What a fairytale at Wembley where one of football’s good guys, Kevin Phillips, secured the richest prize in the game for Crystal Palace, while ensuring he will again play in the Premier League – in his 40th year. Now, believe you me, that takes some doing, especially for a centre-forward. On the rare occasion that players continue past that age milestone, it is invariably goalkeepers. Phillips clinched this exciting extension to his remarkable career by executing the perfect penalty, struck hard and true, high to the keeper’s right. It was the ideal model for any would-be penalty taker, the fusion of good technique and cool nerve.
The first piece of advice I would give a young player on the art of penalty-taking is “don’t change your mind.” You must make up your mind where you are going to place the ball and stick to it. Do not allow the keeper’s antics to influence you. Your opponent will try to “show” you which side to hit it, but you must ignore him and stick to your plan of action. And don’t indulge in this modern habit of strolling up and chipping the keeper, like Sunderland’s Jeff Whitley famously did in the Division One play-off semi-final of 2004 against Palace. Whitley hesitated in his run-up and chipped the ball straight into the keeper’s arms. Palace went through 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out, with Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy furious with his midfielder. You should hit the ball hard and, above all, hit the target. Put the shot either side of the keeper or blast it down the middle – but hit the target. Phillips, who started his career as a right-back before being released by Southampton and going into non-league football with Baldock Town in 1992 was brought back into full-time football by, of all clubs, Watford, whose hearts he broke with that penalty. He has had a wonderful career, scoring many goals for Sunderland, Southampton, Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham and Blackpool, from whom he is on loan at Palace, and been a fine ambassador and a good role model for youngsters, never arguing with referees. I presume manager Ian Holloway will make sure Phillips gets a permanent move and one more shot at scoring at the highest level. The other star of the show was a player just starting out on what promises to be a good career, Wilfred Zaha, the winger who will face Palace next season in the colours of Manchester United, who have paid £15million for his services.