Something very strange is happening in the Scottish Professional Football League. Greg Fleming, the goalkeeper for Ayr United in the second-tier Scottish Championship, has faced 16 penalty kicks since joining The Honest Men in the summer of 2015. Only two of those kicks went in; Fleming saved 11 of them, and the other three missed the net.
Fleming’s latest heroics came in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Falkirk. During added time in the first half, John Baird stepped up to the spot for the home side and drilled the ball toward the bottom left corner, only to have it swatted away by the lunging keeper. Unfortunately for Ayr United, Falkirk scored on the resulting corner to knot the score, but that single point remains valuable as Ayr try to avoid relegation back to League One.
None Shall Pass
It was Fleming’s brilliance that got Ayr promoted in the first place. They met Stranraer in last year’s Championship playoffs, and with the home-and-home series tied at 1-1 on aggregate, penalty kicks would decide which club would advance. Fleming stopped three of the four penalties he faced as Ayr prevailed 3-1.
This is borderline magical. Players in the lower-tier leagues tend to miss more spot kicks than they do in the Premiership, but even then, more balls go in than out. At press time, 28 penalties have been awarded thus far in Championship play. Sixteen goals have been scored (57.1%). Take Fleming’s four saves in four tries out of the equation, and that success rate goes up to two-thirds.
Unless Fleming has somehow discovered the secret to stopping penalty kicks, his luck will probably run out at some point. Across all competitions since making his debut with Gretna in 2005, Fleming has made 12 saves and missed 19 attempts – a combination of goals and shots that missed the net completely. But for now, the pride of Dunfermline has his team seven points clear of last-place St Mirren and automatic relegation.
Next up for Fleming and Ayr United is Saturday’s fourth-round Scottish Cup match with Queen’s Park of League One. Ayr are the –150 home favorites at press time; the Spiders are +370, with the draw available at +285. And the way Fleming has been performing lately, the under may be the right pick at +105 on the total of 2.5. Only one of his last 10 matches produced more than two goals – and none against Ayr from the spot, of course.
*Odds as of January 20, 2017