What Mark Sykes will bring to Bristol City as Robins wrap up deal for Oxford United utility man

Robins near to sealing their first transfer of the summer as free agent move is completed.

<p>Mark Sykes of Oxford United.</p>

Mark Sykes of Oxford United.

Bristol City are wrapping up a move for free agent Mark Sykes, with the Robins inviting the player over for a medical this week.

BristolWorldreported recently that the 6ft 24-year-old right-sided player had conducted talks with Nigel Pearson last week, and no doubt Sykes will have consulted his former team-mate Rob Atkinson who made the same move down the M4 last summer on what life at Ashton Gate is like.

There may even have been a word with ex-Bristol City striker Matty Taylor, who has profited from Sykes’ assists over the last three years since both arrived at the Kassam Stadium in 2019.

Obviously Pearson and Sykes liked what each other had to say, and with the utility man out of contract this summer, it will be a straightforward free transfer as the player is over 23 years of age.

Performance last season

Sykes played 40 games in League One last season, with four of those appearances from the bench. He was left out of the final game as Karl Robinson wished to focus on players who would be at the club in the long term.

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In his 3,211 minutes, he grabbed eight goals and five assists. He finished the campaign with an average rating of 6.92 on the WhoScored.com website that uses Opta match data to rate players as to how they perform on the pitch.

The former Glenavon Irish Premiership player played eight different positions for the U’s in 2021/22 and that versatility will appeal to Pearson and his staff.

He ranks highly for his finishing ability in match-based statistics, and could offer another goal threat for the Robins, who are believed to be looking to add another goal-scoring threat to the team, particularly coming from midfield.

Positional play

Sykes played 15 times as a right-sided forward in a front three during the last League One campaign.

But nine times as a central midfielder. How about that for versatility? (Pearson will likely spell out where he sees the player playing exactly when the signing is completed.)

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He also played six times as a right-sided midfielder demonstrating that he could fit into the 3-5-2 as a right wing-back.

Three games on the left of the three-man attack further shows his ability to fit in wherever, akin to a blank scrabble piece - for the older generations.

He even played as a defensive midfielder once last season, according to Opta match data. The Robins have a true utility man arriving.

Drilling into the data

Bristol City football analytics expert Dave Fevs has created several charts detailing exactly where the signing, if wrapped up, excels. See some of his work in the tweets below.

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The above charts show that Sykes ranks very highly for end product, per 90 minutes, compared to other players who play in his position in the league.

Other standout facets of his game include making key and progressive passes. That means, the soon-to-be Republic of Ireland player, is creative and will set up chances for his team-mates.

Sykes also scores highly for duels won, crosses and successful dribbles. His tackling stats and winning of loose balls is not quite as good as other players in the division.

He doesn’t get fouled that often either.

The heat map above shows where he plays a lot of his football, and it could be that Bristol City simply want to bring in another wide-based player to add width to their play when needed.

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Meanwhile, Fevs Football’s analysis shows how the player’s final ball - whether crossing, passing or shooting - has improved over the last two years. Signs of a player steadily improving?

What Nigel Pearson wants - and where Sykes will excel

The Robins use a recruitment tool called SkillCorner, as well as advanced metrics from StatsBomb, to analyse potential new recruits.

Earlier this season, Bristol City’s head of technical recruitment Sean Gilhespy explained to this writer that the Robins particularly look at the physical data offered by such software.

Pearson has explained before that he wants explosive players - and Sykes is highly likely to do well here. Indeed, without being able to know exactly, it does look like the former Northern Ireland U21s player has good speed.

No doubt acceleration and stamina will have been measured too.

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The word from Oxford

When a player leaves a club there is often plenty of bitterness from fans. But social media is awash with U’s supporters giving their verdict on the player.

According to our sources over there, the player had made it clear that he wanted to move higher up the league table and some fans there will have been annoyed by this.

His energy and technical ability have been noted, while there is room to improve the consistency of performances. Hopefully Pearson and co can exact this.