Over the past few weeks, Brisbane Roar have risen from the foot of the table to a relatively comfortable position as one of the top six competitors.
That has obviously been thanks to a strong run of form involving only one loss since the start of the year.
The signings of veterans Scott McDonald and Corey Brown have been played their part, though they are additional hurdles to jump for Brisbane’s talented crop of youngsters – their head coach Robbie Fowler might disagree with that statement, mind.
Good point …. then I remembered Wilkinson resigned with Sydney, lia signed with Perth … just 2 of a few more names I could throw at you
— Robbie Fowler (@Robbie9Fowler) January 23, 2020
Although recent results suggest this is a team finally finding their feet, the underlying statistics indicate that their strong form is as much to do with luck as any improvement in their performances.
Ostensibly, their uplift has come from a solid defence, having only conceded five goals in their past seven matches. However, their expected goals conceded (xGA) numbers are not as pretty, with them having conceded 10.68 in those matches, a difference of more than five goals to their actual numbers.
This means Brisbane have given up plenty of quality chances, but have been somewhat fortunate to not actually concede from many of them.
If this were to continue, you would expect their defence to begin leaking goals eventually.
Fowler has shifted between a back four and a back five, but he finally seems to have decided to go with the latter. While it has allowed his wingbacks to attack more freely, it has meant that they can be sometimes be caught out in transition, especially on the flanks.
This is not to say this is a bad side or undeserving of praise, just that things are not as pretty as their recent results indicate.
Indeed, judging from the start of the season, Roar have been slightly unlucky themselves. They have only scored 19 goals when their xG predicts they should have something close to 24. Overall though, Brisbane are on course for the finals at their current rate of creating and conceding chances, with them currently ranked sixth on expected goals difference (xGD).
Reaching the finals would be no small feat either, given that Fowler inherited a mess of a side that barely looked capable of playing to an A-League standard last season.
The former Liverpool striker has garnered criticism for his signings, predominantly from the English lower leagues, but they have been the standout players of this season.
Jay O’Shea, for example, has proven to be one of the best midfielders in the league.
His creative force is immense, with an expected assists (xA) of 0.29 and just under three passes in the box every match ranking him in the top eight attacking midfielders and wingers in both those categories.
While he is a menace in the final third, he is also instrumental in the build-up play for Roar as he plays the most passes into the final third of any other attacking midfielder.
Elsewhere, the likes of Bradden Inman, Tom Aldred and Macaulay Gillesphey have proven to be good, if not great, players.
The exception perhaps is Aaron Amadi-Holloway, who has struggled to adjust and fallen well behind in the pecking order for the coveted striker position.
That is, of course, also impacted by the fact that Roar’s young forwards have stepped up to become a key attacking force.
Mirza Muratovic has been a decisive link between the midfield and forward with his intelligent play in between the lines dragging defenders out of position. The 20-year-old is a perfect foil for onrushing teammates, which Inman in particular has taken advantage of.
Dylan Wenzel-Halls has also been starting more in recent weeks after initially being chosen over the now departed Roy O’Donovan. He has only scored one goal so far this season, but with his eagerness to get on the ball and ability to find space in the box, it is only a matter of time before he starts scoring regularly.
The growth of the team in several individual positions, though, should not distract the coaching staff from the fact that there is still much work to do.
Fixing up the defence so that they stop conceding chances which will eventually lead to goals will be paramount in the run-in to the end of the season.
If they can get that right then the finals are there for the taking.