Hatters match-winner Cameron McGeehan revealed how sessions with a sports psychologist enabled him to keep his cool and slot home the crucial stoppage time penalty against Newport County on Tuesday night.
The 21-year-old had already beaten Exiles keeper Joe Day once from the spot, but stepped up again after Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu was fouled to net the winner what was pretty much the last kick of the game.
McGeehan spoke candidly about the preparation he undertakes in order to make sure he can handle such pressurised situations afterwards, saying: “I do a lot of work with a psychologist to keep me cool in those situations, to take the pressure off, let go and just control what I can control, that helps me a lot.
“He’s not traditional. He’s been a footballer himself and he understands what it’s like to go out in front of fans.
“He understands what the journey is like for a young player and he didn’t have the success that he always thought he would have, so he’s teaching me how it went wrong for him, how he put too much pressure on himself and it helps me a lot.
“He’s not particularly well-known but he does work with some top players. He’s got Steven Caulker, a few boys at Burnley and he’s got a good roster. He’s got Craig Bellamy; he’s very close with him, so it’s good to have that top knowledge which is almost a bit private and hidden from what everyone else has got. I really utilise it as much as I can.”
“He’s teaching me how it went wrong for him, how he put too much pressure on himself and it helps me a lot.”Cameron McGeehan
It’s been something McGeehan has utilised throughout his fledgling career to date too, as he continued: “I do it off my own back. I’ve been doing it since I was 16 or 17. I pay it out of my wages, but that’s me investing in myself as a business almost, if you like.
“I treat myself as that, I’ve got to invest in myself to make myself the best I can be, that’s what I’m striving for.
“Obviously the gaffer helps me a lot with psychology, confidence and he’s always pulling me in (to his office), speaking to me as well. From that point of view it helps, but it does help me a lot to see someone once a week. I speak to them on the phone a fair bit.
“I’ve always been really interested in that side. I’ve had a good education in my life, so I like to keep my mind occupied. I’m interested in the psychology of the game and how that can get the best out of me.
“Sometimes I overthink stuff and that can have a negative effect. It has been more along the lines of letting go, being more relaxed and dealing with pressure.
“It’s (Luton) a pressure club. It’s 10,000 people watching you, so it’s a massive club. The stadium might be getting to 20,000 soon, so to try to deal with that pressure as a young player, it’s not easy.
“You go up and down and try to stay more level, so it’s important for me and I really buy into it.”
On just how he uses the process to help him when stepping up from the spot, McGeehan said: “It’s just about trying to block the crowd out, block the players out because they’re giving me stick and trying to get in my head – the keeper is trying to give me stick – but if you put it in the bottom corner, no keeper in the world can save it. That’s what I try to do.
“Obviously you feel the pressure, you’re a human, but I think it’s important to feel how you feel, it’s all natural feelings and not to worry.
“I try and take it in my stride and just know that I have conviction and put it in the corners like I’ve practiced, then I know I’m going to bury it and I’m going to score.”
It’s not just the mental side that McGeehan has been concentrating on though, as he admitted that practice on the training ground with Luton’s goalkeepers is paying off too, ensuring he continued his perfect record from 12 yards.
He continued: “I practice a lot with my dad, with the coaches here – Kev (Dearden) the goalie coach, Kingy (Craig King) and (Liam) Gooch, the young goalies.
“I’m out there, pretty much every day with them, talking about what keepers see, where to go and what they don’t like, what they like, what Kev says to our goalie, as in what their penalty takers do.
“We try to reverse that and play on the other keeper’s minds a bit.
“This is a development process though. I want to take penalties throughout my whole career and it has been going well so far.”
McGeehan is becoming accustomed to being under the magnifying glass as Town’s regular penalty taker though and admitted Tuesday night wasn’t the most nerve-wracking one he had taken.
He added: “I’ve had pressure penalties before in the (FA) Youth Cup Final in the 94th minute (for Norwich v Chelsea).
“That’s probably more pressure to be honest – a big, big moment against my old club. That set me in good stead for my career.”
The midfielder will continue putting himself forward when the chance arises, although is aware the Hatters have plenty of options when it comes to spot kicks.
He added: “I’d not taken one for a while, so you have your doubts, but you want to make sure you get your first one in because (Danny) Hylton and some of the other boys, Jack (Marriott) maybe, don’t mind stepping up as well.
“It’s pressure to stay on them and I want to score them because it (adds to your) goal tally. The team trust me with so that’s good as well.”