Anyone who has played rock, paper, scissors will know that one match-up is never enough, and the game becomes more fun when played three times. It is not just about winning but about cat and mouse, and the attempt to second-guess your opponent based on his previous choices.
It is not something often seen in football, except it was when Gillingham played Scunthorpe United in League One earlier this month. Gillingham were 2-0 down with 13 minutes left, but they won three penalty kicks within nine minutes. Josh Wright, Gillingham’s star midfielder, scored all three, completing the most unusual hat-trick scored in the Football League for years.
Wright beat Luke Daniels with power and placement with his first kick but then sent the goalkeeper the wrong way with his next two, winning a crucial three points for Gillingham in their bid to stay in League One. They host Peterborough United on Saturday before when Wright explained to The Independent the psychology and decisions behind his unique achievement.
“I always have a picture,” Wright said, “and the first one I put it to the right, to the goalkeeper’s bottom left. He dived the right way but fortunately it was a good penalty and he couldn’t get there.”
Wright considered giving the second penalty kick away, knowing that some players do not like to take two penalties in the same match. Lionel Messi did the same for Barcelona recently. But none of his team-mates asked him for it so Wright took it.
This time he decided to go in the opposite direction from his first kick. “The second one I was always going to go left, to the keeper’s right,” Wright said. “He just moved to his left, right at the end, and when I saw that move I knew I had got it correct and the keeper had gone the wrong way.”
Wright had successfully outfoxed the keeper once and when Gillingham won their unlikely third penalty, Daniels tried to get back into Wright’s head. “The keeper picked up the ball and placed it, mind games,” Wright remembered. “I debated doing something completely different, like smashing it. But I decided to go to my bottom left again, to the keepers’ right. I hit it cleanly enough again, to send him the wrong way again.”
The keeper banked on Wright reverting back to the side he put his first penalty. Wright went the same way he put his second instead. In their personal battle, Wright won 3-0. “It is such a mental and psychological test,” Wright said, “and I came out on top.”
Wright was not even expecting to take penalties in that game but Gillingham did not have a penalty taker since Jay Emmanuel-Thomas returned to Queens Park Rangers. But those three goals made it 12 in the season for Wright who has flourished since moving into a more advanced role.
“I have always played in sitting midfielder but now I’ve got the licence to go and get into box,” Wright said. “I’ve got into the habit of getting into the box and scoring goals.” This was such a rare occurrence it is unlikely to become a habit. “It was crazy,” Wright said, “something I will never forget.”