By Luke Baker
JOSH Wright is still relatively new to the business of penalty-taking, but to call him a natural would be an understatement.
After he plundered the most remarkable of spot-kick hat-tricks a week ago, it’s not surprising that the Gillingham midfielder believes he is built to succeed from 12 yards.
The Gills were 2-0 down to Scunthorpe last weekend when they were awarded a 77th-minute penalty – and Wright converted to bring his side back into the match.
Five minutes later, a second penalty was given – with the same result – before the 26-year-old completed his treble from the spot four minutes from time for an incredible 3-2 victory.
Wright became a regular penalty-taker only last month when he netted from 12 yards in a 2-1 win over Southend but admits he gets a thrill from being the man in the spotlight.
“I am a player who gets a buzz out of a bit of pressure,” said Wright. “You can be a bit too relaxed when there’s not much at stake, so I treat every day the same.
“I want to win in everything I do – whether that’s training, a computer game or taking a penalty. I’ve grown up like that.
“I hadn’t taken many penalties before this season, but I’ve taken four in recent weeks and I quite like that pressure.
“I like having that responsibility on my shoulders and having to rise to it. It gives me that bit of edge.
“I loved it against Scunthorpe. It was nerve- racking, but it’s a day I will always remember and it gave me such a buzz.”
Wright took spot-kick responsibility after Bradley Dack missed one earlier in the campaign and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ loan spell from QPR came to an end last month.
The psychological game between penalty-taker and goalkeeper is intense enough at one spot-kick, but when there are three in nine minutes it gets ramped up a notch.
Wright acknowledges that all sorts of different thoughts were flying through his head as he repeatedly faced Luke Daniels.
“The first penalty came and I’m just thinking ‘it will get us back in the game if I stick this away and it will make them nervy’,” he explained.
“With the second, I debated maybe giving it to someone else. It quite often happens that when someone scores a penalty, they won’t take the next one. It happened with Lionel Messi against PSG. He gave the second one to Neymar.
“I debated it but being the type of person I am – I’m very competitive, I love to win and I’m confident in taking responsibility – I decided I had to take it.
“I picked my corner, I didn’t change my mind and I dispatched it.” Wright was then fouled by Kevin van Veen for the decisive penalty, but by that point, he simply had his eyes set on a first career hat-trick.
“I have quite a big bruise on top of my foot from the foul but I picked myself up,” he added.
“When I won the penalty, a lot of the boys came running at me and celebrating like I had already scored but I had to keep my cool.
“After debating giving the second one away, there was no way I wasn’t going to take the third. Of course I was a bit nervous, but I was thinking ‘there’s a hat-trick at stake here’.
“I put the ball down. There was a bit of a melee going on and a delay, but I set myself, stayed calm and made my mind up where I was going to go.
“I put it in the same corner as the second and I was just delighted to see it hit the back of the net.”
*This article originally featured in The FLP’s 19 March 2017 edition.