Why we should all embrace the joy of the set piece goal and stop being football snobs


Set pieces, particularly corners or free kicks from wide areas, are treated like some form of necessary ill in the modern game. Like wearing Crocs or riding a micro scooter to work, they are deemed uncool, despite being a perfectly practical and effective way to achieve your end game.

The evolution of the game in recent years has seen many a football fan understandably taken in by possession football, the art of tiki taka and the idea that as many passes as possible makes for a beautiful spectacle. Your writer here is very much of that school but I also enjoy good ball into the box as much as any other football fan. At the risk of sounding like a Little Britainer, no one does set pieces quite like us.

In Spain when a team wins a corner there is little reaction from those in the stands, the same can be said for the other top European leagues. But if a corner is awarded at The Hawthorns, Gresty Road and yes, even the Emirates, there will be a veritable rise in volume and expectation from the terraces. After all, it is a genuine chance to score. We still get that tinge of excitement when the ball goes out of play, that little bit of anticipation that the centre back might just do the business in stoppages time.  So, why do we treat the dead ball with so much disdain?

It seems, to me at least, that this snobbishness around ‘getting it into the mixer’ is very much a millennials things. Raised on a diet of Guardiola and co, many now see the corner or free-kick goal as something dirty, almost as if it should count for less than a slick move that produces the same result. That attitude needs to change. The art of the set piece can be a very beautiful thing indeed, especially when it ends in a goal.

Let’s take a look at one man who puts a very strong emphasis on making an impact from dead ball situations, Mr Tony Pulis. Yes, you knew he was coming. The man is managerial marmite, some hate him for his ‘long ball tactics’, others love him for his evermore individual outlook on the game, however, everyone, even Arsene Wenger, respects him for his achievements as a football boss.

The former Stoke manager has his West Brom side supremely drilled, be that defending set pieces or attacking them. No team has scored more goals from dead balls than the Baggies this season, with a huge 19 of their 39 strikes coming from such an event. A mighty 14 of those goals have been from corners, that is five greater than any other team in the division and a full 14 more than doomed Sunderland.

Pulis’ team aren’t good at set pieces simply because they are ‘big lads’. There’s so much more to it than that. They know how to attack the delivery, they work on it in training tirelessly. Each player knows their role, from the kick taker, to the decoy runner, to the Gareth McAuley or Craig Dawson crashing it home with their forehead; everyone knows their role. Watching the Midlands outfit deploy one of their set piece routines is genuinely impressive, so much so that teams are terrified of facing any ball into the box. That itself is half the battle won. Just ask Arsenal.

 It’s also a total myth that unattractive teams rely on set pieces. Liverpool rank fourth in goals scored from them, while Eddie Howe’s stubbornly attractive Bournemouth side are as high third. The dead ball has its place in the game and it is one that more teams at the top of the division should embrace.

Scoring from a set piece is not a bad thing people. Scoring is never a bad thing. If more teams dedicated more time to free-kicks, corners and the like then maybe, just maybe they too could become a more potent outfit. Maybe, just maybe they could make Tony Pulis fashionable.

If you take a look at least season, both Tottenham and Liverpool feature in the top three for goals scored from set pieces, the campaign before saw Arsenal, Tottenham and champions Chelsea feature inside the five most successful clubs from dead ball situations. Clearly some managers more fashionable than the aforementioned Pulis see set pieces as a relevant and useful tool. Yet, the likes of Man United, Man City and the Gunners all feature in the bottom half for set piece potency this season. It’s just not fashionable.

Perhaps one of the reasons that we, the viewing public hold goals of such nature in such low regard is because of TV. When a goal is scored from a corner, very rarely do you see the likes of Danny Murphy and Phil Neville compliment the routine of the attacking side, instead they pick holes in how the defence have dealt with the situation. It’s an interesting and quite odd phenomena.

The saying goes that every goal comes from a mistake. How utterly joyless. Surely, now and again a delivery is great, an attacker loses his man well, a routine comes off or the goalscorer simply times their jump well? It happens. Attacking play can be superior too.

This addiction to finding flaws that infests the punditry game is perhaps why it has become some engrained in the footballing psyche that set piece goals are bad. If they only come from ‘poor defending’ or someone ‘switching off’, then are they really worth scoring? Yes, frankly, they are. So get your Crocs on, don your baseball cap, go get on your micro scooter and tell the world that set pieces are back and Tony Pulis is a pioneer.