Near or Far Post Shooting

In a previous article which can be found here I did some research on the percentage of scoring shots and headers that a shooting player can expect to achieve given a specific shot placement.
As it was my first attempt at looking at shot placements I grouped all shots together but the difficulty with stats and data is that you can never just take the first metric at face value as further analysis can be undertaken, and inevitably this second level of analysis can provide interesting insights that are missed at the higher level of data review.

In order to refresh memories, here is the scoring percentage for each shot placement zone for all shots and headers:

AllShots

Remember that we are looking at the goal mouth from the point of view of the striker.

I now want to undertake some further analysis to see what other information we can learn, and to do this I am going to look at shot placement based on which area on the pitch the shots or headers were struck from.

I have divided all unblocked shots and headers into three pitch areas (right, left and central) as laid out in this image below:

Pitch Sides

The boundaries of the three zones have been deliberately chosen to ensure that approximately 50% of shots in the sample fall within the Central Shots zone, with the other 50% being split almost equally between right and left sides.

Central Shots Zone

Let’s have a look first of all at shots which were struck from the Central zone.

Central

No surprise to see the general “shape” of the scoring rates heatmap pretty similar to the one at the top of the article which is for all shots.  The main difference is that the scoring rates are higher across the board, hence the increased level of “redness” in this plot.  As we are looking at the shots from the best positions (straight in front of goal) this would be in line with our expectation.

Shots from the Right

We’ll now cast our eyes at shots which came from the right side of the pitch as defined in the image above.

RightSide
Now it gets interesting!!!!!

The above image shows the scoring rates for shots taken from the right hand side of the pitch and immediately a clear pattern jumps out.  As expected there is considerably more blue and less red on this image than the previous heatmap due to the fact that we are now looking at attempts from less attractive shooting locations. However, that’s not what is so intriguing about this heatmap.

The heatmap is extremely unbalanced, with all the red and orange zones concentrated onto the left side.
The imbalance is so great that if we divide the plane of the goal into thirds, the average conversion rate for shots that hit the target in the left most third (Far Post) is 32%, the central third 7% and the right third (Near Post) is 14%.

As seen in my previous piece and logic would dictate, it would be expected that shots struck towards the centre of the goal would have the lowest scoring rate; but a conversion rate of 2.25 times higher for on-target shots aimed towards the Far Post than than those aimed for the Near Post appears hugely significant to these eyes.

Shots from the Left

And what about for shots from the other side of the pitch, the left?

LeftSide

The exact same pattern, only in reverse, emerges.
From this left side, the Far Post third (right) has an on target conversion rate of 30%, 8% for central third and 15% for the left third.
This means that Far Post on-target shots from the left hand side of the pitch are converted at twice the rate of Near Post on target shots.  This ties in pretty neatly with the finding from the other side of the pitch.

At this stage I think it’s safe to conclude that on target shots towards the far post (third of the goal) has twice the success rate of near post shots.  Even without going any further, that strikes me as a pretty darn important piece of information.

Point of Order:
For the rest of this piece, Far Post is defined as any shot where the ball would cross the plane of the goal line in the Far Post third of the goalmouth or wider.  Whereas Near Post is the opposite, it would cross the goal line either in the Near Post third of the goalmouth or wider.
Also the remainder of this piece will concentrate on just the shots taken from the right and left sides of the pitch as I want to investigate in greater detail the apparent Near and Far Posts phenomenon.

Far Post is Superior

So what does this mean?  My first thoughts are that the Andy Gray cliché of “he should have went across the keeper there” is correct.
However, I’m only going to give him half marks as I believe his assertion was based on the fact that, if missed, a shot across the keeper has a chance of being parried, allowing the attacking team to pick up the rebound and have another strike at goal.  A shot missed on the narrow side does not have this luxury.
Not for one second do I think that Andy Gray was aware that on target shots to the far post are scored at rates of 2 to 2.25 times more than those shot towards the near post.  At least if he was aware of that fact then he, along with everyone else in football, kept that particular nugget very quiet.

Possible Reasons for Discrepancy

1 – The first possible explanation for this difference is that I’m only looking at shots that are on target, ie in this analysis I have ignored shots that were wide or high of the target.
Perhaps looking at goals as a percentage of all unblocked shots is required as it may be more difficult to hit the target with cross shots than near post shots.

After investigation, it turns out that this was indeed the case as 68% of all Far Post shots missed the target, compared with 64% of Near Post shots.   However, that small difference isn’t anywhere near sufficient to explain the difference in goals scored as a percentage of unblocked shots.

After including missed shots, 9.9% of unblocked Far Post shots are scored, whereas the rate substantially falls to 5.3% for Near Post unblocked shots.  This means we end up with a final ratio of unblocked Far Post shots being scored at 1.8 times the rate of Near Post shots.
So after ruling out the difference being attributable to off target shots we are still left with a significant unexplained difference in terms of the scoring rate for Far and Near Post shots.

2 – Could it be that goalkeepers are overly concerned with getting beaten at their near posts?
There is no doubt that it looks bad for a keeper if he is beaten at his near post, but perhaps they are trying to guard the near post at the detriment of the cross shot?
At this point (with no access to goalkeeper positioning at the time of the shot) I don’t have any way to either prove or disprove this possible explanation, so unfortunately I have no other option than moving on to my next possibility.

3 – Another possible explanation for the difference is that I have so far excluded blocked shots from this analysis (as we never know where they will cross the plane of the goal).

Due to the fact that a cross shot has to travel through the central area of the pitch it certainly seems likely that shots aimed towards the Far Post have a greater chance of being blocked than those targeted towards the near post.  But is the difference in the rates that Near and Far Post shots are blocked enough to explain the near twice as often conversion differential?

This could be quite a difficult question to answer as we have no way of knowing where the shots would have crossed the goal line had they not been blocked.  However, I have been spared some potentially impossible mental gymnastics as even if EVERY blocked shot was a Far Post shot (so none of the blocked shots were destined for Central or Near Post!!) the scoring rate for all Far Post shots would still exceed that of Near Post shots.
That really is something.

So although that is good news, as a numbers man I have an innate desire to quantify effects and so I’m going to try to make an educated guess at the location in the goal where blocked shots were destined for.

First up, what’s our split of non-blocked shots:

ShotsSplit

As stated above, I would assume that Near Post shots are likely to get blocked less than Far Post shots, but I would assume it would be reasonable for Central shots to be blocked at the same rate as Far Post shots.
Having established this, let’s then assume that Far Post and Central shots are blocked at twice the rate of Near Post shots (this is only a guess, but seems reasonable to me and I need to pick a number).
This blocked shots weighting combined with the volume of non blocked shots results in an assumed distribution of the Blocked Shots as follows:

Far Post               53%
Central                 21%
Near Post            26%
Total                     100%

I will therefore split the Blocked shots in my data sample as being destined for Far Post, Near Post and Centrally in the ratios of 53%, 26% and 21% respectively.

At this stage, I want to point out that the only purpose of the preceding couple of paragraphs is to approximate the number of blocked shots for each of the goal zones (Far and Near Posts and Central) as the analysis cannot be properly completed with some attempt at apportioning blocked shots.
Yes, some of my assumption can be challenged but I don’t think that I can be that far out in the approximations I have used; and importantly certainly not enough to change the core findings of this analysis piece.

Conversion % of All Shots            

Armed with an approximation of blocked shots for each goal zone we can now reach a conclusion which takes into account the percentage of all shots which are scored from the sides of the pitch (the areas denoted in the second image in this piece) depending on whether the ball would have ended up Near Post, Far Post or centrally in the goal.

Remarkably, 6.8% of Far Post shots were scored, this compares with just 4.4% of Near Post shots.  As raw numbers, both of those conversion rates appear fairly small, but don’t forget that we are dealing with shots that are struck from less attractive locations on the pitch (ie away from the central strip of the pitch).

Conclusion

What I have laid out in this article appears to be quite fundamental.
When shooting from less attractive positions, the player shooting has a conversion rate which is more than 1.5 times better for Far Post attempts than for Near Post attempts.

If this fact wasn’t impressive in its own right, when this is parlayed with the chance of a Far Post shot being parried and the rebound scored from then the advantage is even greater than the basic 1.5 multiple as calculated above.

Why?

The question I haven’t been able to answer properly is why this phenomenon exists in professional football when clubs have access to both better data and bigger brains than mine?

I don’t think it can be due to variance as my sample has a huge amount of shots, it contains every shot taken in the Big 5 Leagues during the 2012/13 season – that’s almost 50,000 shots.
After undertaking the work for this article the only conclusion I can arrive at is that it’s due to Goalkeeper positioning.  I have taken account of most other things, ie the difficulty of hitting the target and the apportionment of blocked shots.
Could it really be that keepers are so conscious about the “Pride of the Near Post” that they over compensate?  I am unable to coherently put forward any other possible reasons.

In order to gauge reaction to this piece I sent a draft to David Sally and Chris Anderson, the co-authors of “The Numbers Game”.  David made the point that a higher success rate for Far Post shots could be indicative of another aspect of the way goalkeepers play.  If they were slow to come off the line then due to basic geometry they would be more exposed to Far Post shots than Near Post efforts.

As alluded to in my preamble to this post, you can look at a facet of the game using just the headline measurements (conversion % for all shots in this instance), we can then go one level deeper into the data (slice the data by pitch sides) but even this may not be enough.  Chris Anderson made the point that I should probably further divide the data into shooting distances.  This would involve going yet another level deeper into the data.
Perhaps I might further subdivide the data in a future article so that I can see the impact of shot distance on this Near and Far post phenomenon.  However, for my money that lack of further slicing of the data doesn’t diminish the importance of the findings laid out here.

As an aside, this clearly demonstrates why the basic match stats information is so lacking in detail to give fans a proper understanding of what has happened in a game.  Despite using data in a format that I hadn’t seen before (placement success rates), then going one level deeper, I find myself in the position where I could go another level deeper to try to complete our understanding of this quirk.

Whatever the reason, there is no getting away from the fact that that shooting Far Post seems to have a significantly increased higher goal expectation than shooting Near Post.
In a game of such small margins were teams try to gain from any advantage where possible let’s see if clubs and players learn from this and we begin to see either a greater proportion of shots being fired towards the Far Post or keepers minding their Near Post just a little less in this coming season.

Article responses

The point David Sally makes about goalkeepers coming off their line might bear more investigation. Distance to near post is shorter than distance to far post, so if a goalkeeper is off his line (even a little bit), then it becomes easier to beat him vertically to the far post (more distance to get up and down than to the near post, so margin for error is greater).

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Good analysis. I think if you carry it away from stats there are two separate elements at work here.
Firstly, generally a player shooting from a particular side of the pitch is usually ‘footed’ the same way. Therefore to place an accurate shot to the right of the goalkeeper from the right hand side requires either the use of the outside of the right foot or a poor body shape to get the foot around the outside of the ball. Shooting to the left of the keeper is a much more natural action – which promotes accuracy & power.
Secondly, the ball very rarely travels in a straight line due to aerodynamic effects and angular momentum. If the median shooting position is about 45 degrees off axis, the physical area the ball can enter the goal through is much larger between the goalie and the far post than the near post. This effect gets even more extreme the further off axis the player gets.
Basically it’s easier for a natural winger to curl the ball in towards the far post.

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Very interesting! Impressive work, thank you! Any difference in left/right foot? F.ex. Does left footed shots from right increase the far post advantage?

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Unfortunately I currently don’t have access to which foot the shots were stuck with. Although, both Squawka and Statzone have replied to me today saying that they will try to look at this.

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That’s a very interesting question. A trawl of WhoScored’s stats might show the relative success for a natural winger and an inverted winger, in terms of shots per game and goals per game.

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Only within the last week did Jose Mourinho discuss plans for Juan Mata to play as an inverted winger. It’s very likely that the ‘Special One’ is aware of the positive expectation for shots aimed at the far post, especially if the shot is curling towards the goal than away from it.

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If I read this correctly, after accounting for 50,000 shots, it’s likely that’s what really happening is not contained in the data. Hmm…

I think, if you spoke to a goalkeeper, you could’ve saved(sic) yourself a lot of time. Logically, it’s far, far easier to score at the post than it is at the far post. 1) it’s nearer 2) the keeper has far more time to save the ball before it’s past him on the far post 3) a keeper (for some reason) gets slaughtered for failing to cover his near post.

All this means the keeper positioning will always be biased to the near post – even too far toward the near post because of point 3. Note: coverage of the near post does not make it invulnerable.

If you observe other sports (racket sports particularly) you may notice bias positioning to one side which seems to exceed all reason. This is because, when there’s a choice of a ball going either side, it’s easy to be wrong-footed. As such, coverage of the narrow-side (equivalent to a near post shot) is blocked with no foot-movement, while open-side (far-post shot) involves forward foot-movement where the shot takes longer to pass the body and can be retrieved (sport-specific reason – not entirely comparable).

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I understand all that Harry.
All I am pointing out is that perhaps the bias to the near post is overcooked.

On the Near Post, the GKs save just over 85% of on target shots, whereas they save just 69% of on target Far Post shots. In the absence of any further information in terms of the GK positions I think it is reasonable for them to move across a little.

The other side of this, which is how article started out, is that if I was a striker or a coach I would be wanting to aim as many shots as possible for the Far Post to take advantage of the phenomenon.

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My post was so long I forgot to agree the point, whatever the reason, and particularly because of the follow-up of parried shots, that from the forward’s pov the far-post shot is more productive for a number of reasons. Even so, near-post shots are still more productive in the two zones closest to the post than in the third zone toward the far post.

My point 3 seems to be the reason, and this is most-often promoted by TV commentators and pundits. Near-post goals result in an unreasonably vociferous criticism of keepers, seemingly at the expense of far-post goals, for which keepers do become invulnerable from criticism, even though it may be caused by those same pundits.

The PR war being what it is, I’d be surprised if this ever changed as fans often take their cue from subjective perceived-wisdom rather than objective analysis.

Given that I believe it’s much easier to score at the near post than the far, the difference in positioning to balance the stats may be exceedingly marginal. How this might ever be tested, I have no idea whatsoever.

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Wouldn’t it be of more interest to talk to a striker than a goalie? I can think of a few goals where the keeper is beaten with a simple toe stab across the face of goal. I’m struggling to think of examples where the keeper is beaten at the near post with a flick off the outside of the boot. Generally those shots go into the side netting, advertising hoarding or straight to the keeper.
The keeper-howler shots are normally executed by a player shooting from the wrong foot or wrong side. Van Persie’s goal against Barcelona at the Emirates being a notable exception.

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i think the correct step would be to step further forward than across due to the difficulty in getting down quick enough to a bigger near post gap….

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might this also have something to do with the direction the ball was travelling just prior to the shot?

goalkeepers move back and forth across their goalmouth relative to the position of the ball on the field.

if the ball is on the right (attacker’s POV), chances are it’s got there from a starting position in the centre of on the left.

if so, chances are the goalkeeper is moving to his left to follow the path of the ball.

if a shot then comes in towards his far post (GK’s right), his weight is shifting the wrong direction to make the save.

the “head it back the way it came” effect, basically

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Personally, as an amateur, I’ve often found it’s easier to score — in breakaways — on the near post because of greater accuracy and less chance for a keeper to stop it since it doesn’t need to move across the goalmouth. In such cases I get pretty close in, which relates to the question of distance someone suggested you analyze, Colin. I can easily see that the opposite would be true for shots taken in non-breakaway situations or from outside the 18.

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All will be revealed David…………..

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[...] just read an excellent piece of statistical analysis on the most productive places to shoot in soccer, and below I’ve got some subtle tactical observations that will be useful to those [...]

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This seems rather obvious to me.

The shots to the far post will be predominantly from less acute angles, shots to the near post will contain a much greater percentage of acute angles.

What you need to measure is shots taken from a reasonable angle from left or right, to near and far post, only then can you determine if there is a bias.

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Neil, It may seem obvious to you, but someone should tell the players and the clubs who employ them as there were more near post attempts than far stick efforts.

And that really was the point of my piece. I’m not saying that I’m a Rocket Scientist for arriving at the reasons why, all I’m doing in this piece is pointing out that there is a serious scoring differential that players (for whatever reason) aren’t taking advantage of.

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Sorry I rushed that comment off and haven´t made myself clear.

I did not mean to suggest that your findings were obvious, but the explanation might be.

What are the figures like if you take out all shots from an acute angle, I would suggest the vast majority of shots from an acute angle are going to be the near post, we would all accept that it is harder to score from an acute angle. I won´t suggest which areas you should discount, but to include all shots from the left or the right, regardless of the angle lessens the impact of your finding.

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I would suspect also that 100% of on target shots from acute angles to the far post will be goals, they have beaten the goalkeeper at the near post, and they are on target, blocked shots don´t count so it has to be a goal.

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Neil,
Those are fair comments.

What they do is highlight how difficult it is to undertake any form of analysis. This was my second attempt at looking at shot placement, but people have suggested that I should sub-divide it by right foot and left foot, by distance from the goal and now you are suggesting by angles.

All are perfectly valid and reasonable suggestions, but it’s difficult to know how to proceed. I can’t split the data all those ways as it would take too long and I would have some very small sample sizes by the time I had split the data all suggested ways.

That comment isn’t meant to be a go at your suggestion, but put yourself in my shoes. It is absolutely impossible to undertake all the very good ways of slicing the data that the engaged readers have suggested so unfortunately some of the questions may have to go answered.

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Colin,
I feel that all the different comments means you are on to something very interesting. The “crave” for more details is just an indication of that. So well done!
To develop the theory even more takes more time and hard effort as you say and I guess this is simply the “price” for being successful… Anyway I believe we can all wait for the next step in your research – if you decide to go that route.
Peter

Ps. Speaking of which I would personally think that angle would be a more crucial factor than distance or left/right foot if you can only single out one factor to further investigate. Regardless of if you use left or right foot or which distance you shoot from it seems to me the angle will give you the best “advantage” (it’s easier to curl around the keeper or shoot beside him than through him – at any distance).

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Peter, thanks for the kind words.

Do you want to throw out a suggestion for the angle cut off? Or would have have a band of angles?

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Colin,
Intuitively I would make it three bands of angles; one “narrow”, one “medium” and one ”wide”. Exactly where to make the cut-off I’m not sure. Maybe I would have juggled around a bit and let reality steer, as I feel, again intuitively, the narrow band to be the less successful and perhaps would make the border between “narrow” and “normal” be influenced a bit by the outcome (perhaps not thoroughly scientific…)
Peter

I would run the acute band diagonally to the touchline, from the foot of the post to a point that corresponds with approx 9 yards, ie half way between the penalty spot and the six yard box. I would also ignore the fact that this line starts out inside the central zone, just pick it up from the point it leaves the central zone.

In case my words above were construed as being overly critical, this wasn’t meant to be the case, I enjoy reading your blog and it might inspire me to try something similar in my chosen sport, Rugby League.

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Thanks for the specific idea Neil.

Now to work out how to divide my shots into those diagonal sections :)

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I realise I am commenting on this a little late, but this is one of many fascinating articles on a great site, thanks for the hard work..

However there are a couple of flaws I noticed in your analysis in this article.

The first one is in with your conclusion “After undertaking the work for this article the only conclusion I can arrive at is that it’s due to Goalkeeper positioning”, this I believe is correct, the reason far posts shots are so much more effective is almost entirely down to goalkeeper positioning, they are taught from a young age to cover their near posts at the expense of the far post (I was when I played keeper as a child).

However where I think you go wrong is “Could it really be that keepers are so conscious about the “Pride of the Near Post” that they over compensate? I am unable to coherently put forward any other possible reasons”, as Harry noted earlier in the comments the reason to cover the near post is because it is a much easier finish than the far post (in general the more acute the angle, the more this is the case). There are a number of reasons why near post shots are easier, most covered already in the comments, this post is already quite long so I will leave them out for the moment.

Good goalkeepers inherently play the percentage game; you can make no mistakes all match and still concede 3 (on the other hand Joe Hart has recently specialised in making a lot of mistakes and generally getting away with it), the goalkeeper’s actions and decisions are about reducing the likelihood of a goal, making it as hard as possible for the attacker to score. The ‘pride of the near post’ as you put it, is an extension of this, the goalkeeper places themselves towards the near post to cut off the easiest option for the attacker.

You address this in point 1 of your Possible Reasons for Discrepancy section and find the shooting accuracy was only slightly lower when shooting toward the far post, so surely the shot is not that much harder? This leads me nicely onto my second point. You only considered a ‘miss’ as a shot off target.

A player shooting can miss in two ways, you took into account them completely missing the goal but they can also ‘miss’ by hitting a part of the goal they were not aiming at. When aiming at the far post it is quite easy to mishit and have the shot actually hit the centre or near post areas of the goal. These misplaced shots can still go in of course, but they are in areas where the goalkeeper is more likely to save the shot, as the analysis you have conducted for this article shows.

Obviously a player shooting at the near post could also ‘miss’ and hit a different part of the goal, but I would suggest that this is less likely due to my previous assertion that a near post shot is easier. It would be nice to back this up statistically but unfortunately I don’t see how it would be possible to determine where a player is aiming vs where they actually hit.

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[…] the far post. If you haven’t already read it, you need to go check out Colin Trainor’s treatise on the value of shooting at the far post. For a player that shoots from the left side with his right foot, it’s the perfect place to […]

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[…] the far post. If you haven’t already read it, you need to go check out Colin Trainor’s treatise on the value of shooting at the far post. For a player that shoots from the left side with his right foot, it’s the perfect place to […]

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Perhaps a way to check on GK positioning hypothesis is to display results grouped by individual GK. Not sure there is enough data per GK. While overall tendency may be to favor near post, some astute GK may have superior positioning and will show no difference between near and far.

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I was working on a shot aiming piece for my blog last week and so I did some similar analysis to yours, but with fairly different results.

My initial calculations produced results almost exactly the same as the ones in your article (so far so good). Just like you I threw out blocked shots and just like you I got shot rates that were about 1.5 times as high when aiming for the far post. However, then I realized that you cannot just throw out blocked shots – you also have to throw out saved shots as well.

The reason you have to throw out saved shots is the exact same reason you have to throw out blocked shots. The location that the keeper saves the shot will tend to be towards the shooter’s side of the field which will skew your results if you just look at the end location for the shot. You could try to extrapolate the final position of the ball (draw a line from the shooter through the keeper) but as you mentioned there are problems with that as well.

In the end, the results for aiming at the far post were much less impressive when you remove saved shots from the results. You can check out my blog for the adjusted numbers.

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