Ross County are hopeful of welcoming leading scorer Ross Stewart back into the fold for tomorrow’s Premiership encounter with Aberdeen.
The rock-bottom Staggies are eagerly awaiting the return of the attacker, who has been regarded as their talisman following an impressive maiden top-flight campaign in which he finished as the club’s joint leading scorer with 11 goals. That was despite missing a large chunk of campaign 2019/20 due to injury.
Fast forward to 2020/21 and Stewart has been sidelined with a fresh hamstring injury since the 2-0 loss to Celtic on December 23, which is the only game he has played under recently appointed Staggies manager John Hughes.
Stewart’s last outing came against Celtic in December:
Having resumed training with a view to being involved against the Dons – who are among a number of clubs chasing the 24-year-old in advance of his contract running out this summer – County will hope the returning Stewart is far closer to his best than his early-season form suggests.
Striker Stewart performing well below expected goals (xG) rating in Premiership
Stewart’s tally of six goals from 24 appearances in all competitions so far has included five penalties, with his only goal from open play coming in a Betfred Cup tie against Arbroath. He has only scored twice in the league, both spot-kicks, which came against Motherwell and Kilmarnock back in August.
Prior to his injury, Stewart had been County’s first choice attacker, with his league 19 starts amounting to 1650 minutes on the field, which is almost double the amount of minutes fellow strikers Billy Mckay (812) and Oli Shaw (843) have accumulated.
Stewart was often deployed in a wide position by previous manager Stuart Kettlewell, however, this has not stopped the 24-year-old from being a presence in the danger area, and doesn’t appear to be the reason for his lower goal return this term.
He has still attempted 40 shots this term, but with a conversion rate of just 5%.
That is four more efforts than he attempted across the whole of last season, when his tally of seven league goals was achieved with a one-in-five shot conversion rate of 19.4% in 21 games (19 starts, funnily enough).
Stewart is taking more shots – but they just aren’t finding the back of net.
Should they be? His Opta expected goals (xG) rating (which measures the quality of a player’s scoring opportunities) says, yes, more should be.
Despite his lower goals return, Stewart actually has a higher xG of 6.71 this season, meaning Opta think he should already be around the seven league goals mark for the campaign based on the quality of chances he’s had. With only two goals, he is clearly significantly underperforming.
For the 2019/20 campaign, he overperformed – Stewart’s xG was 5.39, but he managed seven goals.
Stewart’s struggles in front of goal this season are underlined by the fact he is averaging 0.1 goals per 90 minutes played.
When you consider Ross County as team have only managed 14 goals from 23 games, they could really use an upturn in their first-choice striker’s goal return.
A detailed breakdown of Ross County’s three strikers’ stats for the 2020/21 Premiership campaign:
It should be noted, while Stewart hasn’t been scoring himself in the league, bar two penalties, he has laid on 23 chances so far this term.
While Stewart struggles, Shaw is taking chance
Oli Shaw has been handed the responsibility of leading the line in Stewart’s absence, and the statistics show the former Hibernian attacker has stepped up to the task.
In eight starts and seven substitute appearances in the league, Shaw has netted three times, with a shot conversion rate of 16.7% from his 18 attempts at goal.
He is also performing marginally better than his xG rating of 2.51.