Every time somebody utters the imbecilic claim that
penalties are a lottery, Early Doors slaps itself on the forehead, hard.
It may be ED's
subconscious attempt to reduce its brain cell count to the level of whatever
fool is speaking and, if it is, the ploy seems to be working.
Over the years, the penalties-as-lottery theory has been
repeated so many times that ED now has a hand-shaped imprint in the front of
Yesterday, however, the scales fell from ED's eyes and it realised that the dreaded shoot-out
is indeed a game of complete chance. You might as well play scissors-paper-stone,
draw straws or ask a judging panel of chimps to pick a winner.
But this is a shoot-out with a difference. It is in rugby. (A reveal that might have been more effective without a picture of a rugby player kicking a penalty.)
It came at the end of a surprisingly compelling Heineken Cup
semi-final between Cardiff and Leicester,
which ended 26-all.
The concept is simple enough. Players take a kick at goal
from the 22-metre line right in front of the posts.
The format is much the same as football (and The Weakest Link
for that matter) - teams select five kickers, and if the scores are level after
five it goes to sudden death.
Leicester eventually went through after a miss by Martyn
Williams, but not before Cardiff's Tom James had a John Terry moment and blew a
chance to win it for his side.
So how can ED allege this is a lottery when the absence of a
goalkeeper takes any element of luck even further out of the equation?
Consider the following points:
1- Rugby shoot-outs are so
rare that nobody really knew what to do yesterday. The whole procedure had to
be explained to both coaches and the bewildered sets of players. Practising
penalties in rugby would be like insuring your home against a meteor strike. You'll feel pretty smug if it happens but the chances
are you're just wasting your time. Contrast
that to football, where penalties happen all the time and anyone who expects to
win a major international tournament without coming through at least one
shoot-out is dreaming.
2- Kicking goals is not a core skill for most rugby players. It is a business
that is left to two or three of the fancy-dan backs, and it plays absolutely no
part in the career of most players who spend their time passing the ball,
scrumming down and trampling their opponents'
heads. A better test of basic ability might be to get players to spin a pass
through a small hoop 10 metres away. This is different again from football. Not
all players take penalties, but everybody is familiar with the business of
kicking the ball at a specific target while trying to avoid an opponent.
3- The rugby shoot-out is, in theory, really easy. A
22-metre kick right in front is about as simple as things get. What this
means is that nearly every contest is likely to go to sudden death, where it
will be decided by the ability of some prop or second row to do something he
never does during a game. Leicester won
yesterday because one back-row forward could kick straight and another could
not. It would be like getting the physios to take kicks in a football shoot-out.
- - -
The drama at the Millennium Stadium gave ED merciful relief from the atrocious
spectacle that was Sunderland's game against Everton.
ED wrote last week about the large number of outstanding relegation candidates
so it came as little surprise that none of the bottom eight picked up so much
as a point over the weekend.
There was a four-way fight for the worst performance, with Portsmouth duking it out
against the three North-East teams.
Paul Hart's men
were completely outclassed by a group of children and a Russian whose facial
contortions make him look like his is on loan from the Muppet Show. Hopeless.
Middlesbrough were brushed
aside with ridiculous ease by Manchester United. Scotland
faced greater resistance when they played Estonia in 1996 and the opposition failed
to turn up. Hopeless.
Sunderland's total ineptitude in front of goal was shown when
they went two goals down with 20 minutes left. The Stadium of Light voted with
its feet and headed for the exits. Hopeless.
Newcastle managed to crumble
in every department en route to a 3-0 defeat at Liverpool.
Theirs was a complete failure from one to 11, with Joey Barton's red card the cherry on top of the cake. As the
Italians might say, hopelessissimo.
- - -
Wolves, Birmingham and AN Other will replace the
worst of the worst, but Cardiff
missed out on the play-offs after a spectacular implosion.
The Bluebirds picked up one point from their last four games
(and that against bottom club Charlton), which included a 6-0 defeat at Preston.
The epic size of the defeat was significant as it allowed
North End, at a stroke, to wipe out a massive goal difference deficit and they
ended up pipping Cardiff
to sixth spot on goals scored.
lost 5-0 at Deepdale, they would have been in the play-offs. 6-1, 7-2, 8-3; all
of these results would have been fine.
But Cardiff lost by six, then
got turned over 3-0 at home by Ipswich, and
condemned themselves to another season in the second tier.
Now, ED would actually quite like to see Cardiff in the top flight. It would be fun to
have a Welsh side involved and their fans would certainly put the frighteners
on a few people.
But it is impossible not to chuckle at their plight when you
remember that their chairman is Peter Ridsdale.
It's true that Ridsdale is an easy
hate figure, but surely that is just because he was so loathsome?
Yesterday morning he went on the BBC's
Sportsweek radio show to talk about what a marvellous job he had done for the
Bizarrely, he expressed annoyance with fans who were
disappointed at missing out on automatic promotion and berated them, seemingly
without irony, for encouraging the club to become the next Leeds United.
Don't they know,
he harrumphed, that slow, sustainable growth is the only reasonable way to run
a football club?
Cardiff and Leeds
fans have had some run-ins over the years, but Ridsdale may just have succeeded
in uniting them. Against him.
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Alan Shearer on
Joey Barton: "I
wasn't happy, I was bitterly
disappointed at the way that happened. I asked him to stay calm in the heat of
the battle but it was a stupid tackle and he deserved to be sent off."
When Shearer criticises your physical approach, you know you have probably gone
FOREIGN VIEW: Florentino Perez looks odds-on to return as
Real Madrid president, and Marca reckons he will be bringing Cristiano Ronaldo,
Kaka, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso and Arsene Wenger with him. All of them.
COMING UP: Aston Villa v Hull
City gives Phil Brown's boys a chance to
for the worst of the weekend. Follow it live from 20:00 UK time.