Fans of the NFL will probably wonder what all the fuss is about. With West Ham United needing to score a penalty to get something from the game against Manchester United, manager David Moyes brought on Mark Noble as a substitute in order for him to take the crucial spot-kick.
It is a matter of course in American Football, such is the rolling nature of substitutes, that the specialist kicker comes on to take any shot at goal. Players are paid a fortune to deal with the pressure of coming into a game cold and deciding the result with a single kick of the ball.
In that sense, this is where Noble’s penalty miss in West Ham’s 2-1 defeat differed, but the essence of the decision by Moyes was the same. His team had a penalty at a vital stage of the game, and his best penalty taker was available from the bench. It would have been irresponsible of the manager to just sit there and go for an inferior option from 12 yards.
You see, West Ham’s penalty record isn’t all that great aside from Noble. The 34-year-old had not missed a spot-kick in five years, whereas the Hammers had failed with three of their previous four and Declan Rice – who had the ball in hand ready to take on the responsibility – had a one-in-two return. Jarrod Bowen, who Noble was brought on to replace, had scored four of his six professional penalty attempts and has never taken one in the top flight.
Why would you overlook a player with 38 successes from 42 spot-kicks, including 10 in a row since his last failure from 12 yards? It was a no-brainer to call upon Noble, whether he was coming in cold or not. Just because David de Gea saved the former club captain’s effort, it doesn’t make the decision-making process incorrect.
Managers have to put their teams into the best position to win but not everything that leads to a victory is the right decision, just as defeat doesn’t automatically mean all of the calls made leading up to that outcome were wrong. If Moyes had sat on his hands and Rice, or Bowen, had had their attempt saved, he would never have heard the end of the criticism for not bringing on a tried and tested option in Mark Noble.
The same thing happened in the Euro 2020 final this summer when Gareth Southgate brought on Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho in the dying moments of extra time to take two of England’s five spot-kicks in the penalty shoot-out against Italy. But just as Roberto Mancini can have taken no responsibility for the usually-reliable Jorginho missing the Azzurri’s first match-winning chance with their fifth penalty, Southgate was not at fault for Rashford and Sancho being among the three players to miss as the Three Lions were beaten 3-2.
The best managers can do is work off the facts. Noble is West Ham’s best penalty taker, and Moyes was well within his rights to ask him to step up. “Look at his record, his record’s very good,” said the manager upon being asked what his thinking was by Sky Sports after the match. “I had the time to think about it, and I think I would have been more disappointed if I hadn’t made the decision than I did. But you make [the decisions] and it just didn’t quite work today.”
He later added to the BBC: “I asked him and he said ‘I’m ready’. He has a great record, why would we not? We’ve missed a few recently so I thought I’d take the opportunity to bring Mark on.”
If West Ham have another late penalty in the Carabao Cup against Manchester United on Wednesday, should Moyes throw on Noble again? Probably. If Man Utd have Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench with penalties looming, would it be prudent to bring him on? Of course.
The idea of judging a manager by the end result in a black and white context is never fair, and particularly not in this case. David Moyes was right, whatever the scoreline suggests.