Outside the Box: It's official: If you want to win a penalty shoot-out, go first

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The Independent Football

What many of us have long suspected has been confirmed by new research from no less an authority than the London School of Economics: penalty shoot-outs give an advantage to the team that takes first turn.

The LSE's Department of Management studied 2,820 kicks from shoot-outs at major national and international competitions between 1970 and 2008, and discovered that the team who take the first kick win 60 per cent of the time. But players appear to know that anyway; in 19 of the 20 cases where film of the toss was studied, the team winning the toss chose to take the first penalty. The exception was in a European Championship tie when Italy won the toss but made Spain shoot first; Italy lost.

One of the professors involved in the study, Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, suggests a solution that mirrors what happens in a tennis tie-break. Just as the first player (A) serves first, then the second player (B) serves twice, a penalty shoot-out would repeat this pattern in the order ABBAABBAABB etc. Professor Palacios-Huerta said: "Most TV channels cut to the commercial break when the coin is being tossed to decide which team takes the first penalty. But our findings show that this could be the deciding moment." It was not the case in the most recent example, when Charlton went first against Brentford in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy last Tuesday, and lost 3-1; but as Outside the Box reported in October, Brentford have a penalty-saving specialist in goalkeeper Richard Lee, who used a hypnotherapist before match-winning performances in shoot-outs earlier this season against Everton and Leyton Orient.

Damned lies and statistics

There was much fuss made about the free-scoring weekend in the Premier League three weeks ago, when 41 goals flew in at an average of 4.1 per game, as many as there have ever been since the League was reduced to 20 clubs in 1995. A thrilling new era of open, attacking football? Not quite. The lesson is not to read too much into one set of statistics, as last weekend's results emphasised: six clubs failed to score and the total was a mere 18, with only Aston Villa, Bolton, Manchester City and Newcastle managing more than one goal.

Danes bring home the bacon

High time for an update on Croydon Athletic, the Ryman League side thrown into turmoil four months ago following the arrest of their owner Mazhar Majeed in connection with an alleged cricket betting scam. His assets were frozen after allegations of money laundering at the club, whose players and manager then left. The team managed to keep going, although forced to rely on a much younger squad, which have recently won only once in 17 games. Now, however, a group of Danish fans have agreed a takeover from New Year's Day in another imaginative form of ownership. Majeed, who was released on bail, still owns 49 per cent and will "continue to play an active part in the running of the club". The Danes had looked at half a dozen English clubs, including Chester City, but were impressed with Croydon's potential and spirit in adversity. Their investment means players can be paid again from the new year and some former squad members have already returned.

Wales play joker with Savage

Derby County's Robbie Savage may yet return to the Wales squad; but as a motivational speaker rather than a midfielder. The 36-year-old, who fell out with the previous Welsh manager John Toshack, has offered his services to Toshack's popular successor Gary Speed. Speed is expected to show his faith in the country's youthful squad but could call on Savage for occasions like the home game against England in March. A source close to Speed said: "Robbie is a character and he's Welsh through and through. Even if he didn't come back as a player then maybe there's room for him just to come down on a match day and tell some jokes. That's not being disrespectful to him because he's a great lad and very passionate. We just need more of those people about the squad."

Malouda shows gift of the Gab

Sharpest answer of the week in a second language came from Florent Malouda when Gabby Logan on 5 Live put to him the old cliché, in relation to Chelsea's poor run, that "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger". Or perhaps, suggested the wily French international, "what doesn't kill you now will kill you later".