‘It’s a mental test’ – Dave Challinor on Hartlepool United's penalty practice ahead of play-off semi-final at Stockport County

When knock out football comes around you have to be prepared for every eventuality – especially penalties.

With Euro 2020 kicking off this weekend, we’re likely to see at least one penalty shoot-out over the next month.

But for Hartlepool United, their focus is fully on Sunday’s National League play-off semi-final at Stockport County. The tie will be decided on the day with extra-time and penalties if necessary.

A shoot-out is often a lottery and both sides will be looking to have the game wrapped up well before then.

Nicky Featherstone scores a penalty for Hartlepool United at Aldershot Town (photo: Frank Reid)

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But Hartlepool manager Dave Challinor admitted his side have been practising from the spot should a penalty shoot-out situation occur.

"You can't practice for extra-time, you've just got to be as fit as you can but we practised penalties last week,” he said.

"Players are different, from my perspective, I want to see them all take a penalty so I've got some idea of whether they're any good at them or not.

"Some of them don't want to practice and as much as you want to try and replicate the [penalty shoot-out] situation, it's completely different in a game.

"I'd fancy myself going up and scoring a few penalties in training but stick me in front of a stadium with however many thousand people in there and I've got to walk up from the halfway line it's a completely different scenario and it's a mental test as much as it is a technical one.

"I have confidence in what we've got and whether it takes 90-minutes or longer than that and it goes to penalties then I've got real belief that we can go and win the game.”

Pools have a perfect record from the penalty spot during matches this season with Nicky Featherstone scoring four and Richie Bennett and Luke Williams netting one apiece. But the side lost on penalties in the FA Trophy at Halifax Town back in December – the only shoot-out they’ve taken part in since 2015.

And if you thought England’s record on penalties was poor, you’ll have to go back 15 years and five shoot-outs to find Pools’ last shoot-out victory – an FA Cup first round triumph over Rochdale at Victoria Park in November 2006.

Fingers crossed Pools can get the job done in normal time!

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