Shit! Is the season really over? Sunday felt so routine that while everyone else was caught up in agonising final-day drama, Eddie and his lads just came to work, got on with the job, and went home ready to do it all over again. It somehow doesn’t feel right that we’re denied more of the same next week, the week after, and the week after, forever into eternity. This is going to be a long three months in a barren wasteland without football.

Still, at least it gives us plenty of time to reflect on the important questions in life. Since when did people in pubs start queuing in orderly single file rather than pressing themselves into a nanometre of space at the bar? If Chris Wood falls in a forest and no-one hears him, then are defenders still occupied? What would you do if you actually had to live in Burnley? And most importantly, how on earth do we explain our miraculous transformation since January and which of the 17,138 players linked with us are we actually going to buy this summer?

Funnily enough, I discovered this week that the answers to these last two questions can be found in the same unlikely place – the exploding booster rockets of the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle… I know, but bear with me… This thought occurred while I was reading Chris Anderson and David Sally’s excellent The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong. Because, as the authors point out, football is a classic O-ring phenomenon. Or to put it another way, success (or otherwise) in football depends not on how good you are but on how bad you are.

First, the brief lesson in space exploration. The space shuttle programme was the multi-billion dollar jewel in NASA’s crown. But the investigation into the Challenger disaster revealed that the small rubber seals between the sections of one of its rockets had frozen and cracked overnight in the Florida frost. And with them, the most sophisticated and complex technological project in history had been destroyed by the failure of its simplest, least valuable component part.

Applied to football and it’s a lesson that turns on its head the lavish galactico project at Real Madrid and the current ceaseless spaffing of Qatari oil money at PSG. What matters is not how great your best players are but how bad your worst one is. For football is a game decided by mistakes, one where the average player will touch the ball for only 53.4 seconds per match. And one where all the statistical evidence indicates that not conceding goals is a much more effective strategy than scoring them. In football, you are only as strong as the weakest link in your team.

If we turn this into a transfer policy, then it becomes an intelligent, sensible, and pragmatic one. Much more Perchinho than Robinho. And very much Eddie Howe. Improving your worst player, even by a little, yields much better results than upgrading at the top end of your squad, especially if that weak link is a defender. This strategy explains Targett, Burn, Trippier and, yes, even Wood. With Wilson injured, centre forward became by far the weakest position in our starting XI. Any improvement was worth it, even at £25 million, all the more so when the incoming signing also contributed to defensive structure out of possession and set-piece defending.

And what does it indicate about our summer business? Or to ask the question directly, where is the weakest link in our current first team? When we ask that question, the deficiencies in our squad come back into focus, since there are candidates all over the pitch, notwithstanding our remarkable form during the second half of the season.

Given Wilson’s rice paper muscles, signing a striker remains an absolute priority. But with the end of Targett’s loan, left back becomes the other obvious answer. With Lewis nothing like ready, a hopelessly exposed Ritchie filled in at full back during the first half of the season, before the newly contracted Dummett returned against Leeds. Even leaving aside his injury record, the Welsh man offers nothing like the dynamic ball-playing contribution that Howe demands from his full-backs. Targett’s immediate impact – by virtue of being simply a proper competent left back – demonstrates the extent of our need.

Beyond this, things get a little trickier, but three positions of more or less equal weakness suggest themselves. The first is the right-hand side of the front three where Fraser and Almirón have done an ever willing job but where genuine incisiveness and end product has been all but non-existent. Just behind that come right-sided centre-back and central midfield. Much as I utterly adore the Swiss Adonis, a mistake never feels far away, and while Shelvey’s effort has been beyond reproach of late, his lack of mobility and his lingering penchant for hopelessly over-ambitious 75-yard diagonal passes will severely hamper us against the better teams.

Of course, it remains to be seen how many new signings arrive. I’ve made a case for strengthening five positions already, without touching on goalkeeper and (dons helmet) mercurial French winger, the latter a definite weak link in overall team play. As such, it’s not a given that improvements will be possible in all these positions and, even if they were, we would still be reliant on existing squad players below the level of the first eleven.

And this brings us to our final O-ring question or, to give it its correct scientific title, the “Trippier-Krafth principle”. Just what do you do with the weak link(s) you can’t remove from your system? The answer, of course, is to make them stronger, even if that’s decidedly easier said than done. Crucially, the strategy set out by Anderson and Sally in their book reads like a study of our training ground under Howe.

First, the Köhler effect of team psychology – named after the German psychologist who first noted the phenomenon – sets to work to increase effort and motivation. Then, a “team-minded strong link” shares knowledge and skills to pull performance upwards. As the authors note, a manager who buys a star player isn’t just buying “goals and step-overs and back heels, he’s buying a set of habits and attitudes”. And these qualities “may be as important as what the star player does on the pitch, because of the effects on the weak-link players”. Step forward Kieran Trippier. And observe Emil Krafth, our O-ring no more.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731