Winners and losers in spot-kick stakes

David Cuffley There are certain moments in any sport when the man in the spotlight wishes the ground would open up and swallow him. The dropped baton in the Olympic relay.

David Cuffley

There are certain moments in any sport when the man in the spotlight wishes the ground would open up and swallow him.

The dropped baton in the Olympic relay. The costly dropped catch - such as Indian wicket-keeper Kiran More spilling a simple chance when Graham Gooch was on 36, en route to making 333 at Lord's. The moment golfer Ian Woosnam discovered he had one too many clubs in his bag.

One of the most heartbreaking examples of all was that oft-replayed miss by Wakefield Trinity's Don Fox in the 1968 Rugby League Challenge Cup final. In front of the posts but on a saturated pitch, he sliced wide with the last kick of the match, a kick that would have given Wakefield victory over Leeds.

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Fox, who died last week, had an outstanding career, but the obituaries inevitably focused on his agonising day at Wembley 40 years ago.

For footballers it's the own goal, the goalkeeper who kicks thin air - or the missed penalty. Ask Chris Waddle, or David Beckham, or John Terry.

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Norwich City striker Jamie Cureton's miss from the spot in only the eighth minute at Cardiff last week was nothing like as costly or high-profile as any of these, but for a player looking to open his account for the season under the gaze of a sometimes critical manager, it was a soul-destroying moment.

It was an awful moment, too, for the man from Sky Sports, who, from an admittedly poor vantage point in the Ninian Park Press box, appeared to think Cureton had scored and could not understand why play restarted with a goal-kick. Just briefly, the nation's satellite viewers were led to believe the Canaries had equalised.

The 33-year-old Cureton admitted yesterday he had not watched a replay of the moment he put the ball a yard wide from 12 yards.

“I've not seen it, I haven't even watched it once, to be honest,” he said. “I never was going to - I killed myself enough over the weekend. That's it now, I just have to get on with it.

“It is just one of those - just that one knife edge. You go one way, you go the other. I think me missing it affected my game. I ended up not playing well and being brought off in the end.

“I have missed before, I have missed and taken one in the same game, so it affects you at the time but you just get on with it.”

City boss Glenn Roeder revealed that had they been awarded another spot-kick in the second half, Cureton would not have taken it, but he does not expect the experience to leave any lasting damage.

“I'm sure he will want to take a penalty again. Just because he missed one I don't think he'll not want to take one again,” said Roeder. “The only thing I said at half-time was if we were to get one in the second half, someone else would have taken it. I'm not a fan of a player taking a penalty again in the same match if he's already missed one. That responsibility would have fallen to Sammy Clingan.”

In the event, both Cureton and Clingan were substituted before the Canaries staged that late fightback, but Roeder said research had proved that success from the penalty spot was all in the mind.

City's most successful penalty takers had that look about them - that certainty they would score.

I didn't see Ron Ashman tuck away any of his club record 17 spot-kicks. But in the modern era, Ted MacDougall scored 15, foiled only once, by Fulham goalkeeper Peter Mellor. John Deehan scored 14, but failed twice. Neil Adams scored 12 and failed once.

“I think penalties are very much about being confident at that moment,” said Roeder. “A scientific study was carried out a number of years ago after Gareth Southgate missed that penalty in Euro 96, where they looked at the mentality of people who would have a greater chance of scoring a penalty than other people by how they saw life.

“When they looked at people's mentality and their personalities, Michael Owen, Alan Shearer and Paul Merson, at the time, were always nailed-on people to score penalties.

“They thought they discovered that their type of personality would have a view that when a penalty is awarded to their team, they've already thought 'That's another goal for me' before it's taken. The thought of missing doesn't cross their minds.

“It was a serious study. People were spoken to at all levels and Gareth, who I think the world of, wouldn't -from his personality - have been the person to take a penalty.

“Top defenders have a negative view. They always think something's going to go wrong, so they're always in the right position to deal with it. Of course, most times it doesn't, but the very fact that they're thinking like that, the odd occasions when things do go wrong, they're there to snuff it out, where the other types of players, Shearer, Owen, Merson, who are much more carefree in their attitude to things, they just saw another goal. They would be thinking 'That's my 20th goal of the season' before they've even put the ball on the spot.

“Of course they occasionally miss. But generally speaking their success rate is huge. I can speak about Owen and Shearer because I've worked with them and I can clearly see how the study comes to that conclusion.”

Cureton, of course, had only two chances to score from the spot for City last season, tucking both away confidently in the home games against Blackpool and former club Colchester.

One would not imagine he will have any worries about grabbing the ball again.

“There are people - there's no doubt about it - when a penalty is given who if things are not going well for them at that particular time are thinking 'Oh my God, I've got to take this penalty, I'm not sure',” said Roeder.

“I'm not saying Cureton was like that, but he was looking for that first goal, when really he should already have had two or three in the opening three matches. Whether that was why he dragged it wide, who knows? I'm probably fishing too deep and over-analysing.”

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