The Plus Minus statistic was a concept I was introduced to shortly after attending my first Ice Hockey game, and if you visit the stats section on the NHL website, you will find a vast array of initialisms which might appear baffling to anybody not familiar with the sport, such as PPG (Powerplay Goals), SHG (Shorthanded Goals) and PIM (Penalty Infraction Minutes). None of these statistics are currently relevant to Football fans since they all related to situations where at least one player is in the penalty box. However, one of the other statistics you will find will be under the initialism GWG, a statistic which will be familiar to Football fans, even if it is rarely included amongst player statistics – Game Winning Goals.

Game Winning Goals is a very simple statistic to calculate, referring to the player who scored the goal which ultimately proved decisive in determining the result of the match. This could be the first goal of the game, it could be the last goal of the game or indeed any of the other goals in between. This touches upon one of the limitations of the Game Winning Goals statistic, because some Game Winning Goals are ultimately rather more decisive than others. If there is only one goal during a game, then the identity of the scorer of the Game Winning Goal feels significant. By contrast, if one team builds up a 5 goal led before conceding a late consolitation goal, then the second goal of the game will be the Game Winning Goal. In that scenario, is the second goal of the game really the most significant? Could the first goal of the game be considered equally or even more significant?

As with any statistic, context is key when investigating Game Winning Goals. However, the statistic does at least recognise the fact that some goals have a greater impact on the outcome of an individual match, and indeed an overall league season, than others. To revisit the example of the 5-1 victory above, whilst a case could be made that the second goal was not the most significant goal of the game despite technically being the Game Winning Goal, it is clearly a more significant goal in terms of the outcome of the match than the victorious team’s 5th goal, a goal which may have significance in terms of goal difference but is largely insignificant in terms of the outcome of the match.

There are players in every generation for whom the raw figures in terms of goals per game do not do their talent and importance justice. As I mentioned during one of my previous blogs this season, Eric Cantona is certainly a player I would place in that category. Arguably his finest displays in a Manchester United shirt came during the 1995-96 season, when he scored 14 goals in 30 Premier League appearances. Good numbers, good enough to make him United’s top scorer, but numbers which certainly do not explain why Cantona’s name is still sung at Old Trafford more than 20 years on.

However, when you look at the context of each goal, his importance to United becomes clearer. Those 14 Premier League goals included 6 Game Winning Goals, putting him 2 ahead of the midfield trio of Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, despite only returning from suspension following his Kung-Fu kick at Selhurst Park on 1st October. Of those 6 Game Winning Goals, 5 were also the only goal of the game, each coming from the 22nd January onwards during the title run-in including a 0-1 victory away at title rivals Newcastle United in March. The exception in that selection was Cantona’s first goal and United’s 3rd in a 2-4 victory at Wimbledon, a game in which he also added the ‘insurance marker’ of the 4th goal. In four other games, Cantona scored the goal which secured his side a point including a brace in the 2-2 draw against Sheffield Wednesday, as well as scoring United’s first goal in their 3-2 victory in the Manchester derby. Of those 14 Premier League goals, the only one which could be described as insignificant in terms of the result was United’s 5th goal in a 5-0 rout of Nottingham Forest. When added to his Game Winning Goals in the F.A. Cup Quarter Final and Final, the latter of which was yet again the only goal of the game, the true impact of Cantona becomes a little clearer.

Comparisons between Cantona and Marcus Rashford may not seem particularly obvious, yet the Englishman can currently be found at the top of the Game Winning Goals rankings across the Premier League this season, with his 3 Game Winning Goals sharing the lead with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mo Salah. However, where as Salah only narrowly leads Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, both of whom have scored 2 Game Winning Goals (James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and an own goal have also recorded Game Winning Goals for Liverpool), the situation at Manchester United is rather bleaker, with Rashford the only member of the squad to have scored a Game Winning Goal in the Premier League this season. This is just one indicator of Manchester United’s attacking issues this season, and also highlights how much of the attacking burden has fallen on Rashford, particularly whilst Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba were both out injured. Indeed, the only other clubs to only have one or fewer scorers of Game Winning Goals this season are the current bottom 3 of Southampton (Moussa Djenepo), Norwich City (Teemu Pukki) and Watford, who have yet to win and therefore yet to score a Game Winning Goal.

Elsewhere, there is a particularly surprising absentee in the form of Sergio Aguero. Manchester City have won 8 of their 11 games and Aguero’s 9 goals puts him behind only Jamie Vardy in the race for the Premier League Golden Boot, so his absence appears to be a bizarre statistical quirk. Indeed, whilst not all of Aguero’s goals have been particularly important, such as the 4th goal in the 5-0 victory over West Ham and the 3rd and 4th in a 4-0 win against Brighton, there have also been important goals such as the 2nd in the 2-2 draw against Tottenham, the 1st and 3rd in the 3-1 win against Bournemouth and the equalizer in the 2-1 comeback victory against Southampton this weekend. Provided he doesn’t pick up any injuries, you would expect Aguero to start racking up some Game Winning Goals sooner rather than later.

Game Winning Goals are now being recorded on this website, so this is a statistic that interests you, be sure to check out the team pages. Also, if there are any additional statistics which you would like to see featured on this site, please let me know in the comments section.

Fantasy Premier League Tip – John Lundstram

John Lundstram’s brace against Burnley saw him also record his 2nd Game Winning Goal of the season. That is a particularly solid return for a wing-back, though Fantasy Football managers will be particularly excited by the fact that he is listed as a defender on the game. Given Sheffield United have the best defensive record in the league, Lundstram is capable of picking up huge points, and is available for £4.8 million.