Pete Remnant from Do Not Scratch Your Eyes and You ‘Orns TV looks at the men who have scored penalties for the Hornets to determine if a penalty spot specialist is essential, or a passenger.
We start with Watford’s highest scorer in a single season, the great Cliff Holton. In 1959/60 he scored 42 goals, eight of which were from the spot. ‘Big Cliff’ had joined fourth-tier Watford from top-flight Arsenal and partnered Dennis Uphill in attack to lead the Hornets to promotion. The following season Holton scored six penalties, contributing to a season’s tally of 32. So, a centre-forward adds to his goal tally from the spot, secures promotion, and then helps the team stay in the division the following season. Does the player’s goalscoring make him confident from the spot, or do the penalties help him to add to his tally in open play? It is there to be debated.
For the next regular scorer of penalties, we advance a decade to the recently departed Keith Eddy, a captain and leader who stood up to be counted from the spot, despatching 18 penalties in all.
His most successful penalty-scoring season was 1969/70 when Watford, having been promoted to the second tier for the first time the previous season, retained their status. Eddy was a leader, and went on to follow manager Ken Furphy to New York Cosmos where he was again given the armband, thus captaining Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer.
The next player in double digits for converting penalties was “pound for pound the best player I ever signed” according to Graham Taylor. Ian Bolton had a passing range that few outside Vicarage Road really got to appreciate. A right-sided centre-back who was brought up playing on the left-wing, he struck a ball as well as anyone at the more traditionally elevated clubs. Ian Bolton scored 11 penalties for Watford, but the baton was slowly being passed across to a team-mate.
Twenty-five of Luther Blissett’s goals were penalties. For a period he used to turn his back before doing his run up. I never personally liked this technique; it felt a little theatrical to me – but numbers do not lie and Blissett scored nine of his 25 goals in our promotion-winning season of 1981/82 from the spot. Again, did the penalties add to his confidence or did his confidence make him good at penalties? The following season he scored 33 goals in all, including six penalties, helping the Hornets to reach their highest-ever League finish – runners-up in the top division. On returning from AC Milan after one season, Blissett simply went back to old ways, scoring six penalties in his 28-goal tally in 1984/85.
Kenny Jackett stepped forward to score six penalties in 1986/87, showing he could step in for the injured Blissett, and went on to convert eleven spot kicks in all.
1988/89 saw Watford finish fourth in the second tier with Gary Porter scoring five penalties – he would go on to score twelve in all, including the final goal of a remarkable hat-trick in a 4-3 win over Bolton Wanderers. The penalty itself sealed a comeback, with Watford trailing 0-3 at home after 70 minutes, only to pull off a truly astounding four-goal revival, led by an imperious Porter.
No other player got into double figures until Deeney. Some managers prefer to share the opportunities around the team, but few managers would take the ball off a certain scorer if they had one.
Deeney scored 36 times for Watford from the spot, but like his predecessors his best penalty-taking seasons mirrored high-achieving seasons for the club. In a way this is not surprising, in a successful season you might attack more and expect to get into the box more, and thus win more penalties.
However, we have seen the other side in recent years since Deeney’s departure, with only Josh King (yes, JOSH KING!) scoring a penalty for us last season. Ismaïla Sarr (who, it must be remembered, scored the penalty that secured promotion against Millwall) had woeful penalties saved twice against Manchester United, and again this season against West Bromwich (despite having earlier scored from closer to sixty yards out!) He did score at home to Blackpool, however. Imran Louza has also missed one this season.
By the end, Deeney’s penalty technique – leaning forward, head and knee over the ball, powering through the centre of the ball with pace and power, and on target, saw fans celebrating the awarding of a penalty as almost a certain goal. Contrast this to the hesitant nervousness now – a penalty celebration for the VAR generation for sure. Who will take it? Will he place it? Will he lean back or try a blind penalty, as typified by Sarr’s most successful penalty for a couple of seasons when appearing for Senegal in the World Cup?
Deeney and all the players who have scored ten or more penalties for Watford (since we started wearing yellow – the very arbitrary date that I decided to commence this retrospective with) have certain traits in common, even if they manifest themselves in different ways. Dependable, unflappable and calm under pressure, they are often leaders, even if they were never officially made captain.
For me, nothing demonstrated that as much as the 2019 FA Cup semi-final, when in stoppage time Troy, having won the spot kick, stood for long minutes waiting to take the kick that would add to the wonder goal scored by Gerard Deulofeu to start the comeback. Did he resort to trusted technique, muscle memory – or did he, like those others on this list, simply have the sheer force of will – the bottle, if you like – to take it? Who knows – in Deeney’s tenure he scored six penalties in both 2015/16 and 2020/21. Penalties will always be a part of Deeney’s Watford story, but it was by no means the end of it – that leadership and fearlessness has been missed both this season and last. One thing is for sure, you stand a better chance of a good season if you put away your spot kicks!
PENALTIES SCORED (Since 1959/60)
11: Bolton, Jackett
7: Cox, Scullion, Smith
5: M King, Mooney
4: Ellis, Harris, Helguson
3: Connolly, Kennedy, Pritchett, Ramage, Sarr, Uphill, Vydra
2: Abdi, Bouazza, Graham, Henderson, Hodges, McGugan, Morrissey, Pedro, Phillips, Rosenthal, Sordell
1: Allen, Barnes, Bazeley, Callaghan, Chung, Deulofeu, Devlin, Furlong, Gayle, Glass, Gregory, Harmer, Howfield, Johnson, Johnston, Kenning, J King, Lindsay, Lugg, Packer, Peñaranda, Pereyra, Redfern, Sims, Webber, Wilkinson