Hanson’s vital equaliser can’t mask the mixed emotions

Bradford City 1

Hanson 86

Plymouth Argyle 1

Sutherland 59

December 10, 2011

The outpouring of relief that James Hanson’s late equaliser provoked from Bradford City supporters was too heavily mixed in with feelings of disappointment and fears over the gravity of the situation, in order for the moment to be truly enjoyed.

The importance of Hanson’s improvised shot – which flew in from distance after he latched onto Kyel Reid’s low cross – will only be truly measured in time. But as the final whistle blew a few minutes later, it was difficult to escape fears that a great opportunity to pull away from the bottom two had just been wasted. And after producing so little quality over the 90 minutes, the seriousness of the club’s plight has grown.

This might have been a game City couldn’t afford to lose, but so average and limited were visitors’ Plymouth Argyle that the failure to earn the three points raises huge question marks about the home team’s ability to stay out of the bottom two come May. Were it not for the superb cup exploits this season, there were been few crumbs of comfort to believe the Bantams are good enough to retain their Football League status. They have to do much better than this, and very quickly.

That’s not to say a first league win since October wouldn’t have been merited for City. After a slow to the game, they shaded the first half and deserved to go into the break a goal up. Jack Compton – a late call up into the first eleven after Ross Hannah got injured in the warm up – carried the strongest threat and was unfortunate to see a good run and low drive pushed away by Argyle keeper Jake Cole. Another cross from Compton led to Michael Flynn’s header beating Cole, only for Darren Purse to block the effort despite suspicions the ball had already crossed the line. Plymouth looked poor, and though City were hardly sparkling they held the edge.

But as has been the way so often this season, City players cannot seem to muster consistent 90 minute performances, both individually and collectively. In the second half the game began to drift into nothingness, but then a Plymouth corner saw a low shot from Simon Walton bundled home by Craig Sutherland from a yard out, and City were behind.

The reaction in the stands was one of panic and anger. The pressure gauge flew upwards and it was clearly a difficult experience for the players to cope with. There were plenty of roars of encouragement and attempts to urge the team to recover, but when attacking moves broke down or mistakes were made the level of disapproval grew very ugly.

Most farcically of all was a booing of any City player who took a throw in after first asking the nearest ball boy for a towel to dry the ball with, in order to get more purchase on attempts to launch it into the penalty area. Although the long throw tactic was largely ineffective against a very tall Plymouth backline, cool heads were needed from the players so they didn’t self-implode, and this included getting the ball into the box with some thought.

Sadly the way manager Phil Parkinson had the team set up did not help with this. Whether by accident or design too often the players resorted to long ball kick-and-rush style tactics that contradict the level of quality there should be in the ranks. In the centre of the park Flynn and Ricky Ravenhill were effective in protecting the back four but little else, and the energy and all action style of Ritchie Jones was missed. While the summer signing from Hartlepool was below his best at Oldham on his return from injury last Tuesday, he offers greater attacking thrust than the ageing Flynn and the quiet Ravenhill could offer.

On the flanks – an area Parkinson had targeted to deliver success in this game – the problems continued. Reid found himself double marked throughout the game, a sign that opposition manager Carl Fletcher had identified him as the danger man. This did allow Compton more time and space to impress on the opposite side, but the pace of Reid would have been better utilised with an effective attacking left back to support him when he was in possession. Instead he had ex-Pilgrim Marcel Seip playing out of position behind him. He offered no attacking help, meaning Reid would struggle with two people to beat and face boos and abuse when he inevitably lost possession. Luke O’Brien was kicking his heels in the stands, a far more logical choice for left back even if his recent form hasn’t been great.

Reid showed admirable persistence to keep going – as did his team mates – and in the end he set up Hanson’s goal. At that stage the game looked lost with Parkinson bringing on Nahki Wells for an average Craig Fagan and then seemingly having no other options to change the game. Chris Mitchell was about to be brought on, but as Plymouth time wasted and defended deep their way towards three points there was a sense of frustration that Parkinson was too timid in changing formation in order to have a real go.

Hanson’s goal was personally well deserved after another afternoon of hard toil that was unappreciated by many. Sure, at times he needs to do better and be more aggressive, but the level of abuse and fact he was singled out by so many when he was at least showing greater commitment and passion than others was difficult to listen to. Hanson now has six goals this season, and all but his opening day consolation strike against Aldershot have been vital. He may not be a great goalscorer, but this season he is proving a scorer of important goals. Only an outstanding performance from Andrew Davies at the back ruled out Hanson from being a man of the match contender.

In the final stages City could have won it. Plymouth’s Onismor Bhasera was sent off for two yellows – both ugly challenges – and a minute before that Flynn had lashed a decent chance high into the Kop. Then a scramble in the box saw the ball fall at the feet of Ravenhill with just the keeper to beat. He somehow fired the shot wide. It’s not hard to see why Parkinson is so desperate to sign a proven goalscorer in the January transfer window.

A point gained in the circumstances, but yet another poor home performance in the league leaves growing fears that the 11-year slide from the Premier League will shortly see another new low. City are in the fight of their lives; and while that fight would now seem much tougher without Hanson’s wonderful strike, the club’s chances of avoiding relegation have never looked so low.

It’s time for the undoubted quality that is within Parkinson’s ranks to prove themselves, and to prove themselves more often.

City: McLaughlin, Ramsden, Oliver, Davies, Seip, Compton, Flynn, Ravenhill, Reid, Hanson, Fagan (Wells 69).

Subs not used: Duke, Moore, Mitchell, Jones  



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