Others have garnered plaudits and hit the headlines for Dundee United this season – but the importance of Tony Watt is not lost on Jim Goodwin.
The Tannadice boss has described the forward’s return from injury as a “great boost”, with Watt resuming full training on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s visit of Ayr United.
Watt’s tally of goals and assists – a combined seven in 20 outings – may not top the Tangerine charts but his role in the United line-up is a crucial, and often underappreciated, one.
Doing the dirty work
Although he plies his trade in the final third, Watt has arguably been one of United’s most effective defensive performers this term. Not glamourous; often under the radar – always valuable.
It is no coincidence that he has been a regular in the side with the best defensive record (only six goals conceded) in British league football.
No player boasts more “pressures in the opposing half” than Watt, with the Tangerines’ vice-captain racking up an average of 12 per game – often smothering the creativity of the opposition’s deep-lying midfielder with his pressing.
In “defensive actions”, a measurement of “tackles, pressure events and fouls”, he is in fourth spot among United players, boasting 18.70 per game.
Jordan Tillson (23.59 per game) and Craig Sibbald (21.60 per game), more naturally combative players, top that metric. Kai Fotheringham is third (20.27 per game).
Watt is also fourth for overall “pressures” – basically how often a player presses the opposition – with 16.26 per game. The same three players are ahead of him.
A creative spark
However, it would be wrong to paint Watt as an entirely destructive force.
He has served up plenty of opportunities for others.
His xG (expected goals) assisted from open play is the best in the Terrors’ squad, standing at 0.24 per game. Only Partick Thistle’s Stevie Lawless boasts a better tally in the entire division (0.31 per game).
Similarly, his “key passes from open play” is also the highest at his club and only behind Lawless overall – with the Tannadice man racking up 1.90 per game.
In “deep completions”, a measurement of “successful passes within 20 metres of the opposition goal”, Watt leads the whole Championship, on 1.35 per game.
A fight for his place
However, it would be wrong to say Watt will – or should – waltz back into the United starting XI.
The man currently in possession of the second striker spot, Declan Glass, did not enjoy his finest two outings during defeats against Falkirk and Queen of the South.
In common with many of his teammates, he was poor in the SPFL Trust Trophy exit at the home of the Bairns. At Palmerston Park, his decision-making left a little to be desired.
Nevertheless, that should not overshadow what has been a promising Championship campaign to date.
Glass’ technical ability and eye for a pass makes him a real danger in the pocket behind Moult. Only Calum Waters and Dom Thomas average more passes into the box than the United schemer’s 2.74 per game.
Moreover, his proficiency from dead balls is one area where he can really stake a claim.
Glass’ per game average of 0.10 xG assisted from set pieces is the best in the league, albeit over a far smaller sample size than his nearest challengers Glenn Middleton, Joe Chalmers and Lawless.
Indeed, one of his three Championship assists this season came from an incisive corner-kick for Kevin Holt to head home against Ayr when the sides last met.
All told, real food for thought for Goodwin – and a welcome selection dilemma for the United boss.