Panenka penalties: risky but rewarding if the gods smile on you. Morgaro Gomis bares his toothy grin when talk of his one arises at Hearts’ Riccarton training base.
Not only was it the midfielder’s first goal in maroon, it was his first Panenka attempt during a match after literally years of practice.
Gomis honed the method on training fields across Britain. Hearts are the eighth club of his varied career, but the first where he has been able to showcase his Panenka panache. The Senegalese is noted for dynamic midfield play, tenacious tackling and crisp passing, but now he has a new string to his bow.
With Hearts 5-0 ahead against Cowdenbeath two weeks ago, Dean Brett fouled Gomis inside the area 12 minutes after half-time. The midfielder had been offered the chance to take the next penalty by head coach Robbie Neilson and wasn’t about to refuse. Having hit Panenka after Panenka in training sessions at Hearts, Dundee United, Birmingham City and several other clubs, this was his moment.
“I knew what I was going to do. I wasn’t thinking too much, I just knew I was going to do a Panenka. I’m just glad I scored,” he laughed. “I try it most of the time in training and most of the time I score. That was the first time I’d done it in a game.
“Even when I was at Dundee United and Birmingham I always practised it. It’s just something I liked and I wanted to try. I never got the chance to do it in a game, last week was my first time. At half-time, the manager had said if there’s another penalty then I should take it. All the boys were laughing, saying: ‘Nah, he’s not going to take it.’ I said: ‘I will take it, trust me.’ When the ref gave the penalty, I just ran up and grabbed the ball.
“I don’t think any of the boys knew what I was going to do. I don’t think they expected me to do a Panenka. They didn’t think I had it in me. It’s okay in training. Everybody can do it in training, but to do it in a game is different. They were all surprised, apart from Prince [Buaben]. He knew I was going to do it. In the stand, he was telling people to watch because he knew a Panenka was coming. He knows me.”
It was Gomis’ first competitive goal since he scored for Dundee United in August 2010 – ironically in a 1-1 draw with Hearts. “It’s been a long time since I scored,” he said. “If you try a Panenka and miss, people start talking and asking you why you did it and stuff like that. Everybody said well done after I’d scored. They said: ‘It’s crazy that you did this, but well done.’
“It was nice to score my first Hearts goal, especially because only myself and Brad [McKay] hadn’t scored yet this year. It’s good to get that off my back. I haven’t been winding Brad up though, I’ve told him I’m sure he will score before the season is over. It’s not all about scoring goals. The main thing is to win the game but it’s a bonus if you manage to score.”
An even bigger bonus is potentially just four games away. Hearts will be crowned Scottish Championship winners if they win the next four league fixtures, starting with Dumbarton at Tynecastle tomorrow afternoon, and Rangers don’t drop any more points. That would furnish Gomis with the first title win of his career.
Windsor and Eton, Dagenham and Redbridge, Barnet, Lewes, Cowdenbeath, Dundee United and Birmingham are all his previous clubs. Never before has he even come close to winning a league, though.
“I’ve never won one. Fingers crossed, if we win this one then that’ll be the first for me,” explained Gomis. “The only thing I’ve ever won is the Scottish Cup with Dundee United. I also lost a League Cup final with Dundee United against Rangers so a title would be something nice to have on the CV.
“I have played at quite a lot of clubs and I’ve been around in England but I haven’t won a league. I’ve never even come close. I’ve always been mid-table. This would be the biggest achievement in my career.
“At the back of my mind, I’m thinking about it, but I don’t want to think about it too much. I just want to take one game after another because anything can happen in football. You want to stay positive and not think about negative stuff. We need to make sure we stay focused and win this game against Dumbarton tomorrow.”
As their moment of reckoning nears, Hearts are determined to remain calm and see their Championship challenge through to a successful conclusion. If they beat Dumbarton, Raith Rovers and Falkirk, they will be set for a title party at Tynecastle against Queen of the South at the end of this month.
“We don’t feel under pressure at the top of the league. We’re happy where we are. Everybody would love to be in the position we’re in and we’re enjoying being there. We know that if we win the next few games we can be champions, but there is still a long way to go. Other teams aren’t just going to let us win games.”
• Origins of the panenka
THE Panenka penalty is named after the former Czechoslovakia midfielder Antonin Panenka. He won the 1976 European Championship for the Czechs by scoring the winning penalty in the shoot-out against West Germany after a 2-2 draw.
He stepped forward and casually chipped the ball into the middle of the net as German goalkeeper Sepp Maier dived to his left.
His winning kick remains one of the most famous in football history, making Panenka’s name synonymous with that particular style of penalty.