Shoot on Sight


If you don’t shoot, you don’t score; or so the saying goes. But if we look at the numbers when it comes to shooting, a shot isn’t just a shot. Is it blocked, on target or off target? Is it from inside the box or outside the box? From open play or a set play? Over the 140 games played last season, shooting figures were collected which might change the view of “shoot on sight”.


As you might have noticed, Andy Harper has a lot of ‘Harperisms’. Whilst this is by no means a classic by Harper’s standards, one of the  most common topics he likes to bring up is Thomas Broich and his lack of goals. It usually goes something like this:

Thomas Broich is a fantastic player. I just wish he would shoot more.

The general idea is that if a player, say Thomas Broich, doesn’t score enough goals, then the problem is that they probably don’t shoot enough. But perhaps it is that the player does not shoot from the right positions.

Shaun Mooney has already discussed the importance of effective possession, especially in the final third, so if a team works the ball into the final third, should they shoot whenever the chance arises, or should they look to work the ball into a better area? As Adelaide United has found this season, the final third is the most difficult area to have possession of the ball, so is shooting from distance an effective use of a team’s final third possession?

The Numbers

Last season, in 140 games, there were 3395 shots on goal in total. Out of the 3395 shots in total, 44.8% (1520) were from outside the box.

Melbourne Heart were the most shot-shy team, with only 282 shots (10.4 shots/game), compared to Western Sydney Wanderers who attempted 428 shots (14.8 shots/game).

Outside ShotsShots to Goal RatioInside ShotsShots to Goal Ratio
Adelaide United14413.11665.9
Brisbane Roar18025.71896.8
Central Coast13622.72455.6
Melbourne Heart12431.01585.9
Melbourne Victory12918.41984.9
Newcastle Jets16039.81696.5
Perth Glory15678.01806.4
Sydney FC14718.61574.8
Wellington Phoenix13132.81987.3
Western Sydney21342.62156.0
A-League Total152026.218755.9

Looking at the above statistics crudely, a team will need around 26 shots from outside the box to score a goal, but a shot from inside the box will only need about six shots to result in a goal. But in order to further break down those basic numbers, below is a heat map which shows where the goals were scored from last season.

goal heatmap

Location of goals scored in the 2012-13 season *Excludes own goals; includes penalties

This heat map excludes own goals, but the 375 goals allow for a pretty decent sample size, and two ‘hot’ zones have appeared. Those two zones, which range from the goal line to the penalty spot (width of the six-yard box), saw 217, or 57.9%, of the 375 goals scored.

Bearing in mind that 37 goals were scored via penalties, even if those goals were to be excluded from the equation, those ‘hot’ zones still represent 53.3% of the goals. It is clear that those two zones combined is the the key area for scoring goals.

It certainly isn’t rocket science – those two zones are in central positions and are closest to the goal, but perhaps the percentage of goals which come from those areas will surprise you.

In order to further explain the previous table, which outlined the likelihood of scoring from inside or outside the box, we can look at how many shots were required from the different zones to result in a goal.

Chance of scoring heatmap

*Excludes wide zones

As the graphic demonstrates, the ‘hot’ zones need 3.1 and 4.4 shots per goal. This is compared to the zones from the areas furthest from goal (beyond 25 yards out) … which I like to call the “Ruben Zadkovich zone”, which needs 39.5, 49.5 and 56.5 shots per goal.

Team Comparisons

As the first table showed, each team is different, and the previous heat maps just show the A-League as a whole. So this section will show separate data for each of the 10 teams to show where they take their shots from.

% of shots Inside the Box% of shots in key zone
Adelaide United53.5%21.3%
Brisbane Roar51.2%21.4%
Central Coast64.3%32.0%
Melbourne Heart56.0%23.0%
Melbourne Victory60.4%32.4%
Newcastle Jets51.4%22.6%
Perth Glory53.6%25.0%
Sydney FC51.6%21.1%
Wellington Phoenix60.2%25.5%
Western Sydney50.2%24.8%
A-League Average55.2%25.0%

Adelaide United

Brisbane Roar

Central Coast Mariners

Melbourne Heart

Melbourne Victory

Newcastle Jets

Perth Glory

Sydney FC

Wellington Phoenix

Western Sydney Wanderers

Key Findings:

  • Unsurprisingly, Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners took the highest percentage of shots from the key goal scoring area. They were the equal top scorers in the regular season, with Victory coming third and Central Coast coming second and winning the Grand Final.
  • The next two teams, with the highest percentage of shots from inside the key goal scoring area, were Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory with 25.5% and 25.0% respectively. Yet Perth Glory were the league’s lowest scorers with only 29 goals in the regular season (30 goals all up). Wellington Phoenix did not do much better, with only 31 goals. Perhaps the easiest way to explain this is that both Wellington and Perth were very dependent on crossing to get balls in the box. Crosses, the type both sides used last season, often result in headed goal scoring opportunities which is much more difficult method of scoring goals, especially the further from goal you are. To further this, of Wellington’s 84 shots in the key zones, 51 were headed shots.
  • But perhaps the biggest anomaly is that only 24.8% of Western Sydney Wanderers’ shots were from the key zones, despite them having immense success last season. An easy explanation of that is the fact that the Wanderers where incredibly willing to shoot from outside the box, and attempted 61 more shots from outside the box than the league average of 152. This high amount of shots from outside the box skewed their percentages, but Western Sydney still attempted 106 shots inside the key zones, which was equal second highest amount, equal with Melbourne Victory (and behind Central Coast Mariners with 122).


The statistics map out just how wasteful shots from outside the box are, needing on average 26.2 shots per goal. So perhaps next time a player is in space with the ball at their feet 30 metres from goal, instead of yelling “SHOOOOOT!” in unison, the crowd might say, “Hey, Ruben, please don’t be so wasteful with our final third possession and pass to a teammate in a better position.”

And perhaps next time Andy Harper ponders Thomas Broich’s lack of goals, he might say:

Thomas Broich is a fantastic player. I just wish he would shoot from key goal scoring positions more.

Kate Cohen

Kate is a football writer for Leopold Method. Her work has also featured on The Guardian, FourFourTwo and the official Liverpool FC website. She was awarded the FFDU Young Football Writer of the Year award for 2012.

17 comments on “Shoot on Sight

  1. The day Zadkovich passes sideways instead of knocking over the corner post with a wild 35-metre drive is the day I stop watching the Jets :)

  2. Nice stuff Kate. The obvious response is that obviously a team would prefer to shoot from close. The analytical question that raises is: for each zone, what is the
    number of shots / (successful possessions+failed passes into zone)

    Which multiplied by the successful shot rate tells you which is the most effective area for directing the ball, taking into account the difficulty posed by the defensive setup. As an aside, that figure is also probably more valuable as a defensive weakness analysis, than as an attacking assessment, because it indicates which space teams are defending the best (and worst).

    • Adam Gwynne on said:

      What he said!

    • Quick clarification. By “successful possessions” I wanted to capture times where possession led to a shot, or a turnover, but it needs to exclude times when they moved the play on (whether successful or not, because it will be counted elsewhere). Thus:
      shot rate = number of shots / (possessions in zone – passes from zone + failed passes into zone)

    • Kate CohenKate Cohen on said:

      Yes, I see exactly where you are coming from Russ.

      If I had unlimited time (and patience) that would be something to further, but from my point of view, I wasn’t provided any data from Opta (or similar) which was just there to look at. To code every shot (and corner and wide free kick, and cross) took a long time. But if it was available to me, information on final third passes (success/failure as well as location in relation to my heat maps) would be immensely beneficial.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to contribute! :-)

  3. Adam Gwynne on said:

    I think the analysis fails to take into account how much easier it is to get the ball into the zone with a 1 in 17 strike rate than it is to get the ball into the 1 in 4 strike rate! I expect my professional footballers to be better at the long shots.

    • Kate CohenKate Cohen on said:

      I wasn’t (and didn’t) trying to say that all zones have an equal ability to shoot from. It’s pretty clear that it is easier to shoot from 35 yards out than six, the point of my analysis was to outline just how many goals come from those two zones, and just how difficult it is to score from distance.

      Say, for example, someone from Melbourne Heart were to read this, they wouldn’t have an epiphany and think “wow, I never thought to shoot from six yards more often”; but they would be able to say, “ok, we don’t get off a lot of shots from those key areas, what can we adjust about our attacking structures to ensure we improve that … do we counter attack faster? do we try to win the ball back higher up the park? etc.”

      Thanks for reading :-)

  4. Dinoweb on said:

    Another case where I think stats don’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t take too much thought to figure out that the closer you are to goal, the more likely you are to score. The keeper/defenders have less time to react, less power/accuracy required etc.

    The issue is, how often can you get into perfect scoring position? If teams only ever waited till they were in prime position, defences would never need to move outside their own 18 yard box. There are plenty of players around though that given time and space outside the penalty box are more than capable of scoring regularly. That draws the defence out thereby opening more space for players to enter the prime scoring zones.

    I think it is interesting that CCM attempted the most shots of any team from just inside the box and were top three, along with Roar and WSW, from around the top of the box in general.

    As a Roar fan, I think Broich actually could shot more when he has the ball inside the box. I remember seeing a coaching video years ago demonstrating that many players do not take goal scoring opportunities often enough when inside the penalty area, and that when they do the number of goals scored increases dramatically, mostly due to the loss of possession that resulted from trying to pass to players in “better” position. Even getting the ball to a player is no guarantee that he will then be able to shot.

    As a spectator, I must say I’m also partial to the 30 meter screamer more than the 2 foot tap in.

    • Kate CohenKate Cohen on said:

      Haha, I think every fan loves a 35 yard bomb!

      “If teams only ever waited till they were in prime position, defences would never need to move outside their own 18 yard box.” … and I think that is an important point you make. Most goals come from within three passes, that is because the opposition defenses are disorganised and a shot is taken before the opposition is set. And (without having any evidence apart from observation), it is clear that in WSW, CCM and Victory, the three most structured and best attacks (and teams which are lethal on the counter attack) are the ones which have the highest number of shots in key areas.

      So for other teams, it might be a sign that they are taking too long to get into goal-scoring areas, or that they are winning the ball back too far from goal, and need to improve that aspect of their play.

      Thanks for reading :-)

  5. Ron Smith on said:

    Hi Kate
    Some interesting figures in your analysis, which confirm the same values as in previous work going back more than twenty years. So fundamentally the game hasn’t changed.
    The interesting question is how do coaches get the players and the ball into those areas on a regular basis and where do they do it from. That has been the subject of my research for the past fourteen years, covering EPL , ‘A’ League and international tournaments, which will soon be revealed.
    Human Kinetics will be publishing a book next year called Soccer Science and I have written a chapter for it on goal scoring patterns. I’ve also submitted papers to the International Journal of Sports Science, which hopefully will be published in the next 6-9 months.


    Ron Smith

  6. Matt Shepherd on said:

    Ron/ Kate,

    Have you seen John Billington and Peter Usher’s work in this area too? very good. Available at

  7. New Statsman on said:

    Hi Kate

    I really enjoyed this. It’s great to have some graphics too – number tables make difficult going (even for a frequent producer of them like me).

    My view – fundamentally attacking football is about maximising E(X), where X is the number of goals scored. Somewhere, there is a (terribly difficult to calculate) E(X) for each area of the pitch, dependent on number of attackers / defenders occupying relevant spaces. Even shots can produce corners / rebounds / blocks, each of which have their own E(X)… shots produce corners, corners produce shots; it’s infinitely recursive. Fun!

    I don’t have the skills, resources or data to do any signifcant research, but my modest (and somewhat aged) efforts re the other end of the pitch are here:


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