The 2014/15 Width of a Post Player of the Season – part two

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

By Alex Scott

Welcome back to Part Two of the Width of a Post Player of the Year Extravaganza! Now the season is over in League One, with only rooting against Sheffield United and Chesterfield left to pay attention to until August, we are back to celebrate some of the highlights of another great season, through the prism of the players who brought it to us.

Today we’ll be recapping the players who finished fourth and third in the Player of the Year ballots of your intrepid Width of a Post writing staff. If you missed Part One where we unveiled our fifth-place finisher Jon Stead, you can find that here.

With that out of the way, let’s plough on with the next two players on our list and recap the season of a couple of our history makers.

In 4th place: James Hanson

Picture by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Picture by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

In fourth place, we have last year’s runner-up James Hanson. Longevity always tends to be overlooked in football, but it would be irresponsible of me not to note that we have been running this award for four years now, and Hanson has finished in the top five in each of these.

This begins with a relegation battle at the foot of League Two, through an improbable promotion run, a year of consolidation in League One into this year’s efforts: finishing seventh in the third tier. That Hanson has not only kept his starting place in each of these teams – joined by only Andrew Davies in that fact – but managed to finish as one of the best five players in each of these seasons really is a testament to his talents and resilience.

He started the season in the form of his life, scoring four goals in his first five league starts – my favourite probably being this one at Crawley – as well as heading the winner against Leeds, in front of the Kop. This was immediately etched onto the Mount Rushmore of ‘Massive James Hanson Goals’, joining Villa away, Burton away, and Northampton at Wembley. The more you think about it, the more likely it becomes like we are all going to refer to this as The Hanson Era as much as anything else. The DVD compilation of the last few years won’t look unlike a James Hanson Greatest Hits.

After this blistering start to the season, Hanson suffered an injury ahead of the side’s win at Milton Keynes and he didn’t really get his fitness back, or in truth, his place back until Christmas. That run at the beginning of December where Jon Stead and Billy Clarke linked so well was probably the first time since Hanson arrived at the club that he wasn’t the automatic starter. Though this didn’t last long, and since Boxing Day’s win over Fleetwood, Hanson has started all but four games in all competitions.

His absence in late February – due to an injury picked up during a two-goal first half at Orient – ended up costing City a real run at the play offs with two defeats and a draw, moving them back to the outside looking in, never to regain their foothold in the top six.

City tended to look their strongest with Hanson, Stead and Clarke in the team and whilst going forward Parkinson’s men were never ‘prolific’, with the line being led by these three they looked as effective as they have at that end of the pitch since the heady days of 2012.

Hanson’s energy and movement has improved and improved under Parkinson, and this continued this year where in the toughest games of the season, he added a new string to his bow, reprising his role as a quasi left forward. Way back in 2009, Hanson spent some time out on the left flank in an effort to get him in the team, but he never looked particularly comfortable.

This year, in the game at Stamford Bridge in particular he was a valuable outlet for the side pulling on to the inexperienced right back Andreas Christensen, whom he beat in the air repeatedly. He looked comfortable in this role, and this comfort in his own skin has been a noticeable development throughout the season.

Whereas in previous years the forward may have played within himself, he now looks, at 27, to have developed into a player and a role in the squad that is his own. His ‘40-some appearance, 10-15 goal a season’ output has remained consistent throughout his time at Valley Parade irrespective of the division or the team he is playing in. He is under contract for the next two seasons, and if he repeats the output that he has done so far in his career he will crash the top ten all time appearance makers for the club, and the top three all-time goal scorers.

Regardless of what happens this summer, it’s hard to think of a City side without him, and this season has seen him continue develop into a true talismanic figure. He has risen to every challenge thrown at him so far at Valley Parade, and how far he can step forward next year will go a long way to defining how far the club can go.

3rd place: James Meredith

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

After being overlooked by other respective award-giving academies last week, the Width of a Post writing team will continue to ride ’til we die with James Meredith, who placed a strong third in our voting.

Given the off-season he went through last summer, that he has even made it through the season is a bit of a turn up. In fact, the past nine months couldn’t really have gone much better for the Australian.

It’s hard to think back to July last year to the point where Meredith was slated as the team’s reserve left back. As the story goes, after pondering City’s offer of a two-year extension for too long last summer – in the context of swirling Championship interest – Parkinson and the powers-that-had been decided to grab the bird in the hand and offer that contract instead to Alan Sheehan.

Subsequently, for reasons unclear, though the prevailing assumptions can easily be inferred, Meredith opted to return to where he had enjoyed such success on a far less beneficial one-year ‘prove it’ deal.

It should probably be noted here that this narrative of ‘reserve player come good’ never really played out in reality. Due to injuries, suspensions and poor play, Meredith started at left back almost from the outset, and has gone on to make more league starts – 39 – than in either of his previous two seasons.

He immediately revelled in the new system Parkinson was trying to implement, surging forward with great intent into the vacant areas in front of him on the left, allowing the side’s lopsided approach – excellently detailed here – to work. Whilst the absence of a supporting midfielder seemed to thrust his compatriot Stephen Darby out of his comfort zone, Meredith flourished after Kyel Reid left for pastures new.

After rotating with his replacement over the first few weeks, and then through the club’s dicey run in mid-October, Parkinson – as he so often has – decided enough was enough and started the stronger option, money be damned. The away win against Preston seemed to be the moment when the torch was definitively thrust into the Australian’s hand, and not at all coincidentally did this decision lead to City’s strongest run of the year and Meredith never looked back.

The all-too-rare moments where Meredith has started alongside fellow history making back four of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies, have tended to coincide with the team reaching their potential. The team have kept more clean sheets in the 17 games with these four starting than they have in the 29 with any other back four combination in place. The team have only conceded more than one goal once in a game where the four have started.

Meredith always seems to be overlooked when discussing the strengths of the back four but you could make quite a strong argument that no one else in the squad has as big an impact on both ends of the pitch as Meredith.

And perhaps unsurprisingly looking at Meredith’s career, all of this has been encapsulated in the club’s biggest games of the year. Starting in the Leeds home game in August, Meredith firstly earned Luke Murphy’s red card by beating him to the free ball, before wreaking havoc down the left hand side as the shorthanded away team hung on.

Subsequently in the Chelsea and Sunderland games, Meredith hit his apex. In the former of these, he held off world class midfielders on the right hand side of the Chelsea attack, with an incredible defensive display, and with only a peeling off James Hanson for company in front of him. I’ve always been a fan of Meredith, but even I didn’t think he had that defensive performance in him.

On the other side of the coin, he showed off his attacking skills excellently in the Sunderland tie, who never, ever got to grips with his surging runs forward.

I’m doing Meredith a disservice by only picking up on a couple of his highest profile performances as, for the first six months of the season, he was right there at the top of the Player of the Year race. Whilst tailing off slightly as the season has drawn to a close, it shouldn’t be overlooked how good Meredith was and for how long.

After arriving at City from the non-leagues in 2012, there has always been a lingering thought over Meredith’s ceiling as he doesn’t share the pedigree of the likes of Darby and Davies. Even after a relatively strong first season in League One, these thoughts weren’t totally dispelled. Now they are well and truly extinguished. Meredith has shown this year that not only can he be a strong League One player, but he has the physical and technical gifts to perhaps soar even higher.

On the loan transfer deadline day in March, Meredith earned that two-year contract he failed to grab nine months before, extending his stay at the club until the summer of 2017.  If symbolism is important to you, it’s worth noting that his replacement Alan Sheehan was loaned out to Peterborough later the same day. This move had shades of the Wayne Jacobs “Don’t Even Bother Trying To Replace Me As We All Know I’ll Be Starting Again By October Anyway” resilience to it.

Whilst anointing his as “The New Jacobs” is a bit much at this stage, Sunday did see Meredith make his ninety-eighth league appearance for City, and given his level of performance, the arrows are all pointing upwards at the moment.

At 27-years-old, the left back is now entering his peak, and after signing a contract extension a few weeks ago, these years will be seen at Valley Parade. What’s more, for the player, given how well he fits into the ethos, and the systems of Phil Parkinson, he is in exactly the right place to reach his potential.

Tomorrow we will be back with the runner-up and winner of the 2014/15 Width of a Post Player of the Year. 

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Categories: Opinion

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19 replies

  1. Hanson top 4, is that some sort of joke? SIXTEEN games he went without scoring a goal. McLean was lucky if he went sixteen minutes without getting stick from the crowd for not scoring. Thanks for the memories and all that but if we’re to progress we need to get rid of Hanson asap. Quality footballers with good feet like Billy Clarke, Jon Stead and whoever comes in need quality footballers to play with to create chances and score goals. Not big lumps that run around a lot chasing long balls and pointlessly heading the ball to no one in particular.

    • Ridiculous comment.

      When City were stuck near the bottom of League Two a few years ago, people like you claimed then we had to get rid of Hanson in order to progress. If the club had listened to this insane logic, then Hanson wouldn’t have been here to score the goal that took us to the League Cup Final, the vital Burton play off second leg goal, the first goal in the play off final, and the Leeds goal this season. So yeah, if only we’d listened to you people then and gotten rid of Hanson.

      Hanson is in the top 10 all time Bradford City scorers. He helped to make Nahki Wells the star he was. He was voted in Four Four Two’s top 50 Football League players. He gets praise from every opposition manager. Even John Terry raved about how good he was.

      But yeah, let’s get rid of him because he hasn’t scored for 16 games.

    • Unfortunately Barry there is only one opinion of Hanson allowed on this site. They don’t seem to mind that he is a striker who can’t score goals on a regular basis but they will always point out the big game goals they refer to here as there are precious few others.

      Of course you are right. This team can not afford to carry a non scoring striker if they hope to be promoted. Jon Stead does not need Hanson up front with him. He has enough ability as a target man to do the job on his own providing his strike partner has the pace and eye for goal to benefit from Stead’s hold up play and vision. A certain Bermudan would be an ideal type. Backed up by Billy Clark I think this strike force could be the catalyst for a strong promotion push next season.

      And as for Clark not even getting in to the top 5 I can only use the word they have thrown at you – ridiculous!

      • Yes we can’t afford to carry a non goal scoring striker like Hanson but need a player like Stead with an almost identical record and looking at previous seasons a far inferior record to Hanson.

        Take away his purple patch in the FA Cup and Jon Stead has scored SIX league goals this year for City! I do like Stead as I like Hanson but neither player is going to be the main provider of goals however both offer something different and most certainly Hanson’s defensive efforts have been so important this year.

        Also remember that Hanson has been shunted out of position to accommodate Stead this season allowing Stead to be the central striker. For my part if you told Hanson his job is to be the goal scorer get in the box and get on the end of delivery from a Nicky Sumerbee type he could get close to the twenty mark. However firstly we don’t have someone providing the delivery of a Nicky Sumerbee and secondly Parkinson asks Hanson to play a role for the team that negates his ability to be prolific.

        We probably can’t get promoted with a strike partnership of Hanson and Stead it is one of the other. Who is more suited to the team next year depends on the team that Parkinson builds around them!

      • There are a wide range of opinions expressed on this website, but it is a fact that most WOAP writers rate Hanson and promote his worth.

        Are we suppose to apologise for this? I have never known a player in claret and amber receive so much unjust stick as Hanson has had over the years. Sometimes when he is in top form the detractors go quiet for a bit, but they always resurface. At times it is absolutely pathetic.

        James Hanson is never going to be a prolific goalscorer for Bradford City. That is not his game. Yet he adds so much value to the team in his overall performances and on WOAP it is recognised. He is a scorer of important goals. His stamp on the club over the past six years is massive.

        As for the Jon Stead comparison, his goalscoring record is worse than Hanson’s. According to Soccerbase Stead has made 463 career appearances and scored 105 goals (a one in four striker) whereas as Hanson is 268 appearances and 74 goals (one in three). I’m not trying to argue Hanson is a better player – Stead has played in the Premier League for several clubs – but if you’re just going to bash Hanson for his goalscoring record you are not making a fair comparison.

        As for Clarke, he was unlucky to miss out on the top 5 but it’s a WOAP writer vote and we are entitled to our opinions. There were a number of strong performers over the course of 2014/15, Clarke was one of them but not the only one. I personally think he is a brilliant player and I have all the time in the world for him, but that’s the way the poll worked out.

  2. Clarke at 6th, stead 5th and Hanson 4th, so our 3 strikers all in the top six for player of the season. I’ve absolutely no disagreement with that and think all three have been consistent and played superbly.
    However it’s a pretty much a universally agreed perception that our strike force is not sufficiently ruthless and doesn’t quite come up with enough goals. If we’re looking to sign another striker, the mythical pacey 20 goal a season unicorn, then it’s going to be interesting to see who gives way.

  3. WOP writers are absolutely entitled to their opinions but so are the contributors to the site, so why when there is any criticism of Hanson do you always insult said contributor? Using the word “ridiculous” in response shows no respect for the contributor’s opinion and this is not the first time this season such words have been used.

    • Hi Mick

      You are very much entitled to your opinion.

      I was just reading back some of your comments over the last few years and you have criticised Hanson on several occasions. That’s your right but it’s strange to me that nothing will change your view.

      This comment made me chuckle, which you provided in May 2013 after the play off semi final first leg defeat to Burton. Just keep in mind that Hanson played such a pivotal role in the second leg!

      “I would go so far as to say that we have more chance of reaching the final if Hanson doesn’t start the second leg. Every manager in the 4th division knows how City play and they set up to combat the long diagonal ball to Hanson – some with more success than others and Burton were very successful last night. If we can hit them with the element of surprise by not playing Hanson, playing through midfield, keeping the ball on the ground and utilising pace up front, then our superior ball players may have the edge.”

      • Can I add my 2ps worth on this?

        For what it’s worth, I think measuring Hanson’s success and influence in terms of goals scored is massively overly-simplistic, and overlooks his value to this team. Really, we needed McLean to be a like for like replacement for Nahki, but he wasn’t – that wasn’t Hanson’s fault, and you shouldn’t have to fix the bit that isn’t broken to accommodate something that just doesn’t fit with the wider team’s style. Last season and the year before, Hanson was 1/2 of the FL’s most lethal strike partnership, probably just behind Clarke and Wilson from Coventry. People recognised the value of that, and it was Hanson that enabled Wells to open up, find the space and become the player that he was. The Burton game and Coventry, for me, were the best performances those two have put in – the Sky pundits noted the strength of both those games at the time. They kept it going for months in League One before Nahki went away.

        “Chasing long balls and pointlessly heading the ball to no one.” I have to disagree. At Chelsea, he was playing way out of position but was superb – having watched the re-run on Chelsea TV, it was clear they couldn’t cope with him at all. Stead rightfully gets the plaudits for his hold-up play, but it was Hanson stretching the back line that afforded Stead the space and freedom to dictate the forward line. The discipline required for that to come off was something else, but he performed that role marvellously.

        Generally, as a player, Hanson has come on leaps and bounds for us – I think, were you to do some kind of ‘most improved player’ award, Hanson would definitely take it. He’s really gone from boy to man under Parkinson, and it’s vital that he’s coming into a peak now that will be spent with us. He’s beginning to become more than just a ‘target man’ – you can tell by the runs he makes, where he sends the ball, the discipline in his hold-up play… He takes one for the team every week and is exactly what we’re all about as a football club. , but they’ve played some good stuff this season. We need more goals from the forwards, but there’s a fairly healthy and even share here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/teams/bradford-city/top-scorers

        It will take time to build on what we have, but I don’t think getting rid of Hanson is the answer.

      • We can all be wise after the event, eh?

      • Yes of course and it wouldn’t take much effort to find stuff I wrote on here that turned out to be completely wrong.

        However, the point (and it’s not personal to you) is that Hanson has a number of detractors who for years have said we have to get rid of him to progress as a club. Yet we have kept him and progressed as a club. And Hanson has been instrumental in that progress. To hear someone again suggest that we must now get rid of him to progress, simply because he hasn’t scored for 16 games, is again in my opinion “ridiculous”.

        An interesting aside. If we were to put every single Bradford City player up for sale, who would attract the most interest from other clubs and who would go for the biggest fee? For me the answer is clear.

  4. And yet, according to the club, no bid has ever been received for James Hanson. How has “our most saleable asset” never been bid for? That’s a clear contradiction in itself.

    Let’s just address that right away. Clarke is more saleable. Stead would be if he was our player. Rory would be in demand If Defenders attracted the same fees. Meridith also.

    He’s been an amazing servant to the club has James. He’s provided the most amazing goals in some of the most amazing moments of the club. He’s in our all time top 10 scorers. So respect is due to him.

    But please balance that against 46 appearances and 11 goals this year. And also the fact he was being accommodated in the team as he’d been dropped as the first choice two strikers by PP. Quite rightly according to goals scored and assists of all three. He’s the least effective of the three this year, if you believe stats. And many are being quoted above.

    I’m glad many are vociferous in their support of him. But let’s have a fair debate please. Even Sir PP has relegated his position this year.

    • I don’t think playing somebody out of position is evidence of a players weakness….look at Wayne Rooney

  5. I think it does. If he was good enough to displace Stead and Clarke he’d be playing there. He isn’t so he isn’t. Not my decision but PPs. Look at Rooney? LVG got it wrong and MUFC have improved as a result of him pushing WR back up to a natural position.

    I’m pointing out a fact. Hanson has been relegated from the first two choices of strikers.

    He’s been stuck on the left like a spare peice. Even his most biased supporter could never suggest he deserved to be played there. He’s pointless there.

    Question. New regime or old. If we signed Stead. And a new left winger. And keep Clarke. Where will James be then ?.

    • It depends on the players you sign as I mentioned earlier. The choice is Stead OR Hanson for me not both. Ask me again when I’ve seen who Parky signs and which player looks more suited to that team. Parky sees Hanson’s value to this side which is undeniable and as always my faith is with him to make the right decision.

      Also I think as an aside Hanson was shunted out to the left because he was better there than Stead (he did also try Stead out there) not because Hanson was his least favoured centrally. It was the only option to fit them all in.

  6. Hanson was first played on the wing against Chelsea and he was devastatingly brilliant in that game. Parky put him there to bully their young defender….so he was not relegated from his previous role but specifically picked for his ability in the air and physical presence and worked amazingly.
    Same with Rooney, he wasnt dropped from the striker role to midfield because LVG thought he was the worst striker….he did it because he believed Rooney was the most complete player and the only one of the strikers who had the ability to play in midfield.
    I agree with you LVG got it wrong and I also think Hanson has had more bad games on the wing than good games but he was picked on the wing as he was viewed the best option there as opposed to the worst option up front.
    I’m also not convinced that Hanson and Stead is a consistently complimentary partnership….it will be interesting to see what happens if we bring another decent striker in

    • I think that a myth is starting to grow here – Hanson is not playing on the left wing, he is up front but has been asked to play wider.

      There is a big difference.

      The suggestion he has been shunted to left winger because he is not good enough (or as good as Stead) it is because he has been asked to play a very specific role for the team to make the diamond formation work.

      • Jason, that simply doesn’t work as an argument.

        We play:

        1 keeper.

        A flat back 4. Running total 5.

        4 in midfield. Running total 9.

        And 2 upfront. 11 players.

        You are not seriously suggesting, surely, that in the season end , we were playing Clarke in midfield and Stead and Hanson upfront with Hanson out left, very wide. Surely not.

        If so I’m totally bemused with that assessment. I won’t use the dreaded “ridiculous” word though !!!!

  7. Ben, yes I am completely saying that. Clarke played at the tip of the midfield diamond behind the front two. Hanson played up front but wider. I am really surprised you disagree!

    This article explains it perfectly. Note the line up graphics:

    https://widthofapost.com/2015/02/20/how-phil-parkinson-polished-his-diamond-to-make-it-sparkle/

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