Creating the perfect last-minute goal

There’s nothing like a last-minute goal.

In this age of ubiquitous sports betting opportunity, the drama of an injury-time goal no longer solely effects supporters.  Now, regardless of who’s playing and what it means, everyone has some kind of stake in almost every game.

But remove that from the equation and reduce the act of scoring with the final kick of the game to its raw aesthetic: what are the important elements of the perfect last-minute goal?

Scorer identity

Agueeeeeer… no.

When Sergio Aguero danced through the creaking Queens Park Rangers defence in May 2012, it led to arguably the most dramatic Premier League moment of all time.  It was Manchester City’s first league title in forty-three years, it snatched the trophy away from their bitter local rivals and it punctuated an already dramatic ninety-three-and-half minute with an novelty-sized exclamation point.

It was great - but, for the sake of what we’re doing here, it’s out.

Here’s why: It was scored by one of the most prolific forwards on the planet.

Aguero is a wonderful player so, even in extraordinary circumstances, there’s something very ordinary about watching him score.  A great forward makes scoring goals look very simple, whereas a last-minute winner or equaliser should always be the culmination of a struggle - a journey, a voyage, a bitter climb back into a game.

As a rule, then, the more unlikely the scorer the better.

Significance

For the sake of creating a true comparison, context has to be ignored.  The issue here is the situation rather than the circumstance and so, for the sake of parity, significance has to be taken off the table - besides, for those who are emotionally invested in the game, be it a mid-table squabble in League Two or a Champions League semi-final, what does it really matter?

Winning still provokes uninhibited joy and having victory taken away still makes the blood run cold.

Style

Stay with me, because these are all inter-connected - vaguely, at least.

If Sergio Aguero-type players are disqualified for being too good, it stands to reason that goals which are too slick or too perfect have to be discounted too.

The last seconds of a game should be defined by cliched intangibles - effort, desire, “wanting it more” etc - rather than by finesse.

This is a good example of what we’re not looking for:

It’s marvellous; the skill and ambition by Kelvin - which gave Porto a dramatic win over fierce rivals Benfica - is a worthy addition to any “last-minute” compilation and, as a side-note, the noise made by the crowd is wonderfully guttural and authentic.

But it’s too clean.  It’s a very good goal and the technique is exemplary, but it lacks the chaos that would have made it satisfying for the neutral.  There’s no desperation to it and because the build-up is so slick and the finish so precise, the moment appears as if from nowhere.

There’s no rising anticipation and there’s no “will it/won’t it” aspect.  Where’s the uncertainty?  Where’s the opportunity to do that strange “half in your seat, half out of it” posture?

Build-up

So, we need a scramble.  Something like this…

The seconds between Marouane Fellaini’s header, Thibaut Courtois’ save and Robin van Persie striking the ball are so intense.  Watch the crowd in the background and see how they react: they’re bouncing up and down, faces contorted with who-knows-what, and there’s nervous, frantic energy pulsing from the stands.

When it did arrive, the goal suited the pattern of the game.  Having led for most of the second-half, Chelsea retreated onto the back-foot and tried to protect their advantage rather than looking to add to it.  Manchester United pressed.  Courtois wasn’t peppered with shots and it wasn’t a full-on siege, but the pressure gradually built and van Persie’s laces-through-the-ball finish - and the satisfying clunk of the net - had a conclusive quality to it.

“You are not winning this”  *Smash* 

That’s one of the elusive details: the goal has to be reflective of the situation.

Goalkeepers

No.

Yes, everybody loves the novelty of seeing a goalkeeper score and Martin Hansen’s absurd heal-flick for ADO de Haag fully deserves its clicks and retweets.

Typically though, those goals are too slapstick.  When a goalkeeper scores, the oddity defines the moment and it becomes more about him than the collective cause.

The Jimmy Glass moment in 1999 provides a good example of that.  The consequences of Glass’ goal were enormous, in that it gave Carlisle a 2-1 win over Plymouth Argyle which ultimately kept them in the football league, but ask the average man in the street about that day and they’ll be able to identify the goal-scorer without necessarily being able to tell you who he played for, who he was playing against or even in which division the game took place.

Reactions

Injury-time is the most sensitive part of a game.  When the score is close, everything is heightened: players are more desperate, fans are more angry and nervous, and managers pace their technical area gesticulating manically.

A major dramatic twist - a goal - should therefore cause a seismic reaction.  One half of the stadium should be desolate, the other frenzied with joy - and that should be reflected on the pitch.

There should always be a defender beating the turf a la Sammy Kuffour somewhere and, as per Jorge Jesus in the clip above, the crestfallen manager should always fall to his knees. No grievance with the officials, no recourse at all and nowhere to turn other towards their own misery.  Conceding late goals should break teams and force them figuratively and literally to the floor.

For the scorers?  Lose yourselves, please…

That’s Andreas Lambertz equalising for Fortuna Dusseldorf against HSV in the DFB-Pokal back in 2009. The goal is a deflected nonsense but, importantly, it sparks complete carnage. Lambertz, who would only score three times that season, was visibly overcome by the moment before being lost beneath a pile of his teammates.  The stands are wild and the faces on the pitch are just as crazy; it’s a complete mess of emotion and that’s absolutely how it should be.

No pre-planned posturing and no affected indifference. A last-minute goal is about the team rather than the individual and it should always compel a manager to run down the touchline, the players to merge into a big ball of chaotic joy and the supporters to hug the stranger standing next to them.

This, from Maurice Edu in the 2010 Old Firm derby at Ibrox, is worth a mention:

Unlikely goal-scorer? Check.  Scramble? Check.  Celebration?  Check.

This, famous though it is, also works quite well:

A two-minute period containing so many emotional peaks and troughs that it probably put lives at risk.  The knock down, the flapping goalkeeper, the desperate lunging defenders, Troy Deeney ending up in the crowd with his shirt off…it had a bit of everything.

But maybe - and this might be gently influenced by nostalgia - this comes as close as any to fulfilling the criteria:

It’s an FA Cup tie from 1988 between Blackpool and Manchester City.  It’s a ridiculous sequence of events, of course, but watch the crowd.  Hindsight means that we’re now wary of surging terraces, but in this instance you can actually physically watch the anticipation growing as the City fans are drawn down the steps.

Then they burst with joy and not only is that what a last-minute goal should cause, but it’s also what football in general should look like.  It’s as rugged as Hell, but it’s also undeniably wonderful.

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