Gozie Ugwu has been the man on penalties duty for the Fleet all season but there was just one problem – his side haven’t been awarded one for months on end!
The striker admitted that as a result it was “up in the air” as to who might take it so he had to grab the ball before anyone else when referee Paul Howard pointed to the spot after 101 minutes of a to-and-fro match.
“I was on penalties but we hadn’t had a penalty all season,” Ugwu told BBC Radio Kent’s Charles Webster, “so it was kind of up in the air. But I just made sure that I was the first to get the ball and I knew as soon as I had it I wasn’t going to give it to anyone.”
It was a big responsibility with the game hanging on a knife-edge but Ugwu’s calm triumphed over nerves.
“I told myself it was just up to me to relax, calm myself down,” he said. “And that’s it – be relaxed, be calm, step up and take the penalty decisively. I’m confident if I approach it calm and collected and know what I’m going to do. I literally go through the same process every time in terms of going up and taking a penalty. If I do that, stick to my process, then nine times out of 10 it should go in.”
It certainly went in and while Ugwu and his teammates were pegged back twice, they believed they could still go on and get the win the Fleet so desperately needed.
“We were pushing for it all game,” said the Fleet striker. “To go up twice and to get two goals away from home, then we thought we should be up and away here. But they pulled a goal back. We thought we’ve just got to keep pushing and defending, staying tight and we had the belief we could nick something back up top and I think that’s what happened in the end. It was just about putting the penalty away, shutting up shop and seeing the game out.”
Before the penalty, however, a betting man would have laid money on Sutton finding a way past defender-turned-emergency-goalkeeper Tyler Cordner in the 15 minutes he had to play in Jordan Holmes’ shirt. And for Ugwu, there was certainly a nagging feeling of bad luck coming back to haunt his side once more.
“Yeah, I did think here we go again,” he recalled. “It’s been kind of the course of the season so far, just bad luck really and decisions going against us. When that happened to Jordan, I thought it was going to go on here now too but to be fair to Tyler, he had the courage to go in and I thought he did really well.
“There were a few dodgy saves and catches but it was just about protecting him first and foremost. And then not to look at the big picture that your keeper’s gone off and we’ve not got another one on the bench. It was just about rolling with the punches in the moment and keep on pushing on.”
Progress in the Emirates FA Cup and a dramatic league win off the back of that have put smiles back on faces in the Fleet camp and Ugwu says his teammates are believing in themselves one game at a time.
“We’re just going take each game as it comes,” he said. “With Kevin and Tristan coming in, they’re just making us do that, to keep pushing. It was a great result today. Usually we’ve been on the other end of one in these kinds of games in the past, especially this season. So it’s just nice to be on the winning side and we need to take it into Chorley on Tuesday and look to put on another positive performance.
“We’re definitely playing differently but it’s also that everyone’s pulling their weight, we’re pulling in the same direction – from the coaches down to every single player. If you’re in the team or not in the team, everyone’s following that same direction and playing for each other, playing for the club and fans, playing for ourselves as a squad and we’re looking to put that on the pitch. That’s the main thing. We know we’re good enough, it’s just about doing the right things, working hard and once we do that we’ll definitely be climbing the table.”
And a couple of wins certainly help the atmosphere…
“Wins change everything,” Ugwu agreed. “Just the morale in the squad goes up a level and the feeling around the place too. Once you get another win, that’s just how it goes, you build another win on top of that because you’re feeling it. We’re not looking too far, two wins in the league and another one today and that’s two in a row.”