Recently I wrote a Headmaster’s Report for the season which was generally well received and generated the usual raft of “you were a bit generous there” or “that was harsh on Player X” responses.
It was great. We all have different views on players and football in general and an article such as that was intended to prompt debate.
One of the biggest bugbears people had with the piece however, appeared to be the A- I gave to Ivo Pinto. The reasoning given was that a) he can’t defend, and b) he’s been part of a defence that we all agree has been nothing short of atrocious all season.
Ask 95 per cent of fans about Pinto and they will give the same description. “Great going forward, can’t defend”. It’s been said so often, by so many people it must be true. Many people I know and whose opinions I respect are in agreement that for all Pinto’s attacking qualities, he’s sadly lacking in the defensive basics. So why am I part of the 5 per cent that disagree?
I look at Pinto in comparison to our great right backs of recent years, the Culverhouse’s, Edworthy’s, Nedergaard’s and (Lambert-Era) Martin’s, and wonder what more they would have done if they’d been asked to cover as much ground and play as far forward as Pinto has been.
When he first joined us, Ivo Pinto was a fish out of water. He struggled to adapt to the pace and physicality of the English game and after a few games I thought he was bust. Another cock-up to add to the impressive list of our recruitment team.
Even Alex Neil, famously not-for-turning, admitted temporary defeat and left him out of the team. But by the end of the season he had come back in and started producing performances that had most fans opining that he’d be fine in the Championship. (To be fair that’s what most fans said about Bassong, Bennett and Martin too though, and look how that turned out.)
At that point, the “good going forward but can’t defend” cliche was justified. I wonder though if that initial assessment hasn’t just seeped in as common knowledge and whether it’s as justified now as it was then. Could this be why my own opinion is so different from the hive mind?
So is Ivo Pinto a bad defender or not? A scientific question that deserves a scientific answer. Unfortunately the major stat-producing companies such as Opta and Prozone don’t make their data accessible to the average fan for understandable financial reasons.
The lesser free options such as Squawka or Who-Scored.Com seem to base their rankings of players on some very confusing and impenetrable rationale. When you see Jacob Murphy rated as the team’s second-best defender after Wes Hoolahan you start to question the quality of the information, and so I deposited this method of evaluation on the scrap heap.
Instead I’ve reverted to good old-fashioned video review. Or at least, my back-of-a-fag-packet version of it. Whilst I don’t have access to the Colney video libraries and the ability to analyse every kick, I can, thanks to YouTube, look at the goals we let in every game.
How culpable was Pinto for the goals we conceded? I’ve examined each goal and assigned a percentage rating as to Ivo’s responsibility for the goal. Whilst it’s not a true all-round reflection, over the course of the season I think it will provide a fair snap-shot of how big a part the Portuguese marauder has played in our defensive downfall.
August began with the 4-1 demolition of Blackburn and the goal conceded, a high looping cross for a header from the guy Ivo was marking was, to my estimation, 80 per cent his fault. Should have done more given the time he had to at least spoil the header. The missing 20 per cent was because the header wasn’t the greatest and Ruddy should have done better.
Poor start for Pinto but clean sheets against Sheff Weds and Bristol City followed.
The next goal conceded, at Ipswich, saw Pinto stand up a striker in the box and when said striker played the ball back to Knudsen to shoot neither Tettey or Howson could get to him and there was no winger in sight. No blame there.
Ivo was absent for the 3-0 loss at Birmingham to round off August.
Cardiff’s first goal in a 3-2 victory saw Pinto shoved by Lee Peltier as he went for a header which subsequently looped up. Ivo went to ground hoping for a foul which was never called only for Peltier to pick up the resultant drop down and provide the striker with a tap-in when Pinto didn’t get up quickly enough.
I’ll assign him 50 per cent of the blame here as a) it was a foul to begin with, and b) Klose, McGovern and Jerome all had opportunities to deal with Pinto’s initial header but didn’t. No blame on the second goal from a corner as he was doing his job on the other post.
Ivo went off injured before we conceded in the 2-1 win against Wigan.
Forest’s goal in our 2-1 away win began down their left side when Ivo got beaten all ends up initially, dashed back valiantly only to dive in to try and recover and fly right past his man. I’ll assign him 40 per cent of the blame for this one because when the cross came in we had a multitude of players standing around watching and not picking up.
Burton scored from a scramble in the area in the next game with Pinto nowhere to be seen as he had been involved further down the pitch along with the man he was marking before the ball came in. Likewise, in the next game, not one of the four goals conceded against Newcastle came from Pinto’s area of the pitch.
Wolves’ goal in our 2-1 away defeat was 100 per cent Pinto. Arguably we should have made a better job of stopping the cross coming in, but Pinto’s attempt to challenge Edwards in the air can only be described as ‘token’ and that’s generous.
Rotherham’s goal in our 3-1 win initiated down our right but it was Jacob Murphy who was beaten by the overlapping full back he was marking to cross, with neither Klose or McGovern covering themselves in glory. Pinto was further down the field when Murphy was beaten but equally he was tracking his own man so I don’t assign him any blame here.
Although Chris Martin was lurking in between Martin at CB and Pinto at RB for Fulham’s second in the 2-2 draw it was Dorrans losing the ball cheaply in midfield that created the chance and it would be harsh to look at Pinto as being responsible here. He also had no part in conceding the first.
Injury then kept Pinto out for the defeats to Preston and Leeds at home, the 5-0 mauling at Brighton and subsequent losses on the road at QPR and Derby. He returned in December for the 5-0 win against Brentford.
For both goals in our 2-1 defeat at Barnsley, Pinto was picking up Sam Winnall who had peeled to the far post and neither goal involved that area. He then played his part in a clean sheet against Villa.
The first goal in our 2-1 defeat against Huddersfield began with us providing no resistance on the left to allow a dangerous cross into the box but Pinto’s man, Kachunga, wandered free at the back post for an easy header with Pinto trotting ineffectively behind. 100 per cent blame here, but he was not involved in the second.
Our 3-1 defeat at Reading saw Pinto heavily involved. A poor piece of Ivo defending allowed their winger to get ahead of him and he conceded a free kick by the left byline which resulted in a simple cross and near-post headed finish, the defending for which was comical but which Pinto wasn’t involved in as he was picking his man up at the back post. I’d assign 20 per cent of the blame here.
After allowing himself to be beaten he probably made the right decision to concede the foul, prevent the cross and allow the defence to get back and get in position to defend the free kick. The fact that we made a hash of doing that was not his fault. Neither was the conceding of the penalty for Reading’s second and although we allowed the penalty taker to follow up the rebound, Pinto was the only one who can say he ran in and followed up properly even though the ball eluded him.
For their injury-time on-the-break third, Ivo was a million miles away after a gut-busting run down the wing, leaving Wes to make the most tentative of leg-wags at the forward who powered past him. I would not put this at Pinto’s door as at that stage of the game we had to push forward for an equaliser.
Clean sheets against Brentford and Derby followed.
The away shocker at Rotherham came next. The first goal came from a hopeful ball into the channel that we failed to track and the resultant cross picked out their striker. Whilst his movement was to the back post which would be Pinto’s territory it was actually Martin’s man that he’d failed to mark properly. Should Pinto have been better positioned?
I’ll be harsh and give him 10 per cent of the blame. Howson, who didn’t track Adeyemi into the channel, and Martin, can divvy the other 90 per cent up between them. The second goal saw Pinto beaten down the wing by an interchange of passing between the left back and left winger who crossed for Adeyemi to score but as he had zero help to deal with two players on his own I have to give him a pass there as he did all he could. A symptom of us having ten men, and of us not defending well as a team.
Next up, Wolves at home and an interchange of passes down the City right left Pinto looking as confused as a cat trying to do calculus before resorting to a silly and obvious push that conceded a penalty. The only saving grace is that in the lead up to the push, once again, nobody helped him out at all. Lots of bodies watching the Wolves players pass and move. 90 per cent blame for Ivo though.
Next came back-to-back clean sheets against Birmingham and Cardiff, before an away trip to Wigan where neither of the goals involved Pinto and he had left the pitch injured before Forest’s consolation in the 5-1 win. This injury kept him out of the 2-2 draw with Newcastle and the abomination at Burton.
Pinto returned for the derby and it was a ball from the left to the back post that did the damage. On this occasion though the intent of the defensive unit is clear. Martin is directing the defence as the attack develops and clearly tells Pinto to pick up the striker which he does and moves inside to do so. When the ball reaches left back Knudsen at the back post it’s Jacob Murphy who has let him go. No fault on Ivo’s part.
Next I had to re-watch the 5-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday again, so never let it be said I don’t make sacrifices for the MFW cause. Pinto had no involvement for Ruddy’s poor clearance for the first, and although he is initially involved by the halfway line for the second, the ball then gets past six or seven players before it hits the back of the net.
Again, a lot of players watching, not a lot of doing. At worst you’d give him 9 per cent culpability along with every other member of the team. Neither of the other three goals came from
Pinto’s areas or involvement.
Bristol City’s goal in the 1-1 away draw came from a scramble at a corner and Pinto was diligently on the post at the other side doing his job.
Against Blackburn he made a reasonable attempt to stop the initial cross come in from his side and when it was returned from the left hand side Martin and Bennett went AWOL to allow both Blackburn strikers the freedom of the penalty area. There was noticeably no support from midfield either to be fair.
The second was all about Ryan Bennett half-heartedly skipping next to a jumping opponent with Pinto taking up a good position to help deal with the second ball had the first been contested remotely well.
The 2-0 victory over Barnsley was followed by a 2-0 loss at Villa. The first goal came from Bennett over-committing and the ball breaking to the right. Pinto dashed back vainly to cover for Bennett who was still stranded up-field but couldn’t prevent the ball hitting the net. No fault again.
He was then sent off for his second bookable offence before the second goal went in, which also ruled him out of the 3-0 defeat at Huddersfield.
Reading’s goal in the 7-1 walloping initiated from a cross from the man Pinto was marking but his positioning was not bad and the real problems came from the way the cross was dealt with in the middle. I wouldn’t place any blame on Pinto here.
In the 3-1 defeat against Fulham, Pinto correctly identified the danger of Chris Martin and moved decisively to block his shot only for Johansen to smash home the rebounding ball so he did all he could there. The second was a penalty following a silly push by Bennett and the third was a short through ball that Martin and Bennett left between them. Again, I wouldn’t attribute any of the responsibility to Pinto there.
The goal conceded against Preston in our 3-1 away win was from a free kick on the right which went way past Pinto and the man he was marking and was headed in by Bennett’s opponent. We then kept a clean sheet against Brighton.
Leeds first goal came from a long cross field ball from Pinto’s opponent who took a step inside the Portuguese player to create room for the pass, but it was less the ball coming in and more the fact that the rest of the team switched off and allowed it to go all the way through to Wood without a challenge that caused the goal.
If I’m being brutal I’ll put about 20 per centof that down to Pinto as he did allow the winger to junk inside him and his body shape wasn’t great but it was still so far out that it shouldn’t have resulted in a goal. The second goal was bundled in from a corner.
Pinto was marking a man in front of Ruddy and doing a decent job then got a push which sent him to the ground as the ball bobbled home in the ensuing penalty-box pinball. Not his fault there, and the third was a fantastic free-kick from Hernandez.
The season then ended with the 4-0 dispatching of QPR.
So, those of you who are still reading (well done by the way) may ask what we can take out of this.
Firstly, some stats. Ivo Pinto played 37 league games this season, starting all 37. Of the 69 goals we conceded, Pinto was only on the pitch for 44. He played in all eleven of the clean sheets we managed to keep. Of the nine games where we conceded three or more goals, Pinto only played in five of them.
If you look at our worst results over the season, a lot of the time those games came when Pinto wasn’t involved. The away catastrophes at Birmingham, Brighton, Burton and Huddersfield were all Pinto-less outings.
I’ve apportioned at least partial blame to Pinto for 10 of the 44 goals he was on the pitch for. Of those I only awarded more than 50 per cent of the blame on four occasions. Two for poorly contested headers at the back post against Blackburn and Wolves away, one for allowing Elias Kachunga to get away from him against Huddersfield at home, and one for conceding an unnecessary penalty at home to Wolves.
The only high-scoring defeats Pinto was involved in were the Newcastle 4-3 defeat, when he wasn’t responsible for any of the goals, and the 5-1 drubbing where I reckon he had partial responsibility for one goal.
What do we take from this? Perhaps it’s fair to say that his game doesn’t go down the pan as quickly as some of his colleagues when the going gets tough. Perhaps it’s also a sign that when Pinto plays we don’t tend to get too many thumpings because we carry a threat upfield and teams can’t push up on us as much as they can when we have a more defensive full back playing.
Now I’m not sitting here in my “I love Ivo” t-shirt, saying that he’s only made four major and six minor mistakes all season because we all know that’s not the case. Among the other highlights there were quite a few occasions where I was watching between my fingers as Pinto made errors and just about got away with them. But what defender doesn’t?
I remember one of our all-time great full backs, Mark Bowen, giving me kittens with at least one questionable back pass to Bryan Gunn per game, but it didn’t stop him becoming a legend.
Pinto is far from perfect, but perhaps he’s not as bad as he’s been portrayed. And for every defensive error, there are twice as many positive contributions made going forward. If Herr Farke can improve him defensively without taking away his attacking dynamism we’ll have a hell of a player.