ROYLE - DID UGO WRONG WITHOUT EHIOGU?
By Tim Wheal
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Royle's men battled hard to preserve their Premiership status, but like Watford before them they dropped back down into the first division after successive promotions into the English elite. According to Royle, the former Villan might have kept City afloat, had they been prepared to match his £8 million rating:
"If you said to me what regrets I have about the season, and regret is a bit of a strong word, I have wondered what difference Ugo Ehiogu might have made had he come here."
Ehiogu instead chose Middlesbrough. With the Hackney-born centre-back in their defence, Boro secured a place in the 2001-2 Premiership after previously looking a good bet to slip into the Nationwide League following their woeful early-season form.
Many cite Ehiogu's commanding form at the back as a major reason for Boro's escape, while Sven-Goran Eriksson was impressed enough to call Ehiogu up to his inaugural squad to face Spain, to which the Boro man responded by netting his first international goal. The stats would appear to back this conviction up.
In the 20 matches Ehiogu has featured in thus far for the Teessiders, Bryan Robson's men have conceded an average of exactly one goal per game, while without Ehiogu that figure rises to 1.4 goals. Furthermore, Boro hadn't kept a clean sheet before their record signing's arrival, and six of their nine shut-outs have come with the ex-Villan in the line-up.
A glance at Ehiogu's stats for the season show exactly what City missed out on. The 28-year-old defender has won nearly 80% of the 50 challenges he has gone in for and has made in excess of 200 clearances from the danger area - an impressive figure considering that he has sat out roughly half the season.
His bustling presence inside the opposition penalty area was also crucial for the Riverside revival. Ehiogu has been a constant threat at set pieces and has netted three times for Robson's men while creating ample chances for colleagues by throwing his weight into attack.
However, while their new man at the back has been highly effective for Boro, it is fair to say that he may not have been able to keep City up had the Maine Road hierarchy stumped up the necessary cash to bring Ehiogu to the club.
As Royle pointed out:
"Having said that about Ugo Ehiogu, I have to admit that Steve Howey and Richard Dunne have done well this season. It has not always been the back four's fault that we have conceded goals."
And this point can also be backed up by the stats. Between them Dunne and Howey have hacked more than 500 balls clear of danger, while both players can rival Ehiogu's record in the challenge, having won 51 and 74 tackles respectively with similar ratios of success to Boro's defender. As for their impact at the other end of the pitch, Howey has pitched in with five goals this term, making him the joint highest-scoring centre-back in the league.
Indeed, it seems arguably City's biggest problem was in between the sticks. Nicky Weaver's disappointing dip in form led to Carlo Nash replacing him and doing well in his place, but unfortunately it was too late for the Citizens. Weaver's saves-to-shots ratio of just 64% is the lowest of all regular Premiership 'keepers, and this contributed enormously to City's demise.
Ehiogu may have helped the Citizens' rearguard to plug the gaps at the back had he joined them, but that is only half the battle.
Perhaps with the benefit of a years' Premiership experience, Weaver can bounce back next season and regain some of the sparkling form that singled him out as one of the country's top 'keepers last year.