Defenders can make opponents pay penalty
STEVEN PRESSLEY is the latest in a long line of defenders to show that you needn’t be a natural predator to prove deadly from the penalty spot.
With the clock ticking down and the pressure at an optimum in Saturday’s fiercely-contested Edinburgh derby, Elvis strode forward to stroke the ball past Nick Colgan on Saturday to hand Hearts their first victory at Easter Road in five years.
In the process, the 28-year-old made it two out of two for the season and cemented his position as the Jambos’ designated penalty taker, a role he occupied for a spell at previous club Dundee United.
His predecessors on such duties at Tynecastle were men such as Colin Cameron and John Robertson - players renowned for their goalscoring ability.
Pressley has earned his reputation for stopping such opponents and indeed has not scored an SPL goal in open play since his Hearts debut in August 1998.
However, Gorgie legend Robertson, now first-team coach at Livingston, sees no reason why defenders shouldn’t be as adept as forwards when it comes to taking penalties - because he believes the difference between success and failure is all in the mind.
He said: "The most important thing when taking a penalty is to have confidence that you are going to score. I think Elvis has that at the moment and all credit to him. He has scored two great penalties in pressure games and that shows that he is the right man to be taking them for Hearts.
"He got one at Kilmarnock to pull his side back into the game and then to hit the winner so late at Easter Road showed a lot of character.
"There was no sign of nerves when he stepped forward - he was just leading by example.
"You need to have a lot of bottle, there’s no question about that and Elvis clearly has that. If you score you’re a hero and if you miss you’re a mug, but that’s something which you can’t let prey on your mind.
"Everyone will miss a penalty eventually, but no player who puts themselves on the spot should be criticised because they’ve had the guts to go and do it.
"Look at Henrik Larsson at Celtic. A few weeks ago he was getting stick for missing a few, yet he steps forward and takes as good a penalty as you’ll see against Motherwell on Tuesday night. Strikers have traditionally been good penalty takers, but there’s a whole list of defenders who have been just as good.
"The likes of Ray Stewart, Tommy Gemmell, John Brownlie, Sandy Jardine, and John Greig all used to take them, too.
"All I can say is I hope Elvis continues to take his penalties with aplomb - but just not when he’s playing Livingston!"
Tommy McIntyre knows what it feels like to be a defender who takes on the responsibility of converting a pressure penalty.
Now a football development officer in North Lanarkshire, McIntyre opened the scoring from the spot in Hibs’ 1991 Skol Cup Final win over Dunfermline.
However, he was first-choice penalty-taker for almost three seasons at Easter Road - and reckons guys like his successor, Darren Jackson, and Hearts rival Robertson, had it relatively easy.
He said: "In my experience, it’s more difficult for a defender because strikers tend to be more used to being in a front-of-goal position.
"It can be a bit alien for defenders. People say that it doesn’t matter what position you play, you can practise taking penalties at training.
"That’s true, but it’s completely different when you have to take one in a game.
"There is no pressure on you at training, where you’re obviously wanting to score but it doesn’t matter whether you do or not.
"When you step up to take a penalty in game, in front of a full house, especially in a derby, with one set of supporters wanting you to score and the other half willing you to miss, it’s a different story.
"Me, I was more of a placer than a blaster, and I had a very good record with penalties. I remember my first one, against St Johnstone at Easter Road. Lyndsay Hamilton was in goal for them, at the Hearts End. We’d missed a few penalties that season, so Alex Miller asked if I fancied the job. I said I would have a go and I must have continued to take them for about three seasons.
"Sure, there was pressure, and I missed one or two, but I always used to say that there were far greater players than me missed a penalty kick.
"I enjoyed it, it was an opportunity for me to get on the scoresheet. Back then, as now, there was always a lot of media attention on the guys who scored the goals, so taking the penalties was a chance for me, a defender, to get recognised.
"Then Darren (Jackson) came along ...in fairness to him, he was a great penalty-taker. These days, I can’t see past Ruud van Nistelrooy. He’s able to place the ball AND blast it.
"To be honest, I didn’t realise Steven Pressley took the penalties for Hearts until I watched the derby on Saturday night. But then, there’s no pressure on him at 1-1 against Hibs at Easter Road, with two minutes to go, is there?!"
"I remember scoring one against Hearts in a game on Sky. It was 1-1 at the time and I sent Henry Smith the wrong way. The ball seemed to take an age to cross the line. It just trundled over.
"That was important, but THE most important must have been in the Skol Cup Final against Dunfermline in 1991. It was still goalless after about an hour and we were awarded a penalty. Andy Rhodes fancied himself to save penalties but I sent him the wrong way. Keith Wright scored a second and we went on to win."
Pressley assumed the penalty-taking responsibility for Hearts against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park to help spark a dramatic late fightback which rescued a point courtesy of a 3-3 draw in Ayrshire.
Despite being Dundee United’s regular penalty taker during his stay at Tannadice, Pressley is the first to admit he is not known for his shooting prowess in training.
Indeed, Craig Levein was as surprised as anyone to see him take centre stage at Kilmarnock last month - but the Gorgie chief is more than happy to see his star stopper continue to put himself on the spot.
"That is two occasions now in recent weeks when Elvis has stepped up to take penalties under extreme pressure," he said.
"He took one brilliantly at Rugby Park and the way he slotted the one into the side of the net at Easter Road would have made it difficult for any goalkeeper to save.
"He takes the captain’s role very seriously and has led by example both times. I don’t care who takes the penalties as long as they score and I think it’s fair to assume that the other lads will have a problem getting the ball off him now.
"If he keeps scoring then he will keep taking the responsibility."
Taken from the Scotsman