Ex-Portsmouth, West Ham and Bolton man Matt Taylor: The truth behind the penalty which secured the Premier League's greatest escape - and my favourite Blues memory
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After more than three years at Fratton Park, Taylor was finally entrusted with his first spot-kick in September 2005, converting against Gillingham in the Carling Cup.
Curiously, despite remaining on the pitch, he was overlooked for the second won by Pompey in that match, instead missed by Svetoslav Todorov.
Still, it was April before Harry Redknapp’s strugglers won their maiden Premier League penalty of that 2005-06 season, albeit with three matches remaining.
Despite not being the designated penalty taker, a nerveless Taylor broke ranks, grabbing the ball to stride forward and net an 88th-minute winner against Sunderland.
The following match at Wigan, with victory required to stay up, a 71st-minute spot-kick was awarded with the scoreline deadlocked at 1-1.
Time for the man who previously defied orders to conjure up one of the true iconic moments in Pompey’s 125-year history.
‘Against Sunderland, Kevin Kyle handled in the box and I wasn’t interested in anything else other than retrieving the ball. I wanted that pressure, I wanted the penalty,’ he told The News.
‘I didn’t look at anyone, I ran to get the ball as fast as I could, I just had to have it. No-one said a word to me, nobody tried to stop me. Was I thinking? No, I was in the moment.
‘At that time, because of previous results and previous performances, my confidence levels were probably higher than they should have been, I just wanted that ball.
‘There was no way I was going to miss, that didn’t even enter my thought process. When you're young, you aren’t always thinking, you live in the moment. There was no way anyone was going to take that ball off me.
‘I don’t know why I did it, I just thought “I can strike the ball quite well so as long as I pass it in, it will be fine”.
‘Managers designate penalty takers before a game – it wasn’t me! You get away with it if you score, if you miss you’ll obviously get an earful.
‘I wouldn't think Harry was mulling over who was going to take that penalty, the only thing on his mind was “Just put the ball into the back of the net!”. And I did – we won.
‘Then Wigan came along, we earned another penalty and now it’s “There you go Tayls, take the ball” and I did exactly the same. I put it in exactly the same place, there was no way I was going to miss.
‘Then I ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with our fans.’
Taylor was recruited from Luton in June 2002, with a tribunal setting a £400,000 fee, prompting a fuming Hatters boss Joe Kinnear to declare ‘at least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask’.
In a team rammed with experienced Premier League performers, the 20-year-old offered youthful exuberance and energy, ideal for his left wing-back role.
Amassing 38 games – all starts – and seven goals, he was a fixture in Redknapp’s 2002-03 side which claimed the First Division title and a top-flight return after 15 years away.
Taylor added: ‘My fondest memories are of the Great Escape rather than promotion.
‘The Premier League at that point was the biggest league in the world – and still is. I had once doubted myself at that level, now I had scored the goal which kept us up.
‘We had been written off, so to come back in the manner we did – and have that penalty moment at the DW Stadium – is a memory I will never forget.
‘With those 5,500 fans filling the away end, it felt like a home game. We had gone down 1-0 totally against the run of play, but came back, showed character, and won the game 2-1.
‘Obviously I enjoyed the promotion season, it was wonderful, but, from a selfish point of view, it was tinged because I wasn’t able to finish it, missing the final 10 games.
‘I had a bone spur in my left foot, the consequence of too much calcium in my body, and for two months I could only train on Fridays, with a pain-killing injection on the Saturday so I couldn't feel anything. Afterwards, I’d be unable to walk on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
‘Harry and Jim Smith would say “Tayls, don’t worry, we just want you for the games. You’re fit, you don’t need to do anything else”. In the end, though, I needed an operation (March 2003).
‘It was a success, but all went completely wrong. They took the stitches out after 10 days in the belief it had healed. It hadn’t – then became infected. So they created a new wound, and, two weeks later, once again it hadn’t healed properly.
‘The issue was with blood flow. That area of the body is the furthest from your heart, therefore the amount of blood which gets to your feet is the least within your body.
‘I remember going to the hospital wounds unit at the naval base because they were used to dealing with stab wounds and people shot in combat. They fitted me with this boot contraption which I had to wear 24 hours a day, basically to help the wound close.
‘Even though that worked, to this day it gives me problems. That injury didn’t subsequently impact me as a player and today I can still play football and I can run, I have no issues. But I have to see a chiropodist every couple of weeks.’
During more than 200 appearances over a five-and-a-half year stay, Taylor was a regular down Pompey’s left flank.
Initially an attacking left-back or left wing-back, dependent on the system, he soon settled in a left-sided midfield role. Yet always with an eye for goal and, often, the spectacular.
He said: ‘I was never quick, my strength was being extremely fit.
‘I remember doing the VO2 max test at Pompey in my first season and the physio asked whether I had run the 800m before? Yes, I ‘d done it at school.
‘He responded with “Did you win?”. Well I did, by about half a lap around the age of 15. Then he told me my VO2 was up there with the data from Great Britain Olympic athletes!
‘As a footballer, the one thing I gave you was energy. While the opposition probably had people better than me technically, what they wouldn’t do was out-work me, I’d find a way to beat them.
‘The one question mark – and probably why I didn’t go to the top top – was the fact my defending at times was suspect, I’m happy to admit that.
‘After leaving Pompey, I never played left-back again, it was on the left-hand side of midfield the majority of the time, while, in the latter stages of my career, central midfield.
‘Without a shadow of a doubt my most effective position was left wing-back, easily, because I had the physical capabilities to get up and down. Yet your game has to adapt.
‘I remember Sam Allardyce sitting me down at Bolton and telling me “Tayls, you run too much. You need to run less, so I'm going to play you in midfield instead”. He was completely right.’
Pompey were in the Premier League’s relegation zone when Redknapp returned as manager in December 2005, with Taylor among his former charges still at the club.
Within weeks, he was moved to left-back, yet it wasn’t until Pedro Mendes struck twice in a 2-1 win over Manchester City – a first league triumph for two-and-a-half months – that the Great Escape was on.
And Taylor would play every minute of a remarkable run of 20 points from a possible 27 to survive with one match to spare.
He added: ‘Football is defined by the smallest of margins and key moments in games. We were dead and buried when Pedro popped up and scored that last-minute winner.
‘Even now, it gives me goosebumps. It gave the team momentum, belief, it was a snowball, we felt invincible.
‘Considering where we were at Christmas, that was incredible, I don’t think that will ever be repeated again.
‘Winning leagues is great, gaining promotions is fantastic, but now we were an established Premier League team, no longer a one-season wonder.’
Having helped preserve Pompey’s Premier League status, Taylor remained a regular in the 2006-07 campaign.
Restored to the left-hand side of midfield, he played 35 league games, scoring eight goals, as Redknapp’s men finished an impressive ninth.
However, following the subsequent arrival of Hermann Hreidarsson at left-back and Niko Kranjcar finally finding his feet on the left flank, Taylor faded from the first-team.
In January 2008, following 203 games and 29 goals, he bid farewell, moving to fellow Premier League club Bolton for £3.5m.
‘Leaving Pompey was not a regret. I wasn’t getting the game time I wanted or that feeling of being valued – I had to go,’ admitted Taylor.
‘There were 3-4 clubs in for me, including others from the Premier League, which told me I was a good footballer, while I could have gone abroad, but they weren’t right for me.
‘I chose Bolton and, when I look at where Pompey went with their financial issues after I left, it was definitely the right decision.
‘Truth be told, I didn’t want to leave, but the things keeping me were non-football, out of loyalty and affection. Earlier that season a move to Spurs fell through and I couldn’t let it happen again.
‘In August 2007, I spoke with Martin Jol and, with my family being big Tottenham fans, I afterwards phoned my dad: “I think there’s a chance I might be able to go to Spurs!”.
‘The move was done, the fee agreed. It was deadline day, I didn’t have a fax machine, but the landlord of my local pub did, so I sat there waiting for the details to come through - they never did.
‘At 10.50pm, Harry called and said “Look, I can’t get the lad I want, so I cannot let you go, Matt. I’m really sorry”. You are kidding me.
‘You can’t look back on things, but I believe if I had gone to Spurs I would have had a better chance of playing for England. That is a regret of mine, but, as a footballer, the control over your destiny isn’t necessarily the same as in other professions.
‘So, by January, I wasn't willing to let another opportunity pass me by.’
Taylor made 139 appearances and scored 23 goals for Bolton, while outlasted Pompey in the Premier League.
After leaving in July 2011, he moved to West Ham in a £2.5m deal, spending three seasons at Upton Park, before representing Burnley, Northampton and then Swindon.
A player-coach with the Robins, upon retirement at the age of 37, he became head coach of Spurs’ under-18s, followed by the transition into management at League Two Walsall in June 2021.
However, he was dismissed following a nine-month spell and remains in the hunt for his next coaching opportunity.
Taylor added: ‘Pompey was the best five-and-a-half years of my time in football.
‘That’s not in any way, shape or form being derogatory to the other teams I played for, but it was a time when my career took off and I established myself as a Premier League player.
‘I had some wonderful times down there, met some great people, and to be part of the club’s history, and what we achieved, is something I look back on with immense pride.
‘It was the best time of my career hands down, I loved every second of it.’