We’ve all had the same dream where, deep into injury time, our beloved Hammers have won a penalty and you are handed the ball.
You place it gently on the spot; 12 yards in front of you sits the goal, eight feet high by 24 feet wide with only the goalkeeper to beat. Seriously, how difficult can it be?
Make your mind up and stick to it, blast it low left or right – never go straight through the middle. A short run-up, no hot shoe shuffle and certainly no Panenka required. One clean strike, the ball’s in the back of the net, and you disappear in a scrum of adoring team mates.
But that’s not the whole story, in fact it’s not even half the story.
Throw in 60,000 fans screaming like banshees, defenders arguing with the ref, the ‘keeper psyching you out, the opposing manager trying to make a substitution and the reality is bedlam.
For a fleeting moment football ceases to be a team game. Everything reduces to a mythical duel: one against one – and we’ve not had many better from 12 yards than Mark Noble for many a year.
Nobes has converted from the spot 27 times – which puts him comfortably in the top 10 penalty scorers during the Premier League era. He hasn’t missed a penalty since December 2016 against Burnley.
His other Premier League penalty misses were in 2014 against Spurs and in 2009 against Chelsea and Hull. This record also places him second in the all-time list of West Ham penalty takers with a haul of 38 in all competitions, surpassing Julian Dicks’ tally of 36.
But the skipper has revealed he never practices penalty kicks in training despite his superb record from the spot.
‘What I will say is that I never practice penalties – never, ever. If my team gets a penalty in training, I won’t take it. That approach works for me,’ he wrote in a matchday programme I stumbled across recently.
‘To be honest – and perhaps this may be surprising – I feel a lot more relaxed and confident taking one in a game than in training. On the law of averages, one day the opposition keeper will go the right way and save it – but I’ll be up for taking the next one, don’t worry about that.’
Despite Nobes and Dicks’ records, they don’t come remotely close to the peerless Ray Stewart.
Signed from Dundee United in 1979 he quickly established himself as penalty king. A monstrous 76 penalties scored included the vital equaliser against Liverpool in the 1981 League Cup Final. The top three is comprised of two defenders and one midfielder.
Our most successful striker is Geoff Hurst in fourth place on 22. However, history dictates that one missed penalty eclipses the 22 he scored.
In 1972 West Ham were locked in a memorable League Cup Semi-Final with Stoke City. We did the hard part, winning the away leg 2-1.
But contrived to go a goal behind in the home leg – nothing ever changes! With the aggregate score level we were heading for a replay.
Four minutes from time the Hammers were awarded a penalty. Hurst steps up and strikes the ball perfectly; but is thwarted by a superb reflex save from Gordon Banks who rated it better than his save against Pele in Mexico ‘70. Bobby Moore’s heroics in goal could not prevent the Hammers tumbling out in the second replay.
With the thrilling spectacle of shoot-outs and players hitting the deck at every opportunity, penalties are a bigger part of the game than ever before.
I would, however, prefer to stay on my feet and exploit a goal scoring opportunity. It’s so much better than going to the ground and losing possession in the hope of winning a penalty.
But it now seems players are coached to take the easy way out. This option is undoubtedly tempting, particularly with Mark Noble on hand to do the honours.
But is it worth sacrificing control when the odds are frequently stacked against the penalty taker?
Our top four have strike rates in excess of 80 per cent; with balls of steel and ice in their veins we’ve been lucky to have them.
The more numerate amongst you will note that at 33, Nobes’ days as penalty king are sadly coming to an end.
Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini are the only other current squad members to have scored penalties in the Premier League and Andriy Yarmolenko slotted home in our League Cup against Hull earlier this season.
One is currently injured and two are regularly on the bench, so who should be our regular penalty taker from our current starting XI?
Sebastien Haller is the obvious replacement having scored 23 of his 24 penalties taken in his career. But with his confidence shot to bits, maybe Moyes and current captain Declan Rice will look at Jarrod Bowen, who scored four and missed two for Hull, or Pablo Fornals, who doesn’t appear to have taken a professional penalty in his career. Or maybe Said Benrahma who hasn’t missed in his career so far.