% good counter attacks; but it was actually Norwich who scored more goals (9) from counter attacks than Boro (5).
Free kicks were not a strong point for either team, with both failing to score from any of their free kick crosses. Both teams were only a little better from direct and indirect free kicks shots. Leadbitter scored Boro’s only goal from a direct shot free kick, with Norwich scoring from three free kick shots (Redmond, Dorrans and Johnson), two of which were scored in the final league games of the season.
Middlesbrough were more effective at delivering dangerous corners, scoring nine times directly from corner kicks; whilst Norwich could only manage six goals directly from corners. Both teams were effective at defending corners, with Middlesbrough conceding three times and Norwich four, one of which was scored against them by Middlesbrough. They also conceded a goal indirectly from another Middlesbrough corner.
Of course recent form, the head-to-head record between the teams and all of the statistical data mean very little when it comes to deciding the outcome of any final, let alone the Championship playoff final. Good luck to both teams, but whichever emerges victorious on the day will deserve their place at the top table of English football in season 2015-16.