Given his remarkable track record of saving penalty kicks at crucial times, you might expect Freddie Woodman to have developed a finely honed technique when it comes to facing an opponent from 12 yards.
But the man whose heroics took Aberdeen into the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup doesn’t believe there is any form of preparation which can aid a goalkeeper for the kind of situation he faced at Rugby Park.
The on-loan Newcastle United player kept out three of Kilmarnock’s penalties in the shootout won 3-2 by the Dons on Tuesday night.
His crucial role in their triumph shouldn’t have come as any surprise. In 2014, Woodman saved the opening spot-kick when England defeated Netherlands 4-1 on penalties in the final of the European under-17 Championship in Malta. Last summer, he was his country’s saviour again with a stunning one-handed save to keep out a 74th-minute penalty and preserve the 1-0 lead which saw England defeat Venezuela to win the World Under-20 Cup final in South Korea.
“Penalties seem to follow me wherever I go,” said the 21-year-old with a grin. “But I don’t even practice them. If anything, goalkeepers hate them because the outfield players always want to take them in training. But it does my head in, to be honest, because it’s just diving about all the time.
“There is no sort of practice you can do, really. Yes, you can study penalties, I’ve guessed at penalties, I’ve tried everything. But it’s about what happens on the day – sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
“Tuesday was a win for me and that’s a few for me now. I’ve got a good record at penalties, I’m happy with that and hopefully it can stick with me throughout my career.”
Woodman’s delight at booking a trip to Hampden for Aberdeen next month was tempered slightly by his sympathy for the Kilmarnock players he left in despair. The London-born keeper still has fond memories of his previous loan period in Scotland, when he spent the second half of last season with Killie.
“I wouldn’t say it helped me any, knowing the Kilmarnock lads and where they might put their penalties,” he added. “I’ve got good friends in that Killie squad, guys I spent a lot of time with when I was there last season. So I’m a little bit gutted for them. But I’m an Aberdeen player now and I’m happy to get through to the semi-final.
“I actually thought we would win the game in normal time, I was positive we would do it, but as soon as the whistle went after extra-time and it went to penalties my mind switch straight onto that.
“I was confident going into it and obviously our boys did well to score their penalties. That helped me out, it takes the pressure off a little.”
Woodman now has his sights firmly fixed on adding a Scottish Cup winners’ medal to those European and World age group final triumphs he has enjoyed in an England jersey.
“It would mean everything to me to get to the final with Aberdeen,” he said. “I’ve played in a few finals now and football is about winning. It’s about winning trophies and, when you get to the end of your career, you want to have medals to show off. So getting through this round has given me the opportunity to go further and hopefully we can continue in the cup.”
Aberdeen will have to face Motherwell in the semi-final on 14 April without the suspended trio of Graeme Shinnie, Shay Logan and Kenny McLean, who all picked up their second bookings of this season’s competition in Tuesday’s quarter-final replay.
“They are big players for us,” added Woodman. “They have been vital for us but the team is great, the depth of the squad is brilliant. Since I’ve been here in training you can see that everyone is a good player and everyone is top quality.
“So I’m sure for the lads that come into the side it won’t be a problem. But, hopefully, we can go out there and get to the final for those three lads that will miss the semi. It’s obviously tough on them. But we’re just delighted to get there and we’ll be ready for it when it comes.”