After an incredible comeback against Cheltenham Town and a dominant Wembley win over Exeter City, Northampton Town are now a League One club. Keith Curle’s side now find themselves just two tiers below EPL clubs like Chelsea and Everton. The Cobblers will need to make several new signings to be third tier ready, though one of the most impressive arrivals so far, however, is Joseph Mills. The 30-year-old joins having been at EFL League Two side Forest Green Rovers since 2018. In Gloucestershire, he stood out as one of the division’s top players. He is now getting another chance to impress in the league above, and will want to make it count.
This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of Joseph Mills. It will look back at his most recent season with Forest Green Rovers. The analysis will show how he fitted into FGR’s tactics and how his abilities could prove useful for Northampton Town in League One.
Role In The Team
Joseph Mills is a left-sided player as 23 of his 24 league starts came at either left-back, left-wing-back, left-midfielder, or left-winger. The other single appearance came as a left-sided centre-back in a back three.
The image below shows Mills’ heatmap. It provides a perfect example of just how versatile the 30-year-old is up the left-hand-side.
The warmer the colour on the heatmap, the more often Mills took up this position. His data clearly shows how comfortable he is anywhere on the left flank. Whether it is as a left-back, left-midfielder, or left-winger, Mills has an excellent understanding of where to position himself.
Given that Mills can play several different positions, his role in the team often varies. As a left-back, he regularly provides support to both the centre-backs in defence and the wingers in attack. When playing as a wing-back or left midfielder, his role is often more attack-minded. As an outright winger, he usually contributes exclusively to the attack and has a player behind him to offer support. Forest Green Rovers rotated through a large number of formations last season. This saw Mills utilised in many different roles on the left-hand-side, including a start at centre-back.
His versatility on the left will prove incredibly useful to Northampton Town. On the basis of their formation last season, the 30-year-old will most likely play as a left-wing-back. Games as a winger may be possible if Keith Curle plays with a different formation. A centre-back role is unlikely in either circumstance, but is still an option if wanted.
Dominating The Left-Hand-Side
The heatmap shows that Joseph Mills operates anywhere up the left-hand-side. What it doesn’t show however is the main reason why. As an incredibly energetic player, Mills is capable of covering the entire left flank on his own. At times last season, Forest Green would attack with exclusively Mills out on the left. Everyone else in the team would take up the central and right-sided positions.
The above image shows an example of this. The ball initially starts out on the right-hand-side. Joseph Mills positions himself far out wide on the opposite flank. Whilst the ball is on the right, the opposition shift across to restrict the space. This leaves Mills with a large amount of open space around him. Forest Green work the ball quickly across to the left-hand-side. Mills is therefore able to receive the ball in space and quickly carry it upfield. Opposition pressure is minimal as the ball has been transferred from one side to the other quickly.
Northampton Town could utilise Mills’ positioning as part of their tactics as well. Last season, the Cobblers regularly set themselves up in a 3-5-2 formation. It would pack the midfield and leave the flanks open for the wing-backs to dominate. Joseph Mills could well flourish being given this much open space on the left-hand side.
In Amongst The Goals
Joseph Mills’ base numbers from last season were seven goals and six assists. The majority of these came in more advanced positions on the left flank.
Two of Mills’ goals came from the penalty spot as he was Forest Green’s designated penalty taker. His open play goals, however, came because of the final third freedom he is given. The below image shows an example of it.
Especially when playing in advanced positions, Mills is actively encouraged to enter the final third and penalty area. In the above example, he makes a late run into the box. Mills’ excellent acceleration enables him to get away from his direct opponent and onto the end of Carl Winchester’s low cross. Getting to the ball when close to the goal, he is in the perfect position to guide his shot home on his stronger left foot.
The 30-year-old not only takes penalties, but is also dangerous from free-kicks. His delivery on his left foot is excellent. Given how well Northampton Town fared from set-pieces last season, the Cobblers could greatly benefit from having Mills on free-kicks, with Nicky Adams and Sam Hoskins also as available options.
As the example below shows, Mills’ assists from open play often come from clever decision-making.
This one comes in the final moments of a game at Mansfield Town. Receiving the ball high up the flank, Mills needs to deliver a cross quickly. Many players in this situation would simply float the ball into the box. Mills, however, has the vision to pick out Aaron Collins near the edge of the box. He delivers a low, driven cross that arrives at Collins’ feet. From there, Forest Green end up scoring a very, very late winner.
At Northampton Town, Joseph Mills could well be used as a wing-back. The role would see him encouraged to get forward and into the final third so that he can affect games. Nicky Adams and Sam Hoskins are both wide options already at the club, and Mills provides a left-footed alternative that can be just as good.
Contributions To The Defence
The majority of Mills’ 24 starts last season came in a more defensive role. Often, this was either as a left-back in a 4-2-3-1 or a left-wing-back in a 3-4-3 formation. Whilst the 30-year-old is encouraged to get forwards when he can, his defensive workload should not be ignored.
The above image shows Mills’ ball recoveries over the last 12 months. The vast majority understandably came from on the first and central thirds. His average of 6.31 per 90 minutes does not rank particularly high against other League Two players. This list, however, does include players in roles that are much defensively-minded. As a player who likes to get forward, Mills was never going to rank very high in terms of defensive output. His average per game is still decent though.
Even though Mills does not make the most recoveries in the Forest Green Rovers team, he will always look to be a second ball option for the nearest centre-back. This player last season was often Liam Kitching.
The above example shows Mills provided support to Kitching. As the centre-back intercepts Paul Caddis’ pass, Mills makes sure that he is close by. He is in position to collect the important second ball and ensure Forest Green confirm possession.
His close understanding with the nearest centre-back will prove useful at Northampton Town. Should the 3-5-2 formation continue from last season, the wing-backs will commit to all phases of play. Even if Mills is not directly winning possession, Keith Curle will expect him to be available for second ball collection. Given the 30-year-old’s superb energy, he is more than capable of doing that.
General Areas Of Improvement
Of course, despite being one of the stand-out left-sided players in the fourth tier over the last couple of seasons, Joseph Mills’ game is not perfect.
The first area of note comes from the previous section of this scout report, his recovery numbers. His average of 6.31 per 90 minutes is fine for a fourth-tier club but will likely need to improve in the third tier.
Additionally, Mills’ numbers for defensive and aerial duels will also need to improve. Northampton Town play a very direct style under Keith Curle. Players are expected to be strong in the air and challenge no matter who their direct opponent is. Over the last 12 months, Joseph Mills averaged 4.85 defensive duels every 90 minutes and 4.37 aerial duels every 90 minutes. From these averages, he has a 58.4% success rate and a 55.6% success rate respectively. Standing at 175cm tall, Mills isn’t expected to win every single aerial duel he competes for, but in a higher division against higher quality sides, there is a possibility that he could be beaten in the air too often.
The above image shows Mills’ unsuccessful defensive duels in the first third. The data averages out to 2.51 losses per 90, and 0.24 of these on average lead to dangerous chances. The 30-year-old wasn’t punished for a lost defensive duel in League Two last season. In the division above, better players could take advantage of Mills’ errors and lead to Northampton conceding. The new Cobblers recruit cannot afford to always rely on his teammates for protection when he loses duels.
Joseph Mills will likely operate as a wing-back for Northampton Town, assuming that Keith Curle retains similar tactics to last season. Because of this, he will be expected to provide consistent, quality deliveries into the box from out wide.
The above image shows Mills’ crossing data over the last 12 months. The 30-year-old averaged 2.51 per 90 minutes, with 0.89 of these on average being accurate. These numbers ranked Mills as one of the better crosses in League Two. This is, in turn, encouraging signs for Northampton Town, whose style looks to make use of effective crossing from wide positions.
Of course, playing a division up from where he was last season, Mills will need to improve on the 47.8% accuracy rate he previously had on crosses. He will likely have the benefit of playing with bigger, more aerially dominant strikers. On the other hand, he will come against more accomplished defenders and will not be smarter with his crossing technique and starting positions.
As a wing-back, Mills will additionally need to improve his ball progression. The data for his progressive passes and runs is below.
Mills averaged 8.29 progressive passes every 90 minutes and 1.21 progressive runs every 90 minutes. Both numbers rank him relatively high when compared to other League Two players.
Part of the reason Mills averages so many progressive passes is that Forest Green forwards would sometimes drift out to the flank from wide positions. At Northampton Town, that is less likely to happen. Mills’ progressive passes will likely be more diagonal in direction, heading infield to midfielders and strikers as opposed to straight upfield.
Mills will likely need to run with the ball more as a result. 62.1% of his progressive runs resulted in a loss of possession – that number will need to decrease if he is to be successful back in League One.
The left-sided player also averaged just 1.09 dribbles every 90 minutes last season. He did, however, have a 72% success rate from these attempted dribbles. The image below shows the location of them.
The majority of Mills’ successful dribbles came in the final third. This usually happened when he was playing in a more advanced position. As a wing-back at Northampton Town, Keith Curle will encourage Mills to push forwards towards the final third. This could present him with many more dribbling opportunities and could see his total numbers increase, though this may be at a cost to his overall success rate as he risks losing the ball more often.
After two impressive seasons at Forest Green Rovers, Joseph Mills is back in League One with Northampton Town. Whilst injuries had an effect on his 2019-20 campaign, he still showed why he is considered to be one of the best left-sided players in the lower leagues of England.
His new club Northampton Town play a style that could utilise Mills as a flying wing-back. That would involve him contributing to all phases of play, forming part of the defensive backline and then pushing upfield to provide dangerous crosses from the left-hand-side.
Of course, to step up into a higher division, his numbers will need to improve. The initial figures are encouraging, but with the Northampton system being different from the Forest Green one, his ball progression and dribbling numbers are likely to increase most. Nevertheless, with several seasons of League One experience under his belt at previous clubs, it is a division the 30-year-old is very used to playing in.
The Cobblers are looking to cement their place in the third tier after last season’s promotion, and their new recruit from Gloucestershire could play a big part in making that happen.