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On This Day (3 December 1995): Scott gets it spot on as Palace finally pay the penalty…

Who remembers Sunderland’s penalty problems back in 1995? Martin Scott stepped up 28 years ago to banish the worries… 

A bold claim from TTTV. Advert from the Barnsley 1995-96 edition of the Roker Review.

Sunderland’s 1995-96 Division One title-winning team had few flaws, but early in the season, they did have one obvious weakness – a perplexing inability to put away penalties.

While it wasn’t exactly a new issue - a total of eight spot kicks had already been wasted in the three campaigns prior - the problem did seem to be getting worse as time wore on and was proving hugely frustrating for Peter Reid and his players.

The odd miss is always bound to happen and initially, unsuccessful attempts from Martin Scott and Phil Gray at the back end of the previous season were seen as nothing too unusual. When the sequence continued, though, with another three failures in the space of eight September days as Gray, Richard Ord and Michael Gray had shots saved against Portsmouth, Luton Town and Liverpool respectively, the pressure on the takers suddenly started to grow.

Scott did then convert at Millwall in the following fixture to put a temporary stop to the jinx, but when the next away trip, back in the capital at Crystal Palace, saw two more penalties go begging the situation was starting to become untenable. The record now stood at only one scored from the last eight, and with Scott hitting the woodwork and Paul Bracewell missing the target completely at Selhurst Park, there wasn’t even the mitigating factor of good goalkeeping to fall back on anymore either, although the three points that came from David Kelly’s open play winner did make up for it.

Sunderland had to wait almost two months for the opportunity to put things right from the spot, and on this day, it just happened to be Palace that were the opposition again as they travelled up for the rematch.

Earlier on in the week, the Football League had announced a deal with Sky worth £125m to broadcast games over the next five years, but for the time being, fixtures were still able to be shown locally, with the Tyne Tees Match cameras making their maiden trip of the season to Roker Park.

David Kelly shields the ball on this day. Image from the Millwall 1995-96 edition of the Roker Review.

With heavy downpours being felt, many supporters opted to stay at home and take in the commentary from the familiar voice of Roger Tames.

It looked as if the Lads were still out of luck penalty-wise in the opening stages, but only because referee Mike Riley, overseeing Sunderland for the first time, had waved away strong calls for fouls on Kelly and Martin Smith.

They would soon combine to give him another decision to make as halftime loomed, however, and this one was pretty clear cut to not only those in the stands and on their sofas but, thankfully, the officials too.

Smith had weaved his way in from the right and played the ball across, and as Kelly shaped up to shoot, he was felled by Andy Roberts. Scott was handed the chance once more and took it with aplomb – showing no nerves whatsoever as he cooly struck his attempt across Nigel Martyn and low into the keeper’s left-hand corner. It was only after the goal had been scored that he showed any emotion, his rock-steady persona beforehand being replaced by joy as he slid across the soaking wet pitch towards the Fulwell End before throwing out a tension-releasing air punch.

With that, Scott took back the mantle of first-choice penalty taker and, over the next couple of years, became a decent first goalscorer bet, so dependable was he from the spot.

Sure enough, he scored again from the spot the following week to start what would become an absolute rout of Millwall, but the Palace game proved to be a lot tighter. Named on the bench for the first time was youngster Darren Holloway, but it was second-half substitute Brian Atkinson, on what was to be his last outing in red and white, that joined Kevin Ball, the skipper having to be at his best to keep a lid on the visitors in the middle of the pitch, and deservedly coming away with the man of the match award after screening his back four and helping them to an important clean sheet.

Having started the match in 8th place, victory took Reid’s side into the automatic promotion spots for the first time in his tenure, a just reward for coming through a difficult test against another contender and for making their golden chance from 12 yards really count. They could have even gone top of the division had they won by a bigger margin but that could wait, it was more important that they’d been able to see out a close game, and that they’d done it by putting to bed a hitherto penalty hoodoo.

Sunday 3 December 1995

Endsleigh League Division One

Sunderland 1 (Scott, 39’)

Crystal Palace 0

Sunderland: Chamberlain; Kubicki, Melville, Ord, Scott; Mi. Gray, Agnew, Ball, Smith (Atkinson 46’); Howey (P. Gray 65’), Kelly. Unused: Holloway

Roker Park, attendance 12,777


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