With Steve Davies off the pitch, there didn’t seem to be an obvious candidate to take the penalty after Anthony Gardner jabbed an arm at Ben Davies’ cross, preventing Callum Ball from getting a header on goal. Set piece specialist Ben Davies might have been expected to step up, but Theo Robinson grabbed the ball and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Watching him place the ball and take four big deliberate strides backwards, staring fixedly at the penalty spot with grim determination, you were left in no doubt that he was going to smash it.
Smash it he did and Julián Speroni went to his right, gambling that Theo would go with the more natural angle for a right-footer, but the striker buried it to the goalkeeper’s left and at 3-0 up, the Rams looked set for a massive victory over Crystal Palace – maybe even one to rival last season’s 5-0 romp against a ten-man Eagles outfit (nine, if you don’t count the doddering Edgar Davids).
I felt my phone vibrate and when I checked it, I found two texts from Tommo. The first, sent just before the penalty was taken, said ‘over the stand’.
Tommo is legendarily convinced that we will miss every single penalty we take – the most famous incident occurring in the play-off semi-final against Southampton at Pride Park, when he gave me a different reason for why every single taker would miss (they all scored) – but that’s another story.
The second text said ‘good pen’.
After the Palace match, Theo gave an interview to Rams Player. It was mostly made up of the usual footballer clichés and platitudes, but did include one semi-interesting quote. When asked what was going through his mind when he was preparing to take the penalty, he grinned broadly and said, “I heard people behind me saying, ‘he’s gonna miss, he’s gonna miss’, but I already knew where I was gonna put it and it paid off.”
He was probably talking about the Palace players rather than the home supporters, but there’s no doubt that some of the latter were doubting whether he would score too, Mr Tomlinson being just one example (although I should make it clear that Tommo actually thinks Theo is a good player). But Robinson is a confident lad and clearly not about to let his detractors stop him from making the most of his opportunity at Derby County.
Earlier in the season, Robinson’s Twitter feed was spammed with more than his fair share of abusive and derogatory comments. The situation got so bad that Theo ended up mentioning it in an interview with the Derby Telegraph. Even some of the more measured and respected #dcfcfans have posted tweets reflecting the fact that they’ve been driven to distraction by the striker’s performance and while nobody could ever fault Robinson’s workrate, it’s fair to say that his technical lapses can be seriously frustrating.
Against Ipswich, we saw all the elements of Robinson’s game – good and bad. He gave the ball away more than once with bad passes, often in promising situations; his touch failed him on one occasion when it seemed that he was about to streak through on goal, but at the same time, he was unlucky not to score on three occasions – first when he stretched to divert Gaz Roberts’ low cross just wide of the near post; then he was desperately unlucky not to follow in after Ben Davies’ shot ricocheted back of the post just past him and most spectacularly of all, a tremendous overhead kick flashed just wide when it deserved to hit the back of the net.
Johnny Metgod, one of the more straight-talking football coaches, yeah, recently said something along the lines that Robinson “couldn’t get in the Huddersfield team and couldn’t get in the Millwall team, so what do you expect” – but this was firmly in the context of discussing his encouraging goal return and continuing development as a player who cost the club about £150,000, according to a recent Derby Telegraph estimate.
Andy Garner believes that Robinson is in good hands with Nigel Clough, who was himself an England centre forward in the early 1990s, and is learning all the time. He told Colin Bloomfield:
“We keep telling him he’s got to keep working and running those channels… He was raw when he first came and there’s things he’s still got to work on, his first touch, we keep on about that, but as long as he keeps listening, he’s with the right man [Clough]“.
In fact, Theo’s form and goalscoring have impressed so much this season, that he even had the dubious honour of being the subject of an article by Sky Sports, crediting unnamed Premier League clubs, Leicester City, Birmingham City, Blackpool and – lol – Leeds United with an interest in signing the player.
If Sky’s story about James Bailey leaving in January is anything to go by, we can probably disregard this as agent talk at best, but nevertheless, it is heartening that a player who wasn’t even expected to be a first team regular at the start of the season has now shot to the top of our goalscoring chart, started the last ten games and is generating this sort of tabloid rumour.
He keeps producing little moments of real quality – the overhead kick against Ipswich, an incredible guided lob-volley from the edge of the box against Palace that beat Speroni all ends up and hit the angle of post and bar – my mate Stu wickedly described it as ‘his first touch’ – a tremendous spin-turn to leave a defender trailing in his wake at Doncaster and a very calm first-time finish in the same game, which made a difficult chance look easy. Then there are the moments that drive you mad.
His main attributes are mercurial (acceleration, pace and a poaching ability) rather than technical (picking and executing a pass, control). In short, he’s better off the ball than on it and ideally, you want to see him running behind defenders or arriving on the end of a cross in the six yard box, rather than receiving the ball with his back to goal in the opposition half. But he can work on that side of his game and at 23, his best years are ahead of him. Let’s hope he spends them with Derby County.
THEO’S GOALS THIS SEASON
Shots inside box 9
Shots outside box 1
LEAGUE RECORD WHEN ROBINSON STARTED THIS SEASON
P 23 W 10 D 7 L 6 Pts 37
(Pts per game 1.61)
Win %: 43.5%
League goals: 9
Goals per league start: 0.391