Penalties are a grim, unforgiving lottery. I’ve been involved in a few during my illustrious career traversing the Hertfordshire Junior leagues but none come close to one in the College Cup.
Usually I cope alright with a spot kick but the cliches all come true on the long journey from the half way line to the spot. The goal shrinks, your palms sweat and the simple task, the odds of which are weighed heavily in your favour, suddenly becomes an impossibility.
Routine is essential. Break a well worn ceremony and the goal keeper is already one step ahead. Traditionally there are a number of small things that I always do when taking a penalty, to settle the nerves and to produce the desired result. In the College Cup I did none of them. I was rushing myself, wanting the ball to be in the back of the net rather than near my feet. It’s an obvious statement but you have to dictate the pace of the penalty, taking care over everything from placing the ball to the time you take at the start of a run up.
Momentum is huge as well, a pendulum that weighs heavy on the team that are missing. Put a run together and suddenly this whole shoot out lark seems made for your side; see your team mates miss and in your mind your are inexorably headed for defeat. When both teams are in the same boat then shoot outs run and run in a vicious cycle of tension. In most cases the longer it goes on the less willing the taker is to have a go, therefore the more likely they are to miss – and so the suffocating scenario continues.
Hitting the ball hard is essential. Regardless of how good the keeper is a shot hit hard, even if close to him, is going to be near impossible to save from 12 yards. I envy keepers when it comes down to it. They can only be heroes. They aren’t expected to save every spot kick; just to do their best. If they do save them they rightfully take the adulation. In the most tense moment of the College Cup so far one man between the sticks won his side the tie; but both keepers made themselves heroes.