The right mentality and character lifts battling Bradford City into promotion contention

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Bradford City 1

Hanson 45

Blackpool 0

Tuesday 3 November, 2015

By Jason McKeown

This was the moment when Bradford City pulled themselves up from underneath the radar and into the promotion race. Where a slow start to the campaign turned into a decent one. Just as the league table truly settles down and takes shape, it makes encouraging reading for Bantams supporters.

Through this hard-working victory – their game in hand – City moved to within three points of the play offs. A top nine team, in the hunt for a top six placing. From that awful opening of one point in three games, they have now lost only twice in 13.

Hard to beat, and victors here despite being short of their best. They were by some distance the better side, limited largely by their own ambition rather than Blackpool’s fight. 1-0 scorelines rarely seem comfortable, but this was one such instance. Blackpool rarely threaten to come back from James Hanson’s goal on the stroke of half time.

Indeed apart from the lively Jack Redshaw, there were no crumbs of comfort Blackpool here. They were a desperately poor side and unquestionably the weakest opposition that City have faced so far this campaign. Blackpool’s off the field woes of the last 18 months are well documented, and on this evidence they have resulted in a spirit-less team playing with little heart. They are heading along a long dark path and it is one that City know only too painfully themselves. You feel for their beleaguered and disillusioned supporters.

With an under-resourced team to choose from, the Blackpool manager, Neil McDonald, was reduced to following the path of Sam Allardyce, who McDonald ably assisted for many years. Men behind the ball, crude percentage-based long balls forward, and time-wasting tactics before the game was even half an hour old. They frustrated City for a time but never with enough conviction to suggest they would head back to the West coast with a clean sheet. It was a matter of when, not if, the home team would score.

Hanson almost did in the second minute when he got on the end of a devilish Kyel Reid cross and headed just wide. Hanson’s strike partner, Devante Cole, cleverly spun in the box and hit a fiercesome shot that forced Blackpool keeper Colin Doyle into a wonderful tip over. Then right on half time, the former Tangerines’ utility man, Tony McMahon, sent over a delightful corner, and Hanson barged through a crowd of people, powerfully heading the ball home for his 79th goal for the club. Blackpool’s containing operation had failed.

Hanson was outstanding all night. He led the line with power and authority, bullying defenders, who could not match his physicality. His torrid September is already a distant memory. Since that poor performance at Colchester that led to demotion, Hanson has responded with great character and played well, either when coming off the bench or – since Steve Davies’ injury – when back in the starting XI.

Hanson’s critics have had a field day this season, lining up to take pot shots when he went through his dip in form. But, yet again, such people are being made to look foolish. Those who take this strange, perverse glee in continually writing off the big striker are akin to Wile E Coyote setting up an Acme trap to defeat Roadrunner. Sooner or later it will blow up in their faces, as Hanson makes them eat their words. Why, really, is anyone surprised to see him prove the doubters wrong yet again?

In the second half City remained solid and uncompromising, if lacking in sparkle. That description is equally apt to their season so far. With the exception of the Kyel Reid show at Rochdale, the Bantams have yet to play with great attacking verve since August, and they have struggled to play much football that leaves you perched on the edge of your seat.

It has instead proven a time of getting back to basics. Grinding out the points. Taking draws over taking too many risks. Preserving leads rather than racking up goals. It is proving effective, and City played some good football at times here, but the champagne stuff is yet to come.

Partly it is due to an unwillingness to commit too many bodies forward. Even at 0-0 and with a need to get a goal, Billy Knott and Lee Evans held deep positions rather than bursting into the box. Reid was the only player to carry the ball forward. Alongside Hanson, Cole toiled hard and there were signs of a greater understanding of his partner’s flick ons, but he needed more home players around him to link up with. Cole is increasingly doing the right things without convincing onlookers that he is enjoying himself.

Perhaps if referee Andy Haines had been more prepared to make decisions, Cole would have enjoyed greater space to operate in. Early in the second half a ball was launched over for Hanson to run onto, and he was illegally held back by Clark Robertson, who was the last man. It looked a clear red card, but Haines elected to wave play on. That was the story of Haines’ night, as he let lots of decisions go. The result was a more entertaining, high tempo game, but on another day such inaction could seriously affect the outcome of a match.

With 11 men still on the field, Blackpool threatened sporadically and David Norris hit a powerful effort just past the post. Former City loanee Mark Cullen headed another chance just wide, but in general the Bantams back four enjoyed a comfortable night. They even handled the disruption of losing the excellent Reece Burke through injury, with Nathan Clarke slotting in well and continuing his redemption.

City’s defensive solidity also meant Ben Williams was rarely tested, save for a decent first half stop and some strong punches clear from crosses in the box. With Brad Jones’ three-game interlude coinciding with those September back-to-back defeats, Williams is undefeated in the league since August 19th. He is winning over his doubters but there are still those who continue to nit-pick and criticise him. Now the undisputed number one and deservedly so, it is surely time that his Valley Parade public truly got behind him. He has earned out trust.

Back-to-back clean sheets are certainly commendable, as is the way in which City are picking up positive results as a matter of routine. Phil Parkinson has spent much of this season talking about mentality, and every player has got the message. The impressive manner that the team is organised is clear testament to hours of hard work on the training pitch.

It has been a bumpy opening third to the season, but now it is all coming together. City are fighting for promotion, the slow recovery is complete. There is much still to do to stay up there, and some very strong competition for the top six places, but they have a chance now, when early doors many of us were saying there was none.

Of course, improvement will be needed to push on. The backbone is now in place, and it needs to be married with greater attacking flair and prowess. City don’t score enough goals and don’t create enough chances to score. They need to build on this, or otherwise there will be too many draws along the way, and that will likely keep City on the wrong side of the dotted line.

The return of Billy Clarke – he came on for the final 10 minutes and was lively – will help. For how well Tony McMahon is playing, it will be welcome to see Josh Morris back to fitness to fight him for the right winger spot. Parkinson’s rotation of Billy Knott and Gary Liddle for home and away games is sensible, but Knott especially needs to produce more going forward. Hanson and Cole have five goals each now, and Billy Clarke will chip in with plenty. But where else will the goals come from?

Such concerns are for another day, as for now City should enjoy their loftiest position of the season and can look forward to some tasty late November clashes with promotion rivals after the nice distraction of Aldershot in the FA Cup. These are potentially exciting times for Bradford City, and tonight was another big step in the right direction.

City: Williams, Darby. McArdle, Burke (N Clarke 69), Meredith, McMahon, Evans (Liddle 70), Knott, Reid, Hanson, Cole (B Clarke 79)

Not used: Cracknell, Leigh, Marshall, James

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Categories: Match Reviews

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18 replies

  1. Superb report, only nitpicking they are west coast not east !

    • Thanks John! I should really have got that right given I was in Blackpool the other day. The map must have been upside down 😉

  2. I think the injuries to wingers have seriously affected our forward play but the resoluteness is in itself comforting in some ways and Tony McMahon has been vital to our upturn in fortunes IMO.

    Ps Brad Jones not Ben.

  3. I think PP needs to have a word with Cole. Whilst not a heinous crime, he should be clapping the fans when going off. He might be frustrated at coming off but he hasn’t scored in 4 games and they’re still showing their support and patience.

    He might be young but it’s things like that that will ingratiate him with the supporters and keep them onside through rough patches in the future.

    • I thought Cole was gutted to go off and I did feel bad for him as I don’t think he deserved to. He will have been desperate to score and late on probably would have felt there would still be opportunities to do so.

      It was more worrying how Lee Evans reacted to being taken off. He could not hide his anger at his manager, and it’s not the first time this has happened.

      • Admittedly, I haven’t seen any of these other than Cole’s substitution vs Blackpool on a video online. However, on the radio they’ve mentioned it about Cole a few times.

        I can imagine it is very frustrating to come off because you know you can no longer influence the game but you’d think he’d appreciate the fans’ support at the time and make a tiny bit of effort to look up and clap them! It really isn’t asking much! Maybe the fans should just be silent next time and then see how he feels about it….

        As for Evans, suggestions of a rough time in his private life right now? Might just add to his frustration but he’s also fairly young and can learn to control his emotions better perhaps.

      • Also…another way to look at it is that it’s a squad game and Billy Clarke needs game time. Hanson was playing well and it would have been harsh (and daft?) to bring him off. The substitution made a lot of sense within the context of the game and maybe Cole should just be glad he’s starting!

    • We should judge players on their contribution on the pitch.

  4. What James Hanson did last night he did very well, he even won a free kick within the first five minutes.

  5. Another win, we shouldn’t be churlish but our inability to finish teams off when well on top continues to be a worry. after all, this was Blackpool for goodness sake! had we scored a second (and maybe even a third) goal there would have been no need for the last five minutes to resort to the time wasting tactic of taking the ball to the corner flag and, even when we got a corner near the end, refusing to get the ball across into the box. more goals and this would be unnecessary.

    • Snap with Cole not clapping the fans as he went off. Did that against Millwall on Saturday and wasn’t impressed. Obviously disappointed to get subbed and he is still young and raw but he does need to respect the fans more in that sense.

      • His dad a similar sort of surly looking attitude, I would take it as a sign of frustration it’s just his body language. I’ve no problems with not clapping.
        As for his play, he seems to struggle more the further away from goal he is, and as City never really get that close to the goal in open play it doesn’t help. At some point in the season they’ll open up a bit more and we’ll see more of him but I feel that Clarke is a better option at this point.

        With Evans, he’d just been booked and was looking wound up so he was taken off for his own protection as much as anything.

  6. Did the referee play on when Hanson was dragged back? I thought he, and the linesman on Midland Road, decided there was nothing to see here.

    • Yes. The referee looked at the linesman and the linesman looked at the referee and they mutually seemed to decide that it would be best if they pretended that they hadn’t seen anything.

  7. There were a number of times when the referee looked to linesmen for support – they have a cross pitch view while he is looking head-on. They either missed or ignored decisions that were clearly in our favour – or maybe I was wearing my City-tinted glasses and they weren’t. Still, a good win.

  8. ‘Why, really, is anyone surprised to see him prove the doubters wrong yet again?’

    I, for one, haven’t been proved wrong at all. Only I see no difference between his ‘torrid September’ and what I’m seeing now. The only exception being the fact he’s actually managed to score a goal (HUSSAR! A centre-forward that scores a goal. Who’d a thunk it?). Does the midfield get forward and link with Hanson in the final third? Nope. Does Hanson kill the ball stone dead, turn and run at defenders? Nope. Does Hanson score goals on a regular basis? Nope. Does Hanson play in team mates with the odd cute pass or create chances in general for his team mates? Nope. Does Devante Cole or any other poor sap that gets lumbered with him look like a fish out of water when they have to play alongside him? Erm, actually, yes, yes they do.

    With regards to his hold up play. It’s as though Jon Stead had never been here. Forget his age and what he can’t do. Jon Stead could kill a football stone dead in any situation and make a pass to feet anywhere on the pitch. His first touch was sublime and his team mates knew he could be relied upon to keep possession and or give them the ball back if so required. They just can’t do that with James and because of that our style of play is severely restricted. It simply beggars belief that there are people sat in the stands at VP that think James is good at holding the ball up. They can’t have ever kicked a ball in their lives, they just can’t. Jim got a round of applause against Blackpool after playing the ball back to Darbs on the edge of our box from the halfway line which he had to do because he’d mis-controlled the ball and it had bounced six foot off his chest. They’re probably the same fans that enthusiastically applaud an opposition defender kicking the ball out for a throw-in. It’s pitiful. I’m not lying when I say this but I had a better first touch and was better at holding the ball up when I was 17 and being kicked black and blue by assorted hairy arsed psychopaths in the County Amateur League.

    People can bury their heads in the sand and continue to wax lyrical about former glories as much as they like. Some of us think there’s a better and more attractive way of playing football and we would like to see a player ‘up top’ that would be central to that. It’s time to move on. ‘Dark age football’ is dead and I’m sure the chairmen of Bradford City and Devante Coles Father would agree with me.

    • I agree with your assessment of some of Jon Stead’s strengths, and I loved watching him last season. But…….

      Could Jon Stead score with his head? Nope. Was Stead a dangerous threat at corners? Nope. Could Stead help defend a corner like Hanson? Nope. Could Stead play for longer than 60 minutes? Nope. This is a pathetic line of argument isn’t it? Erm, actually, yes, yes it is.

      Pick out some ideal, even though your conception of that ideal person is flawed, and then identify all comparable shortcomings. Really, why bother? Have you not yet noticed that football is a team game, and that different players contribute in widely differing ways? You clearly don’t rate Hanson in any way at all, but blindly knocking him like this is crude and unhelpful, and says a lot about the nature of your ‘support’ for City. It also shows-up your ignorance of the sorts of things that might be constructive either to debate or the player himself.

    • Hi Gary

      I think the first thing to say about your comment is that if you can’t tell the difference between Hanson’s performances in September and October, you are probably pre-judging the player in a negative light and determined to come to your own conclusions. There are current City players who I do not necessarily rate, but you have to acknowledge when people are playing better, even if you think they still have limitations. The fact you haven’t means this comes across as an anti-Hanson rant without any balance or rational judgement.

      The comparison with Jon Stead is interesting and I wrote about it during the summer. I fully agree that Jon Stead’s hold up play and particularly his work with his back to goal is a lot better than Hanson. But to me James Hanson has different strengths where he was better than Stead, such as running onto things and winning headers. I think with our high tempo approach Stead could occasionally slowed down the play unnecessarily, whereas Hanson contributes more in the way Parkinson often wants City to play.

      (And let’s not forget that when Hanson was dropped and Steve Davies came in, City continued to play the same way and be direct, so let’s cut out this argument that playing Hanson forces everyone else to play long ball football.)

      But I think the big flaw in your argument is you are comparing Hanson unfairly with Stead at his very best. For a long time last season Stead was brilliant for City and the fact Hanson couldn’t get in the team and was later shifted out wide said a lot. You could see why Stead has played in the Premier League. He was excellent. However, Stead’s flaw was his lack of consistency over a period of time. I thought Stead was very poor March to May, and his league goal tally overall was disappointing. I believe (but correct me if I’m wrong) that Hanson’s goal ratio is slightly better overall.

      It might sound unkind but it’s not meant to be – ultimately Stead reminded me of Barry Conlon. Both could be outstanding on their day (relatively speaking) but struggled to sustain it and could be very indifferent. So yes we can all romanticise about Stead’s great moments and his performance vs Chelsea, but you have to remember those many other not so good days too. Ultimately, to me it was a no brainer not to keep him in the summer. His wage demands were high and we couldn’t rely on him week in week out.

      I think it says a heck of a lot that Stead is now playing in League Two with Notts County (and not pulling up many trees). Meanwhile Hanson spent the summer the subject of strong interest from Millwall. Stead is only 32, so age is not a massive factor in my opinion. Hanson will never hit the career heights of Stead in terms of playing Premier League football, but he is a very good player at this level. I’m sorry but he is. If you want to select the best player at their very best, I agree Stead wins. But for week in week out consistency, Hanson is better.

      Lastly, I don’t think it does your argument any favours to compare yourself to Hanson when you played in the Amateur League. I’m sorry but you are not as good as James Hanson, and your first touch is not better. If you think I’m wrong, ask Parky if you can play on Saturday in front of James.

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