It is safe to say that Ian Holloway’s arrival at Grimsby Town Football Club has been impactful. The man who famously led Blackpool into the 2010-11 EPL season against the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea became the Mariners’ manager in late December 2019. His football at Blundell Park has been described as ‘the best we’ve seen in years’ by Grimsby supporters. A big part of that is how he has developed and improved the performances of several players in the squad. One of the most notable is 23-year-old winger Charles Vernam. The former Derby County man has been so good in fact that he is reportedly attracting interest from the league above.
In this scout report, we will conduct an analysis of Charles Vernam’s qualities both in and out of possession. The tactical analysis will show how he contributes to Grimsby Town’s tactics and explain just why he is so sought after by clubs higher up the EFL.
Role in the Team
Lincoln-born Charles Vernam made 27 league appearances this season. 19 of them were starts. Of these starts, 18 were in a left-winger position, with the other appearance being on the opposite flank.
The above image shows Vernam’s heatmap. The warmer the colour, the more often he positions himself here. What the heatmap clearly shows is that Vernam’s most common position is near the touchline on the left wing. This is usually his starting position before receiving the ball. From here, he would either normally drift infield on his stronger right foot and affect the game from central positions.
Benefits of Playing Inverted
Inverted wingers are a common trend in modern club football. Starting from wide positions, these players often run infield with the ball, leading with their stronger foot. As they make their way towards the edge of the penalty box, inverted wingers usually either have an attempt at goal or provide key passes to runners off the ball.
One of the best ways of showing how good an inverted winger Charles Vernam has been is by looking at his shot data. The two graphs below show it.
The left graph shows how the vast majority of Vernam’s shots come from central positions. Of these central shots, most are to the left of the centre of the goal, and 62% of his 73 total shots have come from his right foot. All this, combined with the heatmap from earlier, shows that Vernam is an inverted left winger, and an effective one too.
The 23-year-old winger does not exclusively drift into central positions when on the ball. His excellent movement off the ball also enables him to take up dangerous goal scoring positions.
The image from a game against Forest Green Rovers shows an example of Vernam’s movement. Initially out on the left flank as the move begins, Vernam drifts infield and towards the box. His movement is on the blindside of nearby defenders, who are more focused on the ball coming from out wide. As the ball arrives in the box, Vernam makes a late dart into the penalty area. He is in a good position to be picked out by a short pass and able to take a shot at goal on his stronger right foot.
When on the ball, Vernam looks to get inside of his opponent as often as possible. As the below example from a game against Stevenage shows, his team mates really help him do this.
Vernam starts out wide and makes a diagonal run at opposing defender Scott Cuthbert. Whilst the Stevenage centre-back maintains a distance from him, Josh Benson makes a run in behind. A nearby Stevenage midfielder tracks this run. This decoy run opens up space on the inside of Cuthbert. Vernam, a few yards away from Cuthbert, is able to take the ball into this newly open space, leading with his stronger right foot.
As good as Vernam is at playing as an inverted winger, his game still isn’t perfect. At times, the 23-year-old can drift too far infield, and into the traffic of opposing players. Teams who operate with one or two deep-lying midfielders could block off the available space for him.
Additionally, the lack of available space infield often forces Vernam to make rash decisions. As his earlier shot data shows, a number of shots around the edge of the box are ineffective and off target. These shots often come as a result of Vernam being unable to go further infield with the ball. In the split second before being tackled, he chooses to have an attempt at goal without fully assessing his position relative to the goal. His conversion rate for shots outside the penalty area, 5.3%, further shows this.
How Vernam helps Grimsby Progress
The 23-year-old is much more than just a threat in the final third though. He is also one of the best ball-progressing wingers in the whole of League Two.
Vernam averages 3.39 progressive passes per 90, ranking him comfortably inside the top 40 in the division. The majority of these progressive passes were over a distance of 20-30 metres. This is understandable when you can consider that he is a winger who is often positioned out on the left and far away from his team mates.
Where the Grimsby man catches the eye most though is his progressive runs. Averaging 3.8 every 90 minutes, it ranks him second amongst all the wide players in League Two. Only Crewe Alexandra’s Stephen Walker averaged more, and he made less than half the starts Vernam did.
An analysis of Vernam’s ball progression shows a correlation between the data and his playing style as an inverted winger. A big part of the reason why he completes so many progressive runs each game is because of his desire to drift infield with the ball. He will often look to get inside the opposing defender and into space rather than taking on his opponent one-vs-one.
Of course, that isn’t to say that Vernam isn’t an accomplished dribbler. The 23-year-old’s 7.52 average dribbles per 90 rank him seventh amongst all of League Two’s wingers. On average, 51.22% of these dribbles each game are successful.
As the above example shows, Vernam is more than comfortable taking on one or two direct opponents. He keeps a good distance from the pressing player and uses his quick acceleration to get away from them. Using the same technique to get past the second opponent, he is in position to cross into the box and pick out a Grimsby attacker in there.
Vernam shows similar competence when dribbling on the right-hand-side as well. The above example is from a game at Plymouth Argyle. Receiving the ball on the right flank, Vernam quickly identifies a channel of space ahead of him. He uses his quick acceleration and close control to drive into the space and past opposing players. Once past deepest defender George Cooper, he has the opportunity to provide a dangerous cross into the box. It is made even more dangerous by the fact that the cross will come from Vernam’s stronger right foot.
Of 159 total attempted dribbles, Vernam kept possession of the ball 75.5% of the time. Whilst this is a good overall success rate, it can certainly still improve. The times Vernam fails to retain possession of the ball is when his starting position is already far upfield. Below is an example of this from a game against Scunthorpe United.
Here, Vernam is closed down by two Scunthorpe defenders. His only two realistic options are to try and beat them in the tight space next to the goal line, or pass back to Anthony Driscoll-Glennon who is pushing up to support. Vernam ignores his team mate though and tries to go through the gap between the Scunthorpe defenders. He takes too long to make this move however, and ends up being tackled.
Errors of judgement like the above example are why Vernam’s dribble success rate is not higher than it currently is. His overall ball progression and dribble statistics though are noteworthy and rank amongst the best in League Two. The signs are certainly there that he could provide similar numbers in League One, a division not too much greater in overall quality.
Contribution out of Possession
As an attack-minded winger, Vernam’s major contributions are in the offensive stage of Grimsby’s play. That isn’t to say that he commits nothing defensively, however.
The 23-year-old has made a total of 90 interceptions during the 2019-20 season. The vast majority of these have understandably come from within the central third and final third.
Analysing the right side of the above image shows that Vernam only averages 3.25 recoveries per 90. This ranks him down towards the bottom of all the outfield players in League Two. It is a similar case with his counterpressing recoveries, where he averages 2.2 per 90. Of all the areas of his game that the 23-year-old needs to improve most, his total ball recoveries each match is up towards the top of that list.
Observing Vernam’s final third ball recoveries does again show his proficiency as an inverted winger, however. Most of his recoveries here come from positions infield of the left touchline. 17 of his final third recoveries come what coaches describe as ‘Zone 14’. This is the central space near to and including the D of the penalty area. A large percentage of every team’s most effective and dangerous attacks either originate from here or at some point pass through this zone of the pitch. It is encouraging to see that Vernam has won the ball here as many times as he has, as this is the place where a lot of Grimsby’s most dangerous counter attacks can begin from.
The effectiveness of winning the ball in this ‘Zone 14’ region is shown by what Vernam does after winning possession. Of the 17 times he won the ball here, he was able to have 4 attempts at goal, with 3 of them on target.
In the above example, Charles Vernam has recovered the ball infield and near ‘Zone 14.’ The opposition are out of their natural defensive shape and Vernam looks to take advantage of this. He looks to quickly break through the gap between two Newport defenders and have an attempt at goal.
If Vernam can improve how frequently he recovers the ball around this area of the pitch, he will find his number of dangerous attacking opportunities increase tenfold.
At 23-years-old, Charles Vernam has just finished an impressive back half of 2019-20 at Grimsby Town. The inverted left-winger has been one of the stars in Ian Holloway’s side. His ability to drift from the left channel into central positions has been a big reason as to why he has scored 7 goals for the Mariners this season. His performances have been so good in fact, that there have been reports of potential suitors from the division above.
A tactical analysis of Charles Vernam shows where he excels most. His excellent acceleration, agility and close control allows him to quickly get past and away from pressing opponents. Drifting inside from the left puts him on his stronger right foot, and from here he can play a dangerous part in Grimsby’s attacks.
Of course, being still just 23, his game is not completely perfect yet. He is still prone to rushing decisions if he drifts too far infield. His total defensive contributions are also low when compared to the rest of League Two, though he does make a notable number of ball recoveries in the game-affecting ‘Zone 14.’
Vernam has had a very good season at Grimsby Town, and it looks likely that 2019-20 will have been his last at Blundell Park as well. Whether his new destination is a club in League One or another in League Two, he could prove an incredibly successful signing for them.