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SHOULD referee Neil Swarbrick feel compelled to point to the spot at St Mary’s on Monday night, there will be a certain inevitability over the outcome.
After all, both Southampton and Everton possess two of the most clinical penalty takers in the Premier League.
There may have been a significant debate over whether Enda Stevens actually made any contact with Jay Rodriguez for the deciding moment in the Saints’ relegation battle at Villa Park last weekend.
But there was never any doubt where the ball would end up once it was placed on the 12-yard mark by Rickie Lambert.
The Liverpool-born striker confidently dispatched the ball beyond Brad Guzan to secure Southampton a vital 1-0 triumph and dump Villa in the drop zone.
Remarkably, it maintained Lambert’s 100% record from the spot since signing in at the South Coast club in August 2009, the forward netting 29 from 29 attempts.
“I’m not counting,” says Lambert. “I try not to pay too much attention to it. I’m always confident taking a pen and hopefully that will continue.
“Sometimes it’s clear what I’m going to do, sometimes it’s not, and on Saturday it wasn’t. At the last minute I’ve gone to the right. I reckoned the keeper thought I was going to his right, and I managed to guess right this time. I just concentrate on the technique and I’m always confident in myself.”
Leighton Baines can boast a similarly clinical record.
When Baines converted from the spot in the 5-1 FA Cup third round win at npower League Two side Cheltenham Town, it was his 11th such success in 12 attempts while at Everton – his only failure coming in the FA Cup fourth-round shoot-out win at Chelsea three years ago.
It was also the first time the left-back had scored in successive games in his career following his howitzer of a free-kick at Newcastle United, with Baines also becoming the first Everton player to score in four successive FA Cup third round ties.
Baines has now converted 92% of his penalties, a success rate surpassed at Everton only by Roy Vernon, who missed just once in 20 attempts.
Both, though, are behind David Unsworth and Trevor Steven in the overall number of converted spot-kicks for Everton, the duo having each netted 23 times.
Unsworth converted his first penalty in 1994 against Leeds United at Goodison, and never looked back.
“I honestly don’t know why I took that one,” he said. “Joe Royle had just arrived and everyone was high on confidence. I think I must have been having a good game, we were 2-0 up and it was just a confidence thing.
“From then on you just carry on until you miss one, and fortunately it was quite a while before that happened to me.”
While Lambert and Baines have prospered from the spot this season, chance would have been a fine thing for Liverpool .
When Howard Webb pointed to the spot less than a minute into the Boxing Day clash at Stoke City after Ryan Shawcross brought down Luis Suarez, it was the first time the Anfield outfit had been given such an award all season and the first penalty in open play converted by Liverpool in more than 11 months.
Last season’s penalties were particularly problematic. Luis Suarez (twice), Dirk Kuyt (twice), Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing all missed from the spot in open play, while Gerrard and Adam failed in the Carling Cup final shoot-out against Cardiff City.
Gerrard now has 31 penalties for Liverpool, behind only Billy Liddell, Phil Neal and Jan Molby in the overall totals.
But it’s John Aldridge, with a 94% success rate, who is statistically the most proficient from the spot in the club’s history.
Of course, it’s a pity the one penalty everybody remembers from the former Republic of Ireland international is the one out of 18 that he missed, becoming the first player to fail from the spot in a Wembley FA Cup final as Dave Beasant’s save helped Wimbledon lift the trophy in 1988.
Molby’s record, though, is perhaps the most astonishing, missing only three times in 45 attempts.
“It was three of the finest saves you have ever seen,” recalls Molby, tongue firmly in cheek. “I am always disappointed when you talk about Gordon Banks’ save against Pele that you don’t mention the likes of Martin Hodge from Sheffield Wednesday, Dave Beasant from Chelsea and Paul Barron from QPR.”
Molby achieved the notable and rare feat of scoring a hat-trick of spot-kicks in a League Cup win over Coventry City in 1986.
There are other famed penalty proponents. Matt Le Tissier netted 47 from 48 in his career – Nottingham Forest’s Mark Crossley was the sole goalkeeper to foil him – while former West Ham defender Ray Stewart scored 81 from 86, netting twice from the rebound of the five he missed.
So, what was is their secret?
“If the goalkeeper didn’t move before I struck my shot I would always put it low to his right but if he moved I would go the other way,” says Molby. “I guess that’s not something you can teach somebody. It’s just something in their make-up.”