The Art of Scoring Late

Magical Moment: An unfit and out-of-favour Daniel Sturridge proved the hero as England beat Wales in the 92nd minute at Euro 2016

West Germany really needed to make their pressure count. They were running out of precious seconds in the World Cup final. Then Geoff Hurst controlled and swivelled on a long ball pumped up from defence. Cue Kenneth Wolstenholme’s world-famous commentary line (below) as Hurst ruthlessly battered in his third. England had won the World Cup, confirming the result with the last kick of the game.

And here comes Hurst! He’s got… Some people are on the pitch! They think it’s all over!
It is now, it’s four!”

That began a long line of famous late goals for England. After a near 30-year wait, the next truly memorable late goal for England was David Platt’s stunning pivot-volley in the 119th minute to knock Belgium out of Italia ’90 in the second round. Then, Gary Lineker equalised late on against Cameroon in the quarter-final to take the game to extra-time. Lineker scored again and sent England through.

France ’98 came along, and in the opening game Paul Scholes made sure of victory over Tunisia with a wonderful 89th minute strike. Eight years later, England’s second game in Germany required late goals from Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard to avoid embarrassment against Trinidad & Tobago.

Better Late than Never: Steven Gerrard scores against World Cup debutants Trinidad & Tobago at Germany 2006

Euro 2016 brought a romantic injury-time winner from Daniel Sturridge, confirming eventual group winners Wales lost their derby-day clash. And then 2018 – Harry Kane scoring in the 91st minute to see off a stubborn Tunisia. What a turning point in England’s World Cup that proved to be.

England have a history of scoring late goals in games that matter. A knack that top teams need to have. No manager in the Three Lions’ 147-year history has as good a record at masterminding late, great moments as a certain Gareth Southgate.

His tenure actually started in totally opposite fashion though. England would have beaten Spain in only his fourth match in charge, had the visitors not snatched 89th and 96th minute goals.

But Southgate’s playing career always revolved around recovering from setbacks. Setbacks like the receipt of constant criticism for his “boring” style of play. Or setbacks like, say, missing a penalty that knocked his country out of a first major tournament on home soil since 1966. Southgate had done it before. England blew the lead and only drew that Spain battle, but two-and-a-half years on, they’re winning the war.

Lessons to Learn: Gareth Southgate and England could only blame themselves as they let Spain back into a seemingly done-and-dusted match in late 2016

2017 came and more trouble was on the horizon as the Three Lions trailed noisy neighbours Scotland in Hampden. Southgate’s side had been hit by more late trouble in this fixture with Leigh Griffiths’ 87th and 90th minute freekicks looking to have consigned England to a first qualifier defeat since 2009. Up stepped Harry Kane in the 93rd minute to prod the ball home and silence Scotland’s truest fans.

There was more trouble in September, as many travelling England fans had left the stadium with England only one-up in Malta after 84 minutes. A late flurry of goals made it 4-0. Then in the penultimate qualifier, England were securing a place at the 2018 World Cup despite the scores tied at 0-0 late on at Wembley versus Slovenia. It would have been enough, but wouldn’t have been sufficient for the expectant crowd. Harry Kane masked a poor performance by scraping home a 94th minute winner.

Onto the tournament itself, where Southgate was spared some ruthless headlines as Kane yet again stepped up to grab all three points in England’s opener.

Five months later – Harry Kane again, with the 85th minute goal that poured some sort of revenge on World Cup conquerors Croatia and sealed England’s fate as Nations League semi-finalists.

At the finals itself, only very marginal VAR decisions denied Jesse Lingard a dramatic winner against the Netherlands and then Callum Wilson the third-place winner against the Swiss.

Cut Short: Jesse Lingard’s iconic celebration was to no avail as his semi-final winner against Holland was disallowed for a tight offside by VAR

It really has become a bit of a habit for Gareth Southgate’s England. And what a lovely habit.

Under England’s last manager, Roy Hodgson (excluding Sam Allardyce of course), the Three Lions scored just ten goals in the 85th minute of games or later. He managed 56 England fixtures, whereas Southgate has been at the helm for seven such goals already – only 35 games into his tenure.

That means 9% of Hodgson’s England goals were ‘late’ goals. So far, nearly 12% of Southgate’s have been. England really have this skill nailed at the moment. A skill that Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, and Manchester United all required, to keep them involved in the latter stages of last season’s Champions League. Think – Origi, Lucas, Sterling, Rashford.

It’s unlikely England will need a late winner or equaliser as they march their way to Euro 2020 against the likes of Kosovo and Bulgaria for the remainder of the year.

However, if they reach the tournament, tapping into this almighty weapon may just give the Three Lions an edge that other teams can’t quite match.

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