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'Hold the Line' - Leeds United's Steve Morison is always on time

A change in formation brings about a change in fortune in more than one way. The shuffling in the system has brought about an upturn in fortune as Leeds United reap five points from a possible nine. But the effects are felt even deeper within the team as improved player performances come to the fore. One of these is Steve Morison, once one of Leeds' forgotten men.

"Hold the line - Morison's always on time"
"Hold the line - Morison's always on time"
Ryan Browne/Getty Images

Go back to before Christmas 2014, Steve Morison cut a forlorn figure in a Leeds United shirt. Under the much-maligned 'diamond' formation, he was deemed surplus to requirements, a cast-off so to speak. His aerial prowess and target man approach didn't fit the system that Leeds were playing.

Then, for the Sunderland F.A. Cup game, the red carpet was rolled out on a new formation; a formation that would allow for a 'target man' approach. The change that the fans had been clamouring for had arrived; so far it has worked. Not only has it led, in Leeds' last two league games, to Luke Murphy rising like a phoenix from the football ashes, but it has also led to the reinstatement of Steve Morison as the lone striker, the 'target man' at the head of the formation.

This decision, much mocked in some areas by 'Leeds United fans' has, most will agree, certainly paid dividends. Rather than taking a reductionist view that "Steve Morison hasn't scored" and, singling him out personally; I think Morison's contribution needs to be taken in view of how it has helped the team to prosper. On this count, Morison's role is integral to the team ethos - he is the one who the ball is 'knocked in to' and who is expected to provide flicks and layoffs for his teammates.One way to look at his influence is to interpret the 'heat maps' of his involvement throughout the last three games (against Bolton, Birmingham and Bournemouth).

Morison vs. Bolton 10th January 2015: score Leeds 1 - Bolton 1

What this heatmap shows is that Steve Morison was 'busy' mainly on the left flank and coming in field to play more centrally and around the fringes of the Bolton penalty area. His 'hotter'/yellow areas (which indicate areas of a higher intensity of more numerous possession) occur as he picks the ball up in his own half by the halfway line, the left side of the Bolton midfield third and to the right of the Bolton penalty area. The area of his activity in this game stretches across the Bolton midfield third and into the central and right-sided areas of Bolton's defensive third of the field. Using the possession zone maps, it can be seen that 42.85% of his touches for this game were in those areas of the field.

Morison vs. Birmingham 17th January 2015: score Leeds 1 - Birmingham 1

As opposed to his previous game against Bolton, this heatmap shows that Steve Morison was played more centrally, with his areas of more frequent play being just inside the Birmingham half and on the edges of Birmingham's penalty area. his most 'active' participation can be seen by the 'red' area right on the edge of the Birmingham area. Again, the possession zone maps show that Morison had 62.71% of his total touches for the game in the central areas of the Birmingham half from the halfway to the penalty area.

Morison vs. Bournemouth 20th January 2015: score Leeds 1 - Bournemouth 0

The above heatmap shows the areas of influence and possession that Steve Morison had in the 66 minutes that he played in the 1-0 win against Bournemouth. Again it helps to show a different zone of play with Morison being more concentrated on the right side of the field with his highest level of 'action' (the yellow/orange area) being in the Bournemouth half of the midfield third and his main influence stretching to the right side and central right of the Bournemouth box. The possession zone maps show that Morison had 65% of his touches in these areas.

However, Leeds fans at the game will tell you that Leeds were in the ascendency in the opening quarter of the game and that Morison, in particular, was heavily involved and causing the Bournemouth defensive unit all manner of problems.

Morison vs. Bournemouth 20th January 2015: first 22 minutes.

If you compare the above graphic taken at 22 minutes with his overall contribution for the 66 minutes he played, you can definitely see the part that Steve Morison played in this opening dominance for Leeds United. In fact, the possession zone maps show that Morison had 15 touches in the opening 22 minutes and 75% of these touches (10 in total) were in the area covered by the largest and most intense/red part of the graphic.

Whilst these heatmaps only tell a partial story, what they do indicate are the areas where Steve Morison has been active in relation to Leeds' possession and overall touches in each game. Morison's influence, whilst not being the only reason Leeds have played well since adopting the 4-2-3-1, is certainly something that has contributed to Leeds' recent revival in fortune, culminating in five points gained from a possible nine points on offer.

What I am pleased about is that it goes someway to proving me a little more right that we had the players; it was just the system that stank the house out.

Thankfully, that stink has lifted and the sweet scent of roses is beginning to waft through.

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