Welcome to Part Two of the search for a potential replacement for Posh’s star man Ivan Toney. In Part One we created a player profile that will act as a guide to judge potential signings. Anyone who missed Part One and would like to catchup on that can find it here.

Initial Search

*First up I must acknowledge that a limitation of this article was that I was primarily using free data. For that reason, data on National League players and below is highly limited. I was sadly therefore forced to exclude such players. Moreover, advanced data is only available for free for one season whereas multiple season data would have been preferable.

An initial filter of position (striker), minimum five matches played and aged 24 or under was applied. The minimum matches was kept low so not to miss out on players who had moved in January, however players who had played less than ten matches but been with their side from the start of the season were discounted. This returned a database of 56 players.

Of those initial 56 players, a long list of 17 players was created after applying stricter criteria. The list is included below:

League One League Two
Tyler Walker* Luke Jephcott
Colby Bishop Jerry Yates*
Stephen Humprhys Callum Morton*
Rushian Hepburn-Murphy* Zach Dearnley
Carlton Morris* Sam Smith
Amadou Bakayoko Brandon Thomas-Asante
Oliver Sarkic Elijah Adebayo
Tyler Smith*  
Marcus Forss*  
Dion Charles  

*on loan

Having made this initial shortlist, I then did some basic checks of U23/PL2 sides, using both data from PL2 and the EFL Trophy. After taking into account both build and players who could be realistically be signed permanently one player stood out for further examination, George Hirst of Leicester City. His data from the EFL Trophy was then added to the data set, while not perfect and just six matches, it was decided as being the best option available.

As we are looking for a like-for-like replacement the first filter we will place on these players are height, aerial duel record and ground duel record. Players who do not pass this initial filter will only be considered if a like-for-like replacement cannot be found, or as options if Posh are looking to deploy a less direct style next season.

*White lines represent average for current sample, green line average for Part 1 sample

There are some interesting prospects who do not meet this initial filter. However, as we’re primarily looking for a like-for-like replacement, we will focus on the players in the top right of the graphs.

Creating a Final Shortlist

Taking players who have the build and physicality to replace Toney and have performed well in the above graphs we are left with an initial list of nine potential targets: George Hirst, Carlton Morris, Stephen Humprhys,, Colby Bishop, Elijah Adebayo, Amadou Bakayoko, Callum Morton, Brandon Thomas-Asante and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy.

Using further data and video analysis we will create a report card for each player. Today we will focus in detail on my number one target: George Hirst.

George Hirst

*Reminder that some stats are taken from EFL, small sample size and variable team selection in competition can make using these stats dangerous, however they are the best I have available.

Summary:

Age: 21   Height: 6’3   Build: Slim   Current side: Leicester City U23

Strengths: Height, good pace for size, aerial ability, hold up and link play, technique, first touch, dribbling, finishing, decision making, penalty taking, long range shooting, movement, positioning, can play as a lone forward or in a two, goal threat from indirect set pieces, can cover Toney’s role at defensive corners.

Weaknesses: Limited exposure to first team football, muscular development and stature behind where it could be.

Potential Cost: Joined Leicester for a reported £450k last summer. Would likely cost £1-2m. Would therefore likely be at the top end of budget in terms of cost and wages.

Availability: Depends how Leicester view his development this season, but lack of first team football and Brendan Rodgers’ preference for quick strikers who can stretch play and run in behind mean Leicester may be willing to part ways if they can turn a profit on their summer investment

Willingness to join: Depends if he sees a future at Leicester. Appeal of regular first team football in a side renowned for developing strikers may twist his hand.

Potential Signing Rating: 9/10 – Some concerns over readiness for first team football, but a big talent both literally and figuratively who ticks so many boxes it is worth the risk.

Profile Match to Ideal Signing:

Good Match (no concerns):

  • Aged 24 or below, can be developed and sold on for a profit
  • Are important players for clubs in a lower league position/division than Posh, are fringe players at Championship sides, or in the U23s of Championship/Premier League sides
  • Quick
  • Technically good
  • Have decent, but not always outstanding, goal scoring records
  • Capable of rapid development over the next two years, with the potential to reach a level of an elite Championship striker
  • Good in the air
  • Able to link play as a target man
  • A good finisher inside the box and capable of scoring from a variety of situations
  • Can create chances for both himself and teammates
  • Both mobile and able to press willingly and quickly
  • A good defender from set pieces
  • Goal threat from indirect set pieces
  • Can drop in between the lines to link play
  • Decent dibbling/ball carrying skills

Decent Match (some concerns):

  • Available to sign on a permanent rather than loan
  • Able to the ground running at League One level next season
  • Physically strong and imposing

Poor Match (large concerns):

  • N/A

Profile Match Rating: Excellent

Report Card:

At 21, and having failed to break into the Leicester City squad, one would expect Hirst to be available next season. Hirst will surely be desperate to get first team minutes in his legs having only featured in PL2 and the EFL Trophy this season and may therefore be favourable to a move, especially to a side with a reputation for developing young, promising strikers and taking them to the next level.

Moreover, he does not fit the profile of a Brendon Rodgers forward as although he possesses decent pace he does not stretch play in the same was an Inheacho or Vardy would. This is a crucial time in Hirst’s development, and much like Toney left Newcastle at a similar time in his career as there was no obvious route to the Newcastle first team, it would appear sensible for Hirst to do the same.

Although a slimmer build than Toney he is a similar height at 6’3 to Toney’s 6’2. If Posh were to sign him putting him on a programme to increase his muscle mass and physicality would likely be important.

That said Hirst had an excellent aerial record in the EFL Trophy. Although he contested slightly fewer aerial duels than Toney, his success rate of 56.45% was the best of any player in either player sample I collected. Moreover, Hirst contests a similar number of ground duels to Toney, however his lower success rate, although still respectable, perhaps hints at his lesser strength.

Hirst’s goal record in both the Trophy and PL2 matches is good. He registered three times in six Trophy matches this season, while also netting nine goals in 14 PL2 games. In fact, Hirst’s goal record throughout his fledgling career has been good at both club and international age group football, with the only blip being his three goals in 22 games (15 starts) for OH Leuven last season.

Hirst is also capable of creating chances for both himself and others. Composed in front of goal he is a regular goal threat, who combines excellent technique, good movement and dribbling with the ability to score a variety of goals, including with his head and from outside the box. Particularly impressive is his ability to go to bend the ball round the keeper as he is capable of generating impressive pace and curl on the ball.

While his ability to carry the ball and beat an opponent means he can create chances for himself, he is also well capable of creating for others both through his link play and movement to pull defenders out of position. It therefore comes as no surprise that he has registered 8 assists in 3,057 minutes in the over past two seasons (5 in Proximus League, 2 in PL2, 1 in EFL Trophy). His decision making in the final third is generally good, knowing when to pass and when to go alone. From 1.08 below we see Hirst’s direct running with the ball at speed before laying off a well timed and weighted pass for his teammate to score.

Watching Hirst in action his technical ability shone through. Particularly impressive was his first touch with is excellent especially for a player of his size. Hirst’s size, technique and pace mean he is versatile in his contributions to build up play. Like Toney he possesses deceptive pace for his height, and is potentially slightly quicker than Posh’s current centre forward. This means that as well as being able to perform a more traditional target man role by providing an option into feet, chest or playing flick-ons, Hirst is also comfortable pulling wide into the channels or stretching play by running in behind. Hirst’s versatility means that he is equally adept playing as a lone striker or with a partner, while at OH Leuven he was occasionally used as an inside forward on the left wing. In the clip below, from 2.15 we see Hirst’s ability to pull into the channels and get in behind the defence

For a striker of his size Hirst’s dribbling is particularly impressive. He can carry the ball at speed and beat a man 1v1. In the EFL Trophy this season he attempted 2.6 dribbles per 90 with an impressive success rate of 60%

Hirst’s intelligent movement is also visible in the box where he often shows the ability to time, angle or change his run to arrive in good goalscoring positioning. Combined with his heading, composure and finishing this makes him an excellent penalty box threat.

I do have doubts about Hirst however. First it is unproven whether he can manage the workload of  a 40+ game season in men’s football. His signing would therefore be something of a gamble in this regard. Concerns could be partially mitigated by the fact that he played 1,378 minutes during the 2018/19 season, and 1679 minutes this season, however there are no guarantees he would stand up to 3000+ minutes of League One football.

Second there is his disappointing spell at OH Leuven in the Belgian 2nd tier during the 2018/19 season, in which he managed just three goals in 1,378 minutes of football. Although his five assists reinforce his creativity and ability to bring others into play.

To conclude, I would put George Hirst forward as an excellent potential candidate to replace Toney. Of the players on the shortlist I believe he has the highest potential ceiling and the skillset to potentially go furthest in the game. If it clicks he therefore has the potential to command the highest transfer fee in the future. Not only are his height and aerial ability already a potent weapon, he has time to ‘bulk up’ over the next few seasons and become an even greater physical threat. Combine this with his mobility, ability to create chances for himself and others, link play, technique and dribbling ability means that you have a well-rounded, potent threat.

The biggest concern regarding Hirst is his readiness for men’s football. He did not pull up too many trees last season, however his performances this year in the EFL Trophy against generally relatively strong opponents hints towards progress being made since that spell. While there is a risk he may not be quite ready for a full season in League One, for me it is a risk worth taking given his large list of positive attributes.

Hirst’s development has been stunted by both contract disputes with Sheffield Wednesday and lack of opportunities at Leicester limiting his first team exposure. With no clear route into the first team at Leicester, and Posh’s reputation for nurturing attacking players, it is a move which might just pay off for the club and get Hirst’s career back on track.