Four points separate teams from fifth to 15th in one of the closest seasons in recent history.
At around 8.45am on Sunday morning Fulham’s Ademola Lookman performed quite possibly the worst penalty kick for some time.
Currently on-loan from RB Leibzig, the 23-year-old attacker had the chance to snatch a point with the final kick of the game in the west London club’s Premier League clash against in-form West Ham United.
What he produced was awful, comical, tragic and utterly embarrassing all at the same time. The Fulham faithful watching at home experienced the same sense of desperation and disaster that Hammers fans had felt just moments earlier, when, after snatching a 91st minute lead, West Ham conceded a penalty in the next phase of play.
Up stepped Lookman, looking reasonably confident and seemingly about to assure an ever important point, as the Whites enter a tricky run of matches where they play top six opposition on multiple occasions.
Instead, as West Ham fans like myself held their collective breaths and then chuckled in disbelief as the man from Wandsworth executed a penalty that appeared to take an eternity to reach West Ham goal-keeper Lukasz Fabianski.
Seriously folks, if you haven’t had the pleasure as yet, you need to. Fabianski moved right in an effort to protect the slender one goal advantage set up by Tomas Soucek. At the same time, Lookman calmly approached the ball before chipping limply towards the corresponding side.
Fabianski had time to stumble and briskly re-adjust before easily accepting what will no doubt prove one of the most dismal penalty attempts he ever faces.
Many labelled the effort a panenka, yet that perhaps gives Lookman’s spot kick far more credit than it deserves. As a Hammers man myself, it is now 4pm Sunday and I’m still smiling and shaking my head; both at West Ham’s fortune and the poor decision made by the penalty taker.
Fulham manager Scott Parker suggested that his young player had a lot to learn in the aftermath of the gripping finish and the attempt has been called unprofessional by many pundits.
Surely, under the circumstances, Lookman had better options available to him than some quirky, smart-alec, overly clever moment of madness?
But what should he have done?
Being a right back throughout my entire career, sniffing around goal and developing a scorer’s instinct was not part of my development as a player.
Yet thrown into a penalty shootout as the number seven spot kick taker somewhere around 1986, I learned precisely what true fear was.
As I approached the box I heard all the advice a player could ever need to completely torpedo their chances of a successful penalty kick.
I can still vividly recall, “Kick it hard”, “Take your time”, “Don’t kick it too hard”, “No need to overthink it”, “Hit the net” and David Arblaster’s mother shouting out “make sure he can’t reach it”.
I think Mrs Arblaster may have been slightly more at home on a yacht than a football pitch, with her commentary often sending us into stitches.
Thankfully, I picked a spot, attempted to ignore the goalkeeper and thumped the ball towards the bottom right corner.
It went in.
Sadly, we lost the shootout after David Arblaster blazed wide with the ninth penalty of the shootout. No surprise really, that kid’s head was seriously messed up considering all the nonsense his mother had filled it with.
Should Lookman’s approach have been far simpler; ignoring the flair and pizzazz and focused far more on efficiency?
Or was his only flaw in execution? Had he made better contact, Fabianski had indeed been beaten and all of Fulham would currently see Lookman as hero rather than villain.
Under such circumstances, should the approach always be one of power; knowing that if the ‘keeper actually manages to make contact, the rebounding ball could also provide the attacking team with a second opportunity?
Others might suggest that the prudent play is to wait for the custodian to move, then calmly slot the ball to the opposite side of the next; something the best of the best do with ease, yet a style mere mortals should perhaps steer well clear of.
The psychology of the penalty is fascinating, both for the taker and goalkeeper alike. On this occasion, Lookman was made to look a goose and I don’t like his chances of being given the opportunity to take another after the miss cost his side what would have been a well-earned point on Sunday.
So what is your philosophy/theory on the taking of penalties? Do you find any sympathy for Lookman or was his miscalculation so severe that nothing other than a new approach will do?
As for me, I’m one for one from the spot. Despite Mrs Arblaster’s advice.