10:50am Monday 7th May 2012
By Dave Flett
YORK City’s players have been practising penalties extensively ahead of today’s Blue Square Bet Premier play-off semi-final second leg at Mansfield (2pm).
With Wednesday’s first leg at Bootham Crescent ending in a third successive draw between the two teams this season, City boss Gary Mills has ensured his players are well prepared if today’s game is also all square after extra-time and needs to be settled by spot kicks.
The play-off final and the FA Trophy final – which will be contested between the Minstermen and Newport on Saturday – must also be decided on the day, meaning there is a strong chance the side’s shoot-out skills could come under scrutiny.
Mills said: “We’ve been practising penalties over the last couple of weeks because we know it can all come down to that. If you look at the three games we have had with Mansfield, all of them have been stalemates. In every game, we have had to come from behind and I would like to get our noses in front to see how the game will go then, but a betting man would say it’s going to go all the way looking at past results.”
Contrary to some managers, Mills believes taking penalties on the training field in anticipation of a possible shoot-out is a worthwhile exercise, pointing to Paddy McLaughlin’s success in dead-ball situations this season as an example of the benefits of perfecting technique.
The City boss added: “Every player will have their different methods of taking them which they are most comfortable with. Some want to hit it hard, some want to go for the same side and some want to blast it down the middle, but practice makes perfect.
“You only have to look at Paddy McLaughlin to see that. Nobody practices free-kicks more and it has paid dividends for him.”
Both of City’s frontline penalty takers Jason Walker and Jamie Reed have failed, as well as converted, from the spot this season, but that will not deter Mills from assigning them with the responsibility in the most pressurised of situations at Field Mill or Wembley even though Walker also saw his shoot-out attempt in Luton’s play-off final defeat to AFC Wimbledon saved last season.
Aside from Walker and Reed, of the players currently available to Mills, only Lanre Oyebanjo for Histon and Moses Ashikodi, while with Kettering and Ebbsfleet, have also taken and scored from spot kicks at Conference level or higher.
Dan Parslow and Michael Ingham did, however, convert penalties in City’s record 13-12 FA Trophy shoot-out victory over Kidderminster back in February 2009.
And Mills has even suggested penalty-taking ability could be a deciding factor in who he names as his substitutes today.
“Missing penalties comes with the territory if you take them,” Mills pointed out in reference to his side’s patchy record from 12 yards this term. “You just have to go and take the next one.
“People say you should never miss a penalty but it’s a tough job.
“You have to have the bottle and know what you’re going to do. We know who our penalty takers will be and who won’t be taking them.
“Equally, if there’s five minutes to go in extra-time and I think we’ve got somebody left to bring off the bench who could put one away, that’s all part of what you need to think about in a two-legged semi-final. It might sway you in terms of who you are going to put on your bench.
“Hopefully, it won’t come down to it and we will win the game in 90 minutes but, if it does, it’s important for me to know the 11 on the field can take penalties.”
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