By Jason McKeown
As the season approaches its climax, Ross Hannah is banging in goals to help his West Yorkshire club close in on promotion. Only the circumstances are not quite how Ross would have dreamed it a year ago, when he agreed to join Bradford City after watching them lose 5-1 against Crewe.
For rather than Ross the non-league goal machine proving himself good enough to make the step up to professional football, Ross is still the non-league goal machine. Loaned to FC Halifax Town until the end of the season – who play in only one division higher than the Matlock Town side he departed 11 months ago – he will look back on a first season at Valley Parade with a frustration at failing to make the impact he would have hoped.
But the question is whether this is due to a lack of ability, or due to a lack of opportunity. He has made just eight league and cup starts and only stayed on the field for the full 90 minutes once. Brought in by Peter Jackson, Hannah has particularly struggled to get games under Phil Parkinson (two of his four league starts coming before Jackson left). A further 18 cameos from the bench have meant Ross has been involved in half of all of City’s matches this season, yet he has not enjoyed a consistent run in the team.
That’s not to say he hasn’t demonstrated his potential. Off the bench for his Football League debut, against Oxford, back in August – it took Ross just four minutes to find the back of the net. As he raced over to us in the sparsely populated away end that afternoon to celebrate equalising, I couldn’t help but feel slightly sorry for the lad that his first professional goal had basically being scored in front of a car park (Oxford only having three sides to his ground).
But he didn’t have to wait long for his first goal directly in front of his new supporters. At Morecambe three weeks later, he again made an impact as substitute by netting a dramatic and wonderfully taken half volley deep in stoppage time, to rescue a point. The celebrations were hugely memorable. That was Parkinson’s first game in charge, and the potential for a happy relationship seemed huge. Hannah may not be ready to start week in week out just yet, but his natural talent for burying chances suggested he could become our supersub.
Exactly six months on, I was sat at the back of the away end at Dagenham with Hannah and team mate Luke Dean two seats along. Numbers 17 and 18 of the squad who had travelled to Essex – and so not making the bench – it was easy to feel a little sorry for him, as on the pitch Lee Bullock was thrown up front to partner Craig Fagan. Hannah did get to make three more substitute appearances in the next three games, but the sudden availability of Chris Dagnall saw him sent on loan to the Shay.
The benefits of playing week in week out for FC Halifax are clearly huge. In six appearances for Town, he has netted seven times and no doubt rediscovered a bit of lost confidence; yet dropping two divisions to get that game time makes it difficult to measure whether he could ultimately cut it at City and in League Two. No one doubts he can score goals at non-league level, but re-affirming this in the Blue Square North probably isn’t going to push him up the Valley Parade pecking order.
Indeed while Hannah played in Town’s 1-1 draw with Altrincham on Saturday, Nahki Wells was netting a stunning hat trick for the Bantams to cement his position as this year’s young starlet which, pre-season, we expected Hannah to take. That Wells might not have even started against Northampton, had Chris Dagnall being fit, shows that Hannah faces a lot of competition. We can realistically suppose City will sign Dagnall – obviously unwanted by his parent club Barnsley – during the summer. Where would this leave Hannah?
There is no doubt that Hannah is natural finisher. According to the always reliable Wikipedia, Ross has scored 179 career goals from 299 appearances – and he’s still only 25. The three goals he has netted so far for City all demonstrated a poacher’s knack of sniffing out half chances – though at this level, more is needed.
And that, so far, to me at least is what we are missing when assessing Hannah. In the games I’ve seen him play, including pre-season, there is no doubt he has a good touch and makes some very intelligent runs off the ball, but at this level he needs to be more involved with the build up play and to be creating chances for others. From what I’ve seen (and the point here is that we simply haven’t seen enough of him in a City shirt) that hasn’t been as evident as we might have hoped.
It might be wrong to compare him to Wells – they are different types of forwards – but it’s also unavoidable. Nahki offers a huge amount in the final third of the pitch and has developed a strong understanding with James Hanson. I’d like to see Ross run the channels a bit more often, rather than solely be about putting the ball in the net.
Yet such aspects can be coached, and right now we have to hope that – away from match day – Ross is learning the ropes to be a more effective team player. Playing for Halifax is not as ideal as, say, getting first team football at a Blue Square Premier or League Two club, but it at least enables Hannah to train with the Bantams during the week and remain under Parkinson and his coaching staff’s supervision.
Hopefully, whatever he is learning from them he is trying out at Halifax. But most of all, hopefully Parkinson still views Hannah as an investment for the future that is worth working on – rather than allowing him to slip out of the exit door over the summer or midway through next season.
What we have seen from Ross is hugely likeable. It is a shame that he will go into pre-season having not progressed a great deal from a year ago in terms of proving if he can make it as a professional footballer, but the glimpses of talent that we have seen suggests no one should be looking to write him off yet.
Categories: Midweek Player Focus