Evan Ferguson: The next great hope of Brighton and Ireland

2MM8DTP Evan Ferguson in action for Brighton & Hove Albion at the AMEX Stadium

Keen followers of Irish football have been aware of him for some time, but Evan Ferguson was likely not a familiar name to most before his goal in Brighton’s 4-2 loss to Arsenal in December. It was just the third time the striker, aged 18, had featured in the Premier League, becoming Brighton’s youngest ever goal scorer in the competition in the process.

The striker was not even a regular on Brighton’s bench prior to the World Cup yet has featured in all but one of their games since, scoring six goals in all competitions and reportedly catching the eye of several top clubs. His rise has continued during the recent international window, recording his first international goal versus Latvia before making his first competitive start against France.

However, there is an unfortunately long list of strikers who, as unfair as it may be, have been hailed as the heir to Ireland's goalscoring record holder, Robbie Keane. So far, they have all failed to live up to that hype. Clubmate Aaron Connolly, only 23, was once in a similar position to Ferguson but currently plays for Hull City, his fourth loan spell away from Brighton. Ireland teammates Adam Idah (22), Michael Obafemi (22) and Troy Parrott (21, on loan at Preston from Spurs) also find themselves in the Championship having yet to make their mark on the top division.

Ireland striker Evan Ferguson
2PHDT1G March 27, 2023, Rome, United Kingdom: Evan Ferguson of Ireland, Dayot Upamecano of France during the UEFA Euro 2024, European Qualifiers, Group B football match between Republic of Ireland and France on March 27, 2023 at Dublin Arena in Dublin, Republic of Ireland – Photo Jean Catuffe/DPPI/LiveMedia. (Credit Image: © Jean Catuffe/LPS via ZUMA Press)

So, the question is, will Ferguson be different; will he emerge as a top-class striker? Ultimately, time will tell but his explosive start to his career is cause for optimism. In the meantime we can take a look at how he has performed this season and see where he stands in comparison to some of the Premier League’s other emerging forwards.

While all five of these players operate in different roles, earning varying amounts of game time, they are all exciting attacking prospects aged 21 or under, so they serve as good yardsticks for Ferguson’s development. Julio Enciso has not featured much since his £9.5m transfer from Paraguay but serves as a useful comparison to his teammate.

Player

Club Age Goals

PFF shooting grade (Position Rank)

Brennan Johnson

Nottingham Forest 21 7 87.2 (6th)
Evan Ferguson Brighton & Hove Albion 18 3

76.3 (16th)

Sam Greenwood

Leeds United 21 1 72.3 (22nd)
Julio Enciso Brighton & Hove Albion 19 0

65.0 (42nd)

Sekou Mara

Southampton 20 0

63.8 (45th)

The main takeaway, other than Brennan Johnson’s impressive form — he is also the most established starter here — is that Ferguson holds his own against Premier League strikers in general with an above average shooting grade, made all the more impressive by his age.

Ferguson’s shot on target percentage (57%) ranks 16th (min. 15 shots) for forwards. Meanwhile his rate of goals per-90 minutes stands at 0.5, the same as Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic and slightly below Brentford's Ivan Toney, 0.6 (504 minutes played versus 1,959 and 2,456 respectively).

Player

Club Dribbles Completed per 90

PFF ball carrying grade

Brennan Johnson

Nottingham Forest 1.1 76.3 (5th)
Evan Ferguson Brighton & Hove Albion 0.2

64.0 (36th)

Julio Enciso

Brighton & Hove Albion 2.5 60.5 (57th)
Sekou Mara Southampton 0.5

60.5 (58th)

Sam Greenwood

Leeds United 0.4

57.3 (71st)

Again it is Brennan Johnson who stands out here, which is no surprise given his key role in Forest’s battle against relegation.

Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi has called Ferguson a “unique” talent but recently suggested that Ferguson could improve his on the ball skills.

While not terrible, his performance here shows there is room for improvement. For context, of the 18 forwards who have scored more than five goals so far this season, only three have a lower ball carrying grade than Ferguson; Callum Wilson (63.8), Alexander Isak (60.5) and Rodrigo (59.4).

Player

Club Line-breaking passes received p-90 Defensive line-breaking passes received p-90

PFF passing grade

Sekou Mara

Southampton 4.5 0.3 63.1 (29th)
Julio Enciso Brighton & Hove Albion 6.5 0.2

62.5 (34th)

Evan Ferguson

Brighton & Hove Albion 9.8 0.4 58.7 (50th)
Sam Greenwood Leeds United 3.1 0

57.0 (61st)

Brennan Johnson

Nottingham Forest 2.8 0.6

50.2 (71st)

This comparison makes for interesting reading, adding further credence to De Zerbi’s comments, although Johnson’s grade shows a good passing grade is not strictly necessary to be successful.

Ferguson ranks 41st (min. 180 minutes) for defensive line-breaking passes received, comparable to Harry Kane (0.4) and Ivan Toney (0.3). Gabriel Jesus leads the league with 1.4, while Erling Haaland averages 1.0 per-90.

When all line-breaking passes are analysed, Ferguson leads the league, ahead of Roberto Firmino (9.3), and Brighton teammate Deniz Undav (9.2). The fact that Danny Welbeck (6.7) also ranks highly (12th) implies this may be at least somewhat dependent on a team’s play style.

When taken as a whole these numbers suggest that there may be much more to come from the Irishman. As a teenager, he is already impressing and holding his own when compared to his peers and to established Premier League forwards.

Brighton supporters and long-suffering Irish fans can hopefully look forward to many great performances in the future.

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