Ranked! The 15 best underrated goals from unfashionable Premier League players
From Thierry Henry’s turn-and-volley to Eric Cantona’s chip and yes-I-just-did-that non-celebration, great Premier League players have scored great Premier League goals.
Then there are goals that tick only one of those two boxes. Wayne Rooney’s Manchester derby bicycle kick was voted as the greatest strike from the Premier League’s first 20 years even though he shinned it, and praising something the goalscorer didn’t try to do is akin to naming a miscue snooker’s crowning moment.
Essentially, the reputations enjoyed by great players allows their every move to be elevated to an act of genius. Usually it's merited. FourFourTwo’s countdown of the Premier League’s 25 best goals included Messrs Ronaldo, Suarez and Shearer because they scored some bloody good goals. But what about everybody else? Our list found room for amazing strikes from players who don’t get their name in the appendix of football history, from Steve Froggatt at No.21 and Dalian Atkinson at No.19 to the No.1 goal itself, scored by… well, you’ll have to read to find out.
We say: let’s celebrate these forgotten wondergoals. When ITV’s The Premiership picked 10 contenders for 2002/03 Goal of the Season, the players shortlisted were Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney, Paolo Di Canio, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jay-Jay Okocha, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry and Niclas Jensen.
Niclas Jensen: this one’s for you.
15. CARLTON PALMER, Leeds vs Wimbledon (1995/96)
Our collection of great goals scored by unfashionable players begins with the most unfashionable player of all: Carlton Palmer. Poor Carlton was an inelegant but ultimately reliable performer who unfairly remains a subject of derision, even being named England’s worst ever player while David Nugent roams free. It’s sadly fitting, then, that the midfielder’s scorcher against Wimbledon was forgotten even in the minutes that followed it.
Three questions. One: does the man himself know what his legs are doing? Two: is the glare from the sun masking a deflection that would ruin the spectacle? And three: did anyone in the ground remember this goal when they filed out, given Tony Yeboah followed it with a hat-trick that included a famous hit twanged in off the crossbar?
The answer to all three questions: we don’t think so, no.
Goal at 2:30
14. STEVEN REID, Blackburn vs Wigan (2005/06)
No, our Top 15 isn’t made up entirely of thunderbastards. But this is a classic of the genre, right down to the goalscorer being out of shot when the ball falls his way (see also: Jon Harley vs Aston Villa).
In an otherwise forgettable New Year’s Eve fixture, Steven Reid punched a hole in the universe. You don’t even see the ball move – in one frame it’s touching Reid’s boot; in the next, it's teleported into the net. The ball doesn’t make one rotation. There isn’t time. None of that would’ve mattered, though, if Reid’s technique wasn’t perfect, his body in a straight line as he connects a few inches off the floor and somehow keeps the shot down.
No football has been hit this hard before or since.
13. PETER NDLOVU, Coventry vs Norwich (1992/93)
It’s a shame Ndlovu dropped out of the Premier League at only 24, because he was capable of scoring great goals. His fantastic individual effort against Wimbledon - struck with his wrong foot, no less - on Boxing Day in 1993 hinted at a precocious talent, but he’d demonstrated his footballing intelligence even as a 19-year-old facing Norwich the previous year.
Following a clever dummy, which itself is an option only because Ndlovu’s team-mates know he’ll outsprint his marker, the young Zimbabwean striker – wearing No.6 in the final season before squad numbers – races onto the loose ball, sits Bryan Gunn on his bum and converts the chance as coolly as you like.
12. MAREK MATEJOVSKY, Reading vs Liverpool (2007/08)
It isn’t hard to spot a free-kick ripped “straight from the training ground” – and that surely explains this magical Marek Matejovsky strike.
However, the Czech midfielder’s only Premier League goal does raise questions about Reading’s training methods. Sure, it looks spectacular when Matejovsky connects sweetly to score inside five minutes at Anfield (even if Liverpool will win 2-1), but look at that ball bobbling everywhere. Practising this in training must have produced a goal every, what, 40-odd attempts? Matejovsky’s technique isn’t in doubt; to hit this first time and score, though, is a staggering achievement. Just to try is irresponsible, frankly. Even the commentator sounds disappointed.
Still. Bonus points for in-off-the-bar aesthetics.
It's the first goal in this video
11. NOEL WHELAN, Coventry vs Wimbledon (1996/97)
That’s right – two Coventry goals. If it wasn’t for fear of injuring readers through nostalgia whiplash, we would’ve included an Oldham strike as well.
Noel Whelan loved a volley and ’90s goal compilations love him. The Leeds lad fell out of collective consciousness quickly for someone who, while hardly on their level, did score more Premier League goals than Jurgen Klinsmann, Juninho and Gareth Bale. But that’s why we have YouTube.
Whelan’s finish is as sublime as Gary McAllister’s pass. Weighting a sidefooted volley takes skill – how many such goals can you name, compared to volleys struck with laces? – and he’s running at full pelt, too.
The goal helped to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 2-2 draw. Six months down the line, Coventry avoided relegation by a single point.
10. SASA CURCIC, Bolton vs Chelsea (1995/96)
You think you know what’s coming. After Sasa Curcic receives the ball on the touchline just inside Chelsea’s half, skips past Craig Burley, sidesteps an entangled couple and forces Eddie Newton into some impromptu breakdancing, he will inevitably twonk the ball in from 40 yards.
He shapes to shoot… then decides to continue riding kamikaze tackles instead, before exchanging a one-two and tucking the ball home. His finish does the build-up a disservice, but goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine knows it deserves to go in.
Later, Curcic said: “The goal doesn’t matter, because we lost the game.” It matters to us, Sasa.
9. MARIO STANIC, Chelsea vs West Ham (2000/01)
It's an offence against football that this goal isn’t replayed regularly. On countless school playgrounds, a child clumsily juggles a football, imagining they’re teeing up a 30-yard volley into the net.
Mario Stanic did that on his Chelsea debut.
8. MARK DAVIES, Bolton vs Blackpool (2010/11)
Believe it or not, this is one of two Bolton goals we could’ve chosen from the same season (the other being Johan Elmander’s unexpected artistry with the ball at his feet). This Mark Davies effort, though, reflects a history that seems baffling today.
Against all probability, Owen Coyle had moulded a side that weren’t bad to watch. After this 2-2 draw with Blackpool, the BBC’s match report claimed Coyle had “turned Bolton into attack-minded entertainers”. While that’s a little strong, this calm, intricate passing move, ending with Davies’s placed finish, isn’t the route to goal that one might expect from a Coyle outfit seeking an 89th-minute equaliser.
7. DEAN GORDON, Crystal Palace vs Bolton (1997/98)
Gordon scored a fine goal during Crystal Palace’s previous bash at Premier League survival, driving forward from defence to put one past Leeds, but this tops it. His howitzer follows a flowing team move that seems, bizarrely, to build slowly yet deliberately to a left-back lashing the ball home from distance as if that was always the plan.
Palace lost 5-2, their relegation already confirmed. Bolton followed them down a week later. Don’t you just love a happy ending?
6. STEPHEN CARR, Tottenham vs Sunderland (1999/2000)
The right-back was an underrated attacking force for most of his playing career, and this stunning solo effort against Sunderland came on the final day of a season that had already seen him score a thunderbolt to wrap up a win over Manchester United. Indeed, some purists may prefer that strike.
Our chosen goal shows that Stephen Carr had more than a piledriver in his locker. Winning possession in his own half from two advancing Sunderland players, the Spurs defender just about keeps the ball in play before powering forward. Then, despite Thomas Sorensen’s perfect positioning all of three yards off his line, Carr chips him with an almost insulting insouciance. It’s a delightful display of more than one quality.
5. TREVOR SINCLAIR, West Ham vs Derby (2001/02)
This isn’t Trevor Sinclair’s best goal – that came in the FA Cup a few years earlier – and some would argue that Paolo Di Canio and Joe Cole combining to set up a member of England’s World Cup squad makes it too glamorous for inclusion here. But there’s no doubt this strike deserves more recognition.
From corner to net, each of the move’s four touches is 100% perfect, and the ball never touches the ground. Replace grass with sand and this goal would look no different. Pure exhibition football.
4. MAYNOR FIGUEROA, Wigan vs Stoke (2009/10)
Goals aren’t designed to be compared to one another, but sometimes two embryos form from the same zygote only for one to become favourite while its twin is locked in the attic. There’s nothing wrong with the popular goal… but the forgotten sibling shares its DNA.
Maynor Figueroa’s goal against Wigan is every bit as good as – if not better than – David Beckham’s strike against Wimbledon 13 years earlier.
Beckham’s lob is infinitely more famous because it came on the season’s opening day, symbolised the birth of a star, and because it’s David Beckham. But Figueroa’s shot, with its flatter trajectory and extra power to take it beyond a better-positioned goalkeeper (in fact, a closer comparison might be with Jose Luis Chilavert scoring from his own half), means it deserves more credit than a goal from a Honduran left-back in Wigan vs Stoke will ever receive.
3. IAN BRIGHTWELL, Manchester City vs Leeds (1992/93)
Calling this a counter-attack almost does it a disservice. It’s an exquisitely constructed work of art that ruthlessly picks apart a tired team on the attack.
Replace Keith Curle, Niall Quinn, Mike Sheron and Ian Brightwell with John Stones, Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker, and FFT would be in the same knee-deep puddle as everyone else, salivating over Pep Guardiola’s triangles and commitment to passing out of defence.
In short: phwoar.
Goal at 6:33
2. CUCO MARTINA, Southampton vs Arsenal (2015/16)
The only way to watch this goal is from the angle behind its scorer. You’ll see why.
Cuco Martina, Southampton’s second-choice right-back making his first league start, broke the Boxing Day deadlock against Arsenal by working from Michael Essien’s famous strike against the same opposition and taking it up to 11. Using his laces, Martina lets fly, generating a frankly obscene amount of curve on the ball. His shot is a homing missile, flying at astonishing speed while inexorably closing in on its target. Goal. Arsenal are so stunned, they go on to lose 4-0.
“I score, I think… three goals in my whole life, and this is the nice one,” said a breathless and adorably surprised Martina after the game. Now at Everton, the defender has yet to add to his Premier League tally. We wouldn’t be in any rush either.
With respect to Leandro Bacuna and Shelton Martis, this is probably the best goal ever scored by a Curaçao international.
1. PAJTIM KASAMI, Fulham vs Crystal Palace (2013/14)
No, we aren’t going to argue that Pajtim Kasami’s absurdly brilliant volley deserves the air time devoted to Marco van Basten’s big moment. The Dutchman’s strike put to bed a European Championship final and sits alongside Zinedine Zidane and Carlos Alberto’s career-defining goals as one of the best scored in any major final. However, we will tentatively propose one argument: Kasami’s is technically the better goal.
Calm down and consider this: while Van Basten was given inexplicable amounts of space in which to position and balance himself, Kasami is between two defenders and completing a run from the halfway line towards a pass into space. He’s sprinting when he picks the pass out of the floodlights’ glare, he’s turning when he chests the ball down into exactly the right position, and he’s marked when he shoots – and he shoots on his wrong foot.
True, the angle is less tight. But this isn’t Marco van Basten, one of football’s greatest ever strikers – it’s Pajtim Kasami. And regardless of the stage on which each was set, we love their goals equally.
(Steve Sidwell would like us to add that he scored a belter in this game as well.)
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