Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Goals Win Games

Howard Wilkinson once said ‘I am a firm believer that if you score one goal the other team have to score two to win’ and as obvious as that seems, it seems particularly fitting for Bradford City at the moment.

On Saturday City were much the better team. They controlled the game, the tempo and at times played football to a level which we haven’t seen at Valley Parade for some years now. It felt great to watch a team go out and attack, play positively and actively look to win the game. Yet City still didn’t win. In 7 games so far this season, City have scored 9 goals; 6 of which came in two games. Reducing the rest to 3 goals in 5 games; a paltry amount.

While this season is still new, and the play has been very encouraging, it seems City are still struggling for goals as they did last year. The play, despite being much improved has failed to yield more goals. Whether this is down to the service or the strikers is debatable. So far this season, numerous front lines have been seen; Stewart-Hanson-Compton, Hanson-Stewart, Hanson-Hannah, Hanson-Stewart-Hannah, Hanson-Devitt, Hanson-Rodney, Rodney-Hannah, Hanson-Wells etc... What we can see from this though, is that no partnership has been given any time to blossom.

Without a period of stability up front, it is unlikely that any striker - no matter how good or poor they may be – is going to be able to feel settled and perform to their maximum. It is no secret that Phil Parkinson wanted to add another striker to his ranks in the shape of Paul Benson before the window closed and if rumours are to be believed a signing this afternoon is in the pipelines.

Despite the apparent disruption up front with the numerous different line ups, the signing, if right, is key as the current forward crop is very inexperienced. Hanson, Hannah, Stewart, Rodney and Wells have something around 35 Football League goals between them – around 25 of them being Hanson’s – so it is blatantly obvious that an experienced head is needed up front. Oddly, Peter Jackson highlighted this in the summer, but either didn’t try, or failed to bring in an older head up front.

The addition of a wise old head up front would be immeasurable at this moment in time. It would take a lot of pressure off the front line. Ross Hannah still looks very raw, Mark Stewart while looking a good player is taking time to adapt from the Scottish game, Rodney and Wells have had limited game time and Hanson is coming in for criticism.

Hanson suffers from being the focal point of the strike force. While it is right to expect him to have improved and be more of a threat in what is now his third season as a professional, he never had an ‘easy’ bedding in period and was first choice almost from the word go. Bringing in an experienced striker would allow Hanson to perhaps take a back seat, reassess his game and come back a better player.

With the likes of Rory Fallon and Craig Fagan being linked to the club, Hanson may soon find his role slightly decreased, allowing him the period of reflection he badly needs. It could well be make or break for him as he becomes a more seasoned campaigner and imperative in his, hopefully, improvement.

I will admit I am not Hanson’s biggest fan, but if he can get a break from first team action, a refreshed and rejuvenated Hanson can be a big asset to Bradford City. If he plays as we know he can do, he brings others into the action, setting up and scoring goals. Something which he did very well in his first season at the club – and something I’m sure someone like Ross Hannah would thrive off.

Howard Wilkinson once said ‘I am a firm believer that if you score one goal the other team have to score two to win’ and he difference between this City team finish lower mid table or challenging for the play offs is goals. And the key to that is James Hanson and his fellow strikers. Hopefully Phil Parkinson can pull off his signing – it could be a key moment in the season. 
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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A Work in Progress

As Liam Moore clenched his fists with delight at the hard earned last gasp draw at Morecambe on Saturday, there was an odd feeling of joy tempered with despondency, having seen that City have dropped into the bottom four of the football league. A position, which compared to this time last season, is not too dissimilar.

Saturday couldn’t have started any worse for the team; having to stop off for food as the on coach cooker broke, and then getting caught up in traffic, delaying arrival until 2.30. These sorts of mishaps can often have a noticeable effect on the opening stages of the game, but perhaps aided by the atrocious conditions, City coped admirably as they shaded a weak first half with minimal chances.

City started the second half in a good manner, pinning back Morecambe for periods, but fell behind to a well struck shot from Izak Reid after a goalmouth scramble. A long range shot deceived everyone including keeper Matt Duke as it dipped to hit the bar. Two 6 yard blocks from Luke Oliver prevented a goal but the ball fell to Reid who smashed it home.

The goal came somewhat out of the blue and knocked City totally out of their stride. Having tried to play some football in the diabolical conditions, all City’s progressive work went out of the window as panic ensued and the long ball was resurrected. Allowing Morecambe to gain a strong grip on the game, it looked as it City would yet again come away from Morecambe pointless. But once again, as at Oxford, Ross Hannah came off the bench to secure a vital away point for the travelling masses. Now I love Hannah, his attitude is spot on but I don’t think he is ready to start games yet – he looks slow, weak and a little lost; all things which can be worked on - but one thing you cannot fault him for is his ability to be in the right place at the right time. Hannah seems to posses the lauded after ability of being the ‘fox in the box’ which means he will score goals given the service.

The table may make for similar reading when compared to this time last year, but the difference in attitude from the players, and fans, could not be more evident. This team encapsulates the determination of captain Guy Branston. It doesn’t know when it is beaten and won’t give up until the final whistle is blown. All very positive to see. And this was reflected in the celebrations; exuberance which hasn’t been seen in a long time – even including Robbie Threlfall accidentally taking out a fan who had encroached onto the pitch!

There were positives all over the pitch, particularly Kyel Reid and Jamie Devitt. Reid, despite clearly not being match fit, showed touches of class and when fully fit should be a menace to League Two right backs. And Devitt, who came on with 30 minutes to go, nearly scored twice and showed enough enthusiasm to pop up all over the pitch, often running off the front two as a support striker.

James Hanson remains an enigma, though. He comes in for a lot of undue criticism but equally receives vastly over the top praise and if we look at it objectively, he is an average League Two forward. However, following two impressive performances against Barnet and Sheffield Wednesday, including two goals, Hanson struggled to make any impact on Saturday. Admittedly, long balls pumped up to him while he is 35 yards from goal are far from perfect, but he rarely won a header, looked lost on the pitch and when he had a golden opportunity from 6 yards out, his header lacked conviction. Frustrating is not the word as we know what Hanson can be capable of, but into his third season as a pro now, he should be aiming for greater levels of consistency.

Follow this up next week with a win though and I think we can firmly believe City are heading in the right direction, two homes wins sandwiched either side of a point away from home is the hallmark of a good team. The slow start would be slowly forgotten about and considering the amount of upheaval in the last two weeks, this would represent excellent progress for the team.
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Thursday, 1 September 2011

Continuing the Continuity

Colin Cooper clearly wants to be a manager. He has admitted as much, and admitted that he wanted to be considered for the City position when it became available. Earlier this week, all the noises pointed towards Cooper also departing the club though, with Parkinson bringing in his own man. However, Cooper is staying and it is a good thing for all at Valley Parade.

Cooper is an incredibly well qualified coach – he has all the qualifications up to his UEFA Pro License – required to manage at the very top level, and City couldn’t ask for a better coach. Cooper stepped into the breach when Peter Jackson departed last week to maintain a level of continuity and stability for the players and things couldn’t have gone better for the caretaker boss. He led City to their first win this season – an emphatic 4-2 victory and managed to see City through to the second round of the JPT, knocking out higher level opponents.

Since stepping up to the role of boss, the players seem to have begun playing as we were promised in pre season – getting the ball down more regularly, playing it around on the floor. The return to fitness of Ritchie Jones has had a big part in this, as in the games he has played since being fit, he has looked a class act. He never panics on the ball and always looks to do something productive with it.

Back to Colin Cooper though, paired now with Phil Parkinson, gives City a management team that fills me with confidence. It would have been easy for Parkinson to let Cooper go – seeing him as a threat to his position in the long run – but keeping him now means the club have a young, well respected, progressive management team; a pair who could really lay the foundations for the clubs improvement and perhaps dare I say it, long awaited climb back up the league.

Cooper will be able to pass on a greater knowledge of the squad to Parkinson, and together they will hopefully be able to mould a team capable of competing in this league.

I am delighted he is staying and I hope it proves to be a long, fruitful stay at the club. 
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