Over the past week, penalty shootouts have been very much the order of the day.
With both the FA Cup and the Europa League Finals being settled from twelve yards, not to mention the Nottingham Forest/Sheffield United playoff semi-final being decided by spot kicks, the likelihood that we will need to do the same in order to earn promotion is increasing, along with my nerves.
For encouragement, we can look back to 2013/14, and point to the Capital One Cup semi-final success at Old Trafford, but when it comes to the playoffs, Sunderland have had more than enough of penalties.
The last-gasp winner scored by Charlton during the 2019 final came out of the blue.
We thought that extra time was a certainty, and I felt numb and sick as the Addicks snatched promotion away from us via Patrick Bauer’s goal.
Penalties, on the other hand, are far crueler. In many ways, they are the footballing equivalent of death by a thousand cuts.
You know what is going to happen, and you don’t want to look. All you can do is pray that the opposition will miss, or that the goalkeeper will make a save, and you are praying just as hard that our attempts will be successful.
But it can get worse. If ten penalties don’t settle the game, you go to sudden death, at which point, there are no second chances, and it can leave you feeling bereaved if the result doesn’t go your way.
I have a tenuous link to the shootout at the end of the 1998 Division One playoff final, and arguably the most painful miss in Sunderland’s recent history. Like thousands of others, I was inside the stadium, and tears of frustration and desperation were shed, but there was to be a personal twist sometime later.
In the following weeks, as Charlton prepared for the Premiership, we regathered ourselves for another attempt at Championship promotion, and England went to France for the World Cup.
At half time during the final, the French insurance company AXA signed a deal to become the sponsors of the FA Cup.
As part of the ‘celebrations’ for the deal, AXA were invited to send a side to play an FA XI at Wembley, the day before the Charity Shield fixture between Arsenal and Manchester United.
I have played football to a decent level and was invited to be part of the AXA team. Two minutes in, I was chopped down inside the box by Ray Clemence. As I got up and prepared to take the penalty, it suddenly occurred to me this was the first to be taken at the stadium since Micky Gray’s.
I felt sick at the prospect of missing, and thankfully scored, but to this day, I would have gladly given anything to have swapped my kick with Micky’s.
On that note, if a penalty shootout is difficult for the fans to endure, we need to spare a thought for the players.
They’ve run their hearts out for two hours, can barely walk to the spot from the halfway line, and they know that a miss or a save can undo all of the hard work and effort invested over the past nine months.
If we are forced to go all the way against Wycombe (although I pray we aren’t), it will be Anthony Patterson I will be thinking of. He started the season by being loaned out to Notts County to gain first-team experience, and at Wembley, he may well have the fate of the club in his capable hands.
Let’s hope we have roared the team to a comfortable win which will negate the need for anything more than ninety minutes of football. I have visualised exactly how I would like my day unfold, and there is not a penalty in sight!