“Ciaron Brown is one of those boys who would play upfront and put his body on the line if I told him to. He wants to give everything for himself, first and foremost, but also his team-mates, the staff, the fans and his family. He has a real hunger which is refreshing to see.”
Gary Holt, Livingston manager.
The 22-year-old re-joins Livingston FC for a third time, having previously teamed up with the Lions in January of the 2018-19 and 2019-20 campaign.
Unfortunately, for Brown, his most recent spell was cut short after coronavirus put an end to the season. However, having performed brilliantly across seven weeks, the West Lothian club were eager to bring him in from Cardiff City until January at least.
Today, Northern Ireland face an ageing backline. With their latest acquisition of U21s manager Ian Baraclough as the new senior manager, the possibility of regular international football may present itself to Brown.
This scout report will better inform the reader of Brown’s strengths and weaknesses. It will provide and make use of his statistics from this season. By doing so, we can develop an objective foundation that will allow for an accurate tactical analysis and evaluation of his ability.
Brown completed his first game for the Lions as a left-back against Raith Rovers. As a result of his astute defensive and technical ability, Holt adjusted his tactics and moved Brown inward as the aggressor of the centre back duo for the remainder of the season.
He went on to display mental sharpness that manifested as crucial blocks, physical dominance, which resulted in a prevailing defensive duelling ability, and a solid technical ability to play long balls; an integral part of Holt’s style of play.
Let’s examine his positioning at set-pieces.
At defensive corners, Brown will man-mark, often taking the largest of opponents. The same happens during defensive free kicks.
His duty for attacking corners and free kicks requires him to charge forward and attack the delivery, as you can see.
Out of possession, Brown’s defensive responsibilities include; organising the line, communicating potential threats, winning aerial duels, blocking shots, making tackles and relieving pressure. All of this are done well, enabling him to achieve his main goal, which is to stop the opposition from creating and scoring. Easy, right? Not so much. In his nine league games, Livingston conceded 10 times. But before we make a judgement, remember that statistic looks at the whole, whereas we’re looking at the individual. With that in mind, let’s examine his specific stats from last season.
Being part of a side that faces long spells in defence, Brown’s recoveries per 90 places him 10th in the league, with 16.58. What’s more, he completes 9.82 counter-pressing recoveries per 90, which is the 5th highest in the league. This tells us that he’s hungry for the ball. But is he any good at actually winning it? Yes. Finding himself in 8.56 defensive duels per 90, Brown wins 76.54% of them. His final task at the back is to win the ball in the air. He stands at 6ft tall, and faces 10.14 aerial duels per 90, winning 65.63% of them. These are all very impressive stats, but remember he has only played nine SPFL games so far. Therefore, it is hard to fairly compare him to the other centre backs in the league.
Above, is a clip from Livingston’s home game against Celtic. It’s a good example of Brown’s body shape and positioning amongst a backline. Firstly, notice how his body is at an angle. By doing so, he can see both his man and the ball carrier.
Secondly, he’s ball and goal side, giving him an advantage to step in front and intercept it, winning the header or clearing any ball played in behind. Brown makes conscious and quick movements to acquire these positions time and time again. As a result, he places himself in the best spaces to defend in.
Holt highlighted Brown’s determination, but it’s evident in the way he plays. Above depicts how the EFL loanee reacts instinctively to danger. The ball ricochets of the keeper towards the opposition’s attacker. Within a split-second, Brown decides to charge down the loose ball, throwing his entire body in front of the forward. In this example, he successfully denies a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
As mentioned by his manager, it’s a desirable trait. However, it has gotten him in trouble from time to time.
Above, Brown is lured in by Rangers winger Ryan Kent. But, having watched his nine games, it’s clear that the Northern Irishman loves to defend off the front foot and make a challenge. In this instance, Kent’s feint fools Brown, and leads to a decent goal-scoring opportunity. If he eases off his man, works his feet and remains goal side, Kent struggles to shoot. Instead, he’s forced to pass, slowing play down, and allowing more defenders to get back into position.
In possession, the West Lothian number three has few responsibilities. Why? Well, let’s understand the context. Livingston are second lowest with pass completion, making 257.12 passes per 90, completing 69% of them. Instead, they look to play long and direct, attempting 59.75 per 90, the second-highest in the league. Therefore, it would be unfair to criticise Brown’s low pass completion rate. His responsibilities include relieving pressure, passing into the target man and supporting the closest full-back.
In terms of relieving pressure, Brown ranks ninth in the league with his offensive duel completion from the centre back position. Averaging 2.64 per 90, he wins 52% of them. Furthermore, when he does decide to dribble past an opponent, he succeeds 66.67% of the time. As eluded to, his average passing length is recorded as 25.5 metres, an exceptionally large distance, and he manages to complete 64.14% of them. When we look to evaluate his ability to find the target man, this report considers his deep completion success and progressive passing. He leads the league with the most deep completed crosses, averaging 0.74 per 90 and ranked ninth with 0.63 deep completions per 90.
Moreover, Brown attempts 8.45 progressive passes per game and completes 71.7% of them, averaging 200 metres worth of progression every match. As a result, he was able to hold down a position in the starting eleven, not just because of his defensive ability, but because of his long-range passing ability too. However, there are aspects of his technical game that can be improved. One which stands out as potentially detrimental to the squad is his losses in his own third. Recorded as 4.33 per 90, Brown ranked second highest in the league.
Depicted above is the type of passes asked of Brown. Livingston make little effort to play out from the back. Instead, they favour the direct long ball approach up to their six-foot-two striker, Lyndon Dykes.
In the picture above, Brown manages to beat the defender and whip a dangerous ball toward the back post with devastating pace and accuracy. In this example, he doesn’t use his preferred left-foot, further highlighting his technical quality.
Something that wasn’t covered by the statistics is his throw-in ability. He achieved an impressive three assists in nine games this campaign, all of which came from his long throw-in ability, shown above.
The analysis has shown how gifted Brown is, both technically, physically and mentally. He boasts an impressive defensive and aerial duel ability off the ball, and threatens the opposition when on the ball.
Unfortunately, his loan was short-lived due to unforeseen circumstances. However, his return for the 2020/21 campaign has been warmly welcomed by the West Lothian supporters and the player himself. His move back to Livingston allows him to pick up where he left off and continue his good form in the SPFL. If he does this, then one would imagine another international opportunity may come his way.