The James Hanson dilemma

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

By Nikhil Vekaria

It’s the 27 August, 2014 and City have just gone 1-0 down at home to Leeds United, with eight minutes to play.  They haven’t beaten their West Yorkshire neighbours for over 20 years and despite the fact Leeds have played with 10 men since the 30th minute, that run doesn’t look likely to end. But then – it happened.

Billy Knott took a lot of the plaudits that night, for a wonderful half volley from the edge of the box to level it up, but the winner was scored by another man. James Hanson. This was another huge moment in Phil Parkinson’s reign that had been delivered by the big man up top. He got the goal at Villa Park which took us to Wembley; he scored the goal which levelled put City ahead for the first time in the play off semi final; and he also bagged the first at Wembley in the play off final, in a day when City ran out 3-0 winners.

Add to this that he was signed for a measly £7,500 from non-league Guiseley, whilst also working in the Co-op, is a local boy from Bradford itself, and that he is in City’s top 10 all time highest goal scorers.

His importance in the 2012/13 season also cannot be overstated. Hanson, along with scoring into double figures himself, formed an exceptional partnership with Nahki Wells, who bagged 26 over the season for City. Hanson’s partnership with Wells was widely tipped as the best in both League Two and One and, had the Bermudian stayed, it’s not out of the question that City would be in the Championship. Wells scored 53 goals for City, 49 of which came when playing with Hanson.

So, why isn’t Hanson adored by City’s fan base? He has his supporters for sure, but he also has his fair share of criticism, which never seems far away when he goes a few games without a goal or experiences a dip in form.

Part of this has to be due to the ‘style of play’ perception that is attached to players of his nature and abilities. Hanson is better suited to a direct approach which Phil Parkinson has been criticised for by some sections of City’s support recently.

This also means it asks Hanson to perform a different role to players such as Wells and now Billy Clarke and Devante Cole. Whereas they have a licence to roam more and also put in arguably less of a defensive shift, Hanson is often asked to drop deep and attempt to win headers, particularly when City are defending a lead. This can often mean that he spends less time in the opposition box and more time just past halfway, trying to win headers and keep the ball.

It would also be fair to argue that City have failed to ever replace Nahki Wells properly (although Cole has shown early promise), which means that Hanson has lacked a playing partner with the intelligence of his game that Wells had. The two understood each other. How many times did a flick on from Hanson on the halfway line lead to a goal? How many times was Hanson left unmarked in the opposition box, as Wells would drag away two defenders?

Since Nahki’s departure, it is fair to say that James hasn’t played alongside another striker of this ilk. Billy Clarke, whilst being a very intelligent and talented player, doesn’t possess the pace or natural goal scoring instincts of Wells, whereas Hanson hasn’t yet been given time to develop a playing relationship with Devante Cole.

He’s also spent some time out on the left wing, as well as being asked to drop further back by Parkinson. This isn’t a criticism of the manager as such, although it is easy to see how a natural target man could potentially be disillusioned by being told to play on the left hand side. It certainly didn’t play to his strengths, as despite his best efforts, Hanson seemingly to lacks the attributes to be an effective asset out wide.

His hard work for the team is also easy to underestimate, as the space he can often create means more opportunities for the likes of Clarke and Cole and, unfortunately for Hanson, less for himself.

Admittedly, Hanson is having a tough time of it this season. Poor chances have been missed recently, whilst he seems to be having less of a general impact on play. Calls for Hanson to be dropped recently were fulfilled by Phil Parkinson, who brought in Steven Davies to replace him.

Many fans seemed happy with this change and the results also changed – three league games without Hanson, three wins on the bounce. Whilst this upturn cannot be wholly placed at the feet of Davies, it was some resurgence from a man who most City fans never wanted to see again, after five matches, to one who looks like creating something every time the ball goes near him.

However, Davies is still yet to score for City and a recent medial injury means he will be out for three months, which may pave the way for Hanson to work himself back into the first team. He played well against Wigan and scored, showing he is getting back to his best. Although he will face competition from a returning Billy Clarke.

One other thing massively changed this summer; City turned down two concrete bids from League One rivals Millwall for their big target man. This was bound to unsettle a man who’s only known City in his time in league football. If rumours are to be believed, Hanson gave the offers huge consideration.

Hanson is far from perfect. He’s not the best on the ground or with his feet, he can often go long periods of games without goals and his finishing sometimes frustrates City fans.

But James Hanson hassles defenders, works his socks off and scores double figures every season. He is exceptionally valuable, especially at this level. He can be frustrating, but he would be dearly missed if he were to leave this football club.

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Categories: Opinion

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11 replies

  1. I had a discussion about the pros and cons of Hanson with a work colleague only yesterday. Leaving aside his previous acheivements (mainly) in League Two which clearly give him a place in City folklore, I can’t help but feel his limitations as a player limit the team when he is the focus. Also his main strength, in the air, is more often now cancelled out by the way defenders have become wise to his threat, frequently doubling up, fouling him/drawing fouls from him. When was the last time you saw a Hanson flick on go to a City player? I can’t remember. Stephen Davies is not quite as tall as Hanson but seemed, to me, to have more success in holding the ball up and bringing in teammates in the games he started recently.
    If we are to progress further up the leagues we need more guile and intelligence, and maybe a little bit less brute force. You don’t have to be big to hassle defenders either – see Luke James. Hanson’s scoring record is not great, and whilst he does work extremely hard his main job is scoring goals. He misses too many sitters in my opinion, and is not creating chances for others often enough. A lighter, more mobile attack is more likely to benefit from the flourishing partnership between Lee Evans and Billy Knott. If I were manager (!), and a decent offer came in for Hanson in January, I’d take it.

  2. I was surprised to learn that Hanson was in the all time top 10 top goal scorers so I checked the stat and indeed he is! Not only that but if he keeps going at the rate he is we can expect him to score more than Dean Windass to move into third place next season sometime.

    Another stat that screamed at me is that of the 53 goals Nakki scores for us, 49 of them was with Hanson as a playing partner.

    Not everyone’s cup of tea but it says much that McCall, Taylor, Jackson and Parkinson have rarely left him out of the side when fit. I sometimes wonder whether the ‘local boy made good’ tag is a bit of a double edged sword for him, that and the fact that his style of play is now seen as unfashionable.

    He really does deserve to recognised as one of the clubs great servants and if he really is as limited a player as some of his critics will have us believe he can pack it all in tomorrow and look back at an extraordinary career. League cup finalist, play off finalist, FA cup quarter finalist, goals against Leeds, Villa, at Wembley, beating Wigan, Arsenal, Villa, Sunderland and, of course, Chelsea – the list goes on.

  3. I always wonder why James gets this stigma around him that he’s no good on the floor? .
    He’s far better than given credit for in that department.
    Let’s not forget James isn’t the one who decides the tactics but yet still gets hammer regards this long ball upto him.
    When confidence and results are low players do shy away from keeping the ball and hump the ball into the air for James to latch onto Leaving James going for the ball with not even 50/50 chance of finding another man.
    We’ve had so many new player’s brought into the club over the summer and injuries that I feel as yet we’re not playing to his strengths.
    Let’s remember the part James as played for our club….let’s get behind him because believe me when he’s gone he will be missed.

  4. I am unapologetically a big Hanson fan. I believe that his all-round contribution sets him apart from just about anyone else in the squad. All players have their strengths and weaknesses, and James is no different, and many teams would give their eyeteeth to have what he can offer at both ends of the pitch. PP has now a suite of attacking options (when they are fit), which means he has the competition that appears to be so important, and several different options available, and he has just shown – to great effect – that no one is undroppable. Perhaps James won’t start every game now, as he has done in the past, but that for me is an indication of the strength of the options available.

    So far as the ‘replacement for Nahki Wells’ theme goes, which is a common one still, Nahki was a one-off, and a club in L2 and L1 was simply lucky to have him – something similar is unlikely to happen again anytime soon. I mean, it’s not like Nahki himself was a replacement for the one before him is it? Cole is a decent ‘replacement’, with lots of good attributes, and he will improve as he strengthens and he works on his positional sense.

  5. Just want to clarify that despite my opinion stated above, I am not a ‘Hanson Hater’. It think his attitude is spot on, he has scored some fantastically memorable goas and he’s a City legend in my eyes. I have always backed him, always will. And I wasn’t blaming him for the tactics we employ with him in the team, but it seems that unless he is not in the team we will always play that way…

    • I think you’ve probably hit the nail on the head. People who are critical of James are probably critical of the style of football employed when he’s in the team rather than James himself, especially when its not working or getting results.

      The heartening thing this season is, when everyone is fit, we do have a plan B. We are a much more flexible outfit this time around. If James isn’t starting I don’t think its a reflection on him or his abilities, more of the options available to Parky for any given match.

      A more interesting debate would be whether people felt James could lead the line in the Championship and whether the style of play we employ when he is in the team would prosper in that type of environment. My heart says absolutely, my head says probably not.

  6. I am as much of a Hanson fan as any and I believe Wells would never have looked as good as he did st this level without him (and vice versa). They were a partnership made for each other and I thought mentioned to town supporters that they should have signed them both as the same tactic I felt would also work at the level above. Nakhis raw pace would make any flick on dangerous for defenders and Hanson would generally win most.

    He gets a lot of stick for his headers not being directed to City players but it is hard enough to win headers at this level when the easy option for a ref is to give a foul to the defence. The key is to keep the ball alive and as nakhi did gamble on everything. I think at the moment despite doing very well devante Cole seems a bit reluctant to do this. Perhaps he should be shown a few of nakhis DVDs and when he sees how he could benefit as a goal scorer he will soon gamble on everything.

    Having said that Hanson is no longer THE option as he has been in previous years but an option. Variety will be key and it is up to park you to get the times right to use him or not. It will be interesting to see how everyone is used when Clarke returns!

  7. Firstly, thanks for a great article which is creating debate and opinions which is what football is all about.

    I am a huge James Hanson supporter and his record playing for Bradford City speaks for itself. As others have stated, he formed an excellent partnership with Nakhi Wells, as did Lee Mills with Robbie Blake.

    If, and when Hanson, departs for pastures new it will only be then that some supporters will realise Hanson’s value to our team. Whilst his goals per game aren’t as prolific as Bobby Campbell or Dean Windass, Hanson has still scored plenty of goals for us and his contribution defensively shouldn’t be underestimated.

    I still feel that we haven’t been playing to Hanson’s strengths this season and by that I don’t mean the long high ball out of defence, I mean crosses into the box from wide areas. Reid, during his loan spell has produced some good crosses and Morris looked like a useful wide player before he got injured but for me, we need to see Motley-Henry playing as our right winger then Hanson might have more crosses to attack.

    I also feel that Hanson holds the ball up quite well and our central midfielders haven’t been close enough to him this season for him to lay off the ball to them.

    I hope that Hanson plays for us for many a season to come and wouldn’t it be ironic if he scores tomorrow against the team who wanted him playing for them.

  8. As an aside I took a look at England’s all time top goalscorers. Peter Crouch, who one would argue is most similar to Hanson at the top of the game, scored 22 goals off 42 games, only 2 behind Geoff Hurst who took 49 games to bag his goals.

    When talking about top England strikers few would put Crouch alongside Hurst and I think fashion, or aesthetics has a part to play in this. Similarly I think Hanson suffers from the same prejudices with some thinking he’s just a big lump up front. Those who do so clearly weren’t watching City when Stephen Torpey lead the line for the Bantams….

    As some have suggested I fear we will only truly appreciate James’ skill and attitude after he’s left the club.

  9. Alan Gilliver once said “Torpey will move for £1m one day”
    Well he did if you add all his transfer monies together, but my main point is that this “lump” made a good career out of the game, and probably still does in some capacity.
    As someone in an earlier post said several City managers have included Hanson in their line ups, and we often hear opposition managers comments about him.
    The point I am making is that you do not play as many games as Torpey, or Hanson if you are ineffective and you would struggle to make a good career out of the game if you were ineffective.
    Credit where credit is due, Hanson is a valuable player for us, and those who do not see his overall value dont understand the game.

  10. “Hanson is better suited to a direct approach”. says who?
    City defenders habitually resort to hoof ball whenever Hanson plays but I don’t recall him going back to his teammates beforehand and saying “just hoof the ball up to me straight from defence”. it’s simply a case of his teammates resorting to the easy option (for them) of lumping it forward time and again whenever he is leading the line. it’s up to the management team to eradicate this….not James Hanson.
    as to his partnership with Cole not being anywhere near as good as the Hanson/Wells partnership? devante has a lot to learn in this respect and is usually nowhere near or moving in the wrong direction when Hanson gets his knockdowns. they should be working on this together in training. to get it right, pratice makes perfect in being in the right place at the right time
    .

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