Match review: Bradford City 1 (Meredith) Millwall 1
By Jason McKeown
The characters rotate but the plot remains the same. File this performance and result alongside Bury, Scunthorpe, Walsall, Charlton…all the way back to Port Vale on the opening day of the season. A fine attacking display that was pleasing on the eye, but second half dominance failed to yield more than a share of the points. Eat, Sleep, Draw, Repeat.
If this fast-paced encounter carried the weariness of feeling as though you were watching a TV repeat, attempts to concentrate on the game weren’t aided by the off-the-field shock that a mainstay character is on the brink of saying goodbye. News of James Hanson’s proposed move to Sheffield United began to circulate on Friday. Hanson spent the afternoon in Sheffield discussing personal terms, whilst Stuart McCall hastily worked on restructuring the team shape for the visit of Millwall.
WOAP understands the deal is not yet agreed between the two clubs, and that the proposed structure of paying the transfer fee may ultimately cause Bradford City to walk away.
When you’ve been struggling to keep pace at the top because of a shortage of goals, selling one of your best strikers to the league leaders certainly isn’t the obvious solution. The clinical, business rationale for why City are close to agreeing to sell Hanson is they can earn a decent fee for a player who, in a few months time, might walk away for nothing. And when everyone is fit and other January transfer business is done, Hanson might not be a guaranteed starter anyway.
But such arguments should surely be superseded by what one man thinks: the manager. WOAP understands Stuart McCall wants James Hanson to stay, and that he sees the club’s longest-serving player as part of his plans. However, not everyone may share his view. The owners – who, despite holding preliminary talks last autumn, have not offered Hanson a new contract – will make the final decision.
If there is a difference of opinion over keeping hold of Hanson, it sets a worrying precedent. Whatever your partisan thoughts on Hanson’s value, is it healthy for any manager to be denied final say on which players are kept? McCall will continue to be judged on results, but if the wrong players are brought in by the transfer committee – or others depart against his wishes – how fair on him is that? And with a whole heap of City players out of contract in the summer, disagreements could lie ahead.
At the moment Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp must weigh up deciding whether to sell an effective striker with just 10 days of the transfer window to go, without a replacement lined up. Not to mention the efforts to bring in a forward on top of this anyway. If City were sat in midtable, harbouring only faint promotion hopes, it might make complete sense to cash in. But if allowing Hanson to leave seriously risks undermining City’s play off hopes, the sum of money raised will be of slim comfort.
McCall did his best to sound upbeat when quizzed about Hanson after the match, but at one point stated, “You know as much as I do if I’m honest.” That is a worrying comment. Over the summer McCall, Rahic and Abbott presented a united front, all working on the same page; but now there are signs of gaps between them. McCall also revealed that a Championship club made an enquiry for Hanson a week ago, and suggested news of Sheffield United’s interest might trigger more bids.
That Hanson might be about to leave upwards demonstrates just how highly he really is valued. The supporter debate about his worth continues to rage on; but within football itself there is less doubt. Hanson will never be a great goalscorer, but he continues to be a match winner on his day – see Wimbledon away and Northampton home this season. It’s a lot to lose. The club needs to think very, very carefully about this one.
Certainly Neil Harris – who 18 months ago tried to sign Hanson – appreciates the striker’s worth. After the game he revealed how pleased he was when he found out Hanson would not be lining up against his Millwall team. In the first half at least, the visiting backline had a comfortable time of things. With Billy Clarke not yet fit, McCall had to pick a front two with plenty of pace but no physicality.
That duo included Mark Marshall, who was moved up the park for the second time this season. The longer the game went on, the better Marshall was. In the second half especially he ran the Millwall defence ragged. He was the focal point of all that was good about Bradford City. This was probably his best home display of the season, and his effectiveness in this role offers a useful alternative to McCall. “I’d offer him a 10-year contract,” the manager mused after.
Yet if Marshall thrived as a winger playing in a less natural striker position, what can be said about the natural forward who played alongside him? Alex Jones had a game to forget, and struggled to make any impression save from a decent run and shot midway through the first half. It is very early days in his City career, but Jones’ lack of senior experience actually playing up front is showing. It’s starting to become clearer why Port Vale used him as a winger.
City improved when Jones was replaced by Jordy Hiwula, who nearly settled a tight contest with a terrific charge from deep that saw him beat two defenders and fire a low shot that was blocked by Millwall keeper Jordan Archer. This came during a final half hour where City were camped out in Millwall’s half, but they couldn’t find a winner. In total the Bantams had 61% of the ball and 22 shots on goal to the visitors’ eight.
Not that the game was one-sided. Millwall arguably shaded the first half, as City – who in a Hanson-triggered reshuffle ended up playing three centre backs – were sloppy and slow to set the tempo. Colin Doyle made a couple of excellent saves, and the restored Rory McArdle and Matt Kilgallon were kept busy alongside Nathaniel Knight-Percival. Kilgallon was excellent, and it is desperately sad for the experienced centre half that a popped shoulder forced him to go off after only half an hour. An extended run in the team beckoned.
McCall had hoped to play 3-5-2 with James Meredith and Tony McMahon as wing backs, but Millwall winger Fred Onyedinma caused problems on the right, forcing Meredith back. It was curious that Neil Harris opted to take Onyedinma off midway through the second half, although perhaps it was punishment for the Nigerian failing to track Meredith when he was left free in the box to equalise and cancel out Lee Gregory’s opener.
With Josh Cullen, Nicky Law and latterly Timothee Dieng working well as a middle three – Law playing in the hole in-between midfield and forwards – there was much to commend about the formation. It will be interesting to see if McCall opts to use it again for next week’s trip to struggling to Oldham.
Before that on Tuesday, City go to Oxford in the Checkatrade Trophy on the same evening that Sheffield United host a rampant Fleetwood in League One. We wait with baited breath to see which game James Hanson will be at.
Categories: Match Reviews