Goals change games we know but, listening to Scott Hogan, it’s clear he feels his winner for Championship basement side Stoke City against high-flying Swansea City last Saturday, could be a personal game-changer of an altogether different magnitude.
And it was what you might call a ‘sliding coach doors’ moment he had with manager Nathan Jones the previous day — after the deeply frustrated striker had made a passionate appeal to be given a fresh chance — which made his reprieve and redemption possible.
“I think I’d been out of the squad for three or four games and I hadn’t come on for about six or seven,” says Hogan, setting the scene.
“He picked the team and the squad on the Friday and, obviously, if you’re not involved, you go and do a bit of running. And no-one’s ever keen on that.
“But I went and did my running and I just pulled one of his sports scientists who’d come over to me and I said a few things to him. And he then went and told the manager. I think it was like a quarter to one and they were leaving at one. The manager pulled me in and two minutes later he told to me get my stuff and get on the bus.
“He could still easily have turned around and said, ‘train hard today and tomorrow, go away with the national team and we’ll see how you get on when you get back’. But he just told me to get changed. It literally was spur of the moment. He sort of slammed his hand on the desk and said, ‘get on the bus’.”
So what exactly was it Hogan had said that caused Jones to change his mind? Smiling, he offers the redacted version.
Obviously I can’t use the language that I used. I just said to him: ‘Play me, I’ll score goals at this level, forget what has gone on the past two years, I can do it at this level.’
"I said: ‘I’ve scored two goals, I’m still your top scorer and I’ve hardly played for the past seven games. I care about playing football and I care about winning’. And I said: ‘if you put me on tomorrow I’ll score the winner’.
He pauses to let that one sink in. “That’s what I said to him.” He smiles again.
“Someone up there must have been looking down on me.”
For his part, Jones said this week: “I toyed with (the decision) but came to the conclusion, all right, that kind of thing doesn’t happen often, so I did, I put him in, put him on and he did it. Bosh!”
Just to add to the drama at the Liberty Stadium, substitute Hogan delivered on his bold promise in the very last minute of the game, as Stoke came from behind to earn their first Championship win of the season and knock Swansea off the top of the table.
So how did the ‘bosh’ moment feel to the man who put the ball in the net?
“Normally when I score, my usual self is that everything just slows down, it just happens naturally,” he says. “But with that one, I had a bit of anger in it. A few people texted me afterwards saying: ‘I’ve not seen you celebrate like that for a long time, if ever’.
“It was a nice feeling but obviously there was a lot of frustration and anger in it. The point was that I’ve said something and I’ve backed it up. If people can do that, then they are going to go somewhere.”
Hogan makes no attempt to disguise the fact that, for a long time, he had felt he wasn’t going anywhere, his goal-gluttony at Brentford having given way to starvation rations at Aston Villa and loan moves first to Sheffield United and then Stoke.
“It’s been two years of disappointment from myself, really,” he reflects. “I’ve been playing for two years with no confidence and, I don’t care what anybody says, confidence is massive in this game. Because my standards are really high for myself. And the standards I hit at Brentford, it’s just not happened since. That’s my fault.
So it’s just about going back to doing what I’ve always done. I’m 27 so I should be coming to the peak, really, which hopefully I am. It’s about just reminding everyone because I would say a lot of people have forgotten, you know?
There were even times at Villa, he readily admits, when he felt tempted to pack it all in.
“Oh yeah. That used to happen every week towards the middle of it. I signed in the January and after about four months into the next season I just didn’t want to go in. I couldn’t wait to get home. I didn’t stay in Birmingham, I was driving every day just to get away. I just hated everything about the place. But it was my own fault. There were some bad times but you have people around you so it’s alright. And it’s not the end of the world, is it, football? You just have to be reminded of that sometimes.”
Which is not to say that he doesn’t care about the game. He does, intensely. Indeed, that was all part of his pitch to Nathan Jones on the eve of the Swansea game. It’s just that his struggles were leeching all the joy out of the experience, turning something he loves into something he was growing to hate.
“I was angry constantly for two years, in a mood constantly for two years, because it wasn’t going right,” he says.
With a similar scenario starting to repeat itself at Stoke — and leading to what he calls his “breaking point” last week — the last thing he expected was to find himself named in Mick McCarthy’s squad for the Euro qualifiers against Georgia and Switzerland.
“No, I didn’t expect to be here,” he confirms. “Then the squad was announced and I was in it, which I was shocked by. I did not expect it. I wouldn’t have picked me. I’m not playing, I’m not even in the squad at the bottom of the Championship. So why would you pick me? There are lads scoring goals.
But I’d like to think that, since the boss has come here, in the games I’ve played for him, although I’ve not scored I’ve done what he’s asked. I came in against Denmark away and did okay, probably could have nicked a goal at the end.
"I came on against Switzerland and the boss said I changed the game, brought some energy, created a platform for us to push on. I played the friendly (against Bulgaria) as well and it annoyed me that I couldn’t score. But I know the manager is happy with what I’ve done. He has always liked me.”
Indeed, McCarthy was one of the first to hail last Saturday’s change in fortune for Hogan.
“Walking into the camp on Sunday, the boss comes over and welcomes you: ‘Hello goalscorer’. The lads are saying: ‘You got a goal at the weekend’. It’s nice to be back around it. Coming into it, if I’ve not played, not been in squads, it doesn’t look good, does it? And I’m the first to admit that.
“It’s not like I’ve set the world alight in my international career so far. So it’s just nice to remind people.”