Issue Implosion avoided as the young Bantams come of age

As told by Jason Mckeown

The Team

Oscar Jansson | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Jack Compton | James Hanson, Mark Stewart | Nahki Wells

Perhaps Mark Lawn is being economical with the truth over the degree of influence and pressure he and his Boardroom colleagues placed upon Peter Jackson. But as it became obvious it was entirely the departed manager’s decision to quit, uneasy questions began to surface over the squad building he has overseen.

Just how bad were these players, to prompt someone apparently proud to manage them to quit after just five games in charge? Had he detected the ship is sinking and so clambered aboard the first lifeboat available before anyone seriously questions his leadership? When Barnet disrupted 15 minutes of promising home play by taking the lead this afternoon, the despair that flooded across Valley Parade weighed heavily.

Although at least the gloom didn’t last long, because James Hanson headed home an immediate equaliser that – in time – could be looked back upon as the crucial moment in City’s campaign. However, even during such a short period of time losing, the cracks of implosion could be heard. Barnet’s opener was almost an exact replica of Aldershot’s first in the opening day 2-1 defeat of the Bantams, with Guy Branston inexplicably allowing Ricky Holmes time and space to charge into the box and send a low cross that Izale McLeod couldn’t miss from. As the game restarted Branston’s next touch was greeted by a smattering of boos. The team was being turned upon by the loud minority. Yet again. Sigh.

Hanson’s goal halted the boos and frustration in the stands, while on the pitch it breathed belated confidence into a young side that in the past five games had simply been on the wrong side of narrow margins rather than humiliated. It was a goal of genuine quality, with Mark Stewart receiving the ball in the final third and expertly laying the ball off to wide man Chris Mitchell. His cross was superb, allowing Hanson to glance the ball into the net. From seemingly on the brink of panic, the corner was being turned.

In a match up between two teams better going forward then defending, City gradually began to take control with so many of the new faces in particular enjoying a season’s best performance. Stewart looked easily-bullied and weak in his two previous league starts; today he ran Barnet ragged with intelligent running and far greater strength on the ball. Liam Moore recovered from a poor start to enjoy a storming second half at right back. Ritchie Jones linked defence and attack up nicely, while Jack Compton was always a threat on the ball.

Ironically this was the same team set up and almost identical line up to the one which begun the season losing to Aldershot. Mitchell looked lost as wide right midfielder that day, but on his recall gave City the balance in midfield needed to allow them to increasingly dominate. He tucked in alongside Jones and the energetic Michael Flynn when an extra body was needed in the centre, and tracked back well to support Moore at moments Barnet tried going down the flanks. When City attacked, he popped up in different areas that included providing width on the right hand side. On this form he is the answer to a midfield conundrum that has plagued the club since dropping into League Two.

And there were his deliveries. His cross for Hanson’s equaliser was breathtaking. Early in the second half, Hanson’s excellent persistence earned City a free kick out wide which Mitchell delivered perfectly onto Branston’s head for 2-1. (And at this point let us say those who booed Branston had no right to cheer this goal.) Five minutes later Mitchell pick pocketed the full back for possession before firing across another glorious cross that Hanson tapped home for 3-1. It was a genuine surprise he wasn’t involved in the fourth goal that occurred early in stoppage time.

But Hanson was. All four of the goals included him. Substitute Nahki Wells may have robbed a defender, dribbled past another and slammed the ball home for a mightily impressive first senior goal, but Hanson’s bullying of his marker enabled it to happen. It was the kind of low-key contribution many fail to recognise the importance of as they slate target men like Hanson.

It’s hard to remember the last time the former shelf-stacker played as brilliantly as he did this afternoon. Yet still, at 3-1 up, numerous fans continued to get on his back and slag him off in the most derogatory of terms. It should leave every right-minded City fan angry enough to march over to the booers and rip their season tickets out their hand.

If you thought Hanson was poor today and so criticised him – you are a moron. End of. If you don’t like being labelled a moron, don’t read this site. I’m sick of people like you ruining the matchday experience and confidence of players for no obvious reasons other than selfish. The people who booed Branston today – who admittedly was at fault for both Barnet goals, that’s hardly the point – deserve to feel very stupid tonight too.

Back on the pitch, the difference in the players from kick off to full time was colossal. The Leeds game had showed the potential offered by the new-look squad, but doubts over where it really matters were finally eased by the way everyone grew in stature and confidence. Against such a turbulent backdrop in the immediate build up, caretaker manager Colin Cooper deserves immense credit for maintaining the players focus and should now figure in the Board’s thoughts if they haven’t already decided who will be next manager. In Jackson’s final two games he was apparently losing his way in team selection and tactics, Cooper brought back a level of organisation that laid the groundwork to an excellent performance.

A performance that could easily have included more goals. In the first half Compton, Stewart and Mitchell both came close with decent shots that flew just wide, while Hanson should have scored (boo!) from a looping Compton cross. Once 3-1 up in the second half City sat back more, but before Wells’ fourth Mitchell forced a smart save from long distance. The inside of the post was also rattled by Wells a minute after his goal.

Defensively there remain concerns with crosses into the box not dealt with well, though even in this area there was improvement as the game went on. Oscar Jansson made a solid home debut that included three excellent saves, but he was beaten by Mcleod for a second time deep in stoppage time to put a slight dampener on the afternoon.

Though the atmosphere – which grew positive from the moment Hanson equalised – remained stirring to the end. The minority digs at Flynn, Branston and Hanson drowned out by enthusiastic chanting. I can only speak for myself, but after the Leeds game and the brave way the players had attacked our bitter rivals I fell in love with this team. I struggle to recall a more honest, hard-working group of players since those halcyon days of 1998/99. For sure ability wise they are not the best, but for effort and determination I am desperate to see them succeed. We’ve had too many false dawns to get excited yet, but this really could be the start of something special.

Which makes the decision of Jackson to walk out all the more baffling. One wonders how he spent this afternoon and if he now regrets not giving it one more week. But most of all – as we enjoyed Stewart, Mitchell and others prosper instead of being replaced in the team by loan signings – one wonders whether Jackson falling on his sword might prove to be a blessing in disguise.