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.