Jones and the rage against the dying of the light

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, Carl McHugh, Matthew Bates | Kyle Bennett, Gary Jones, Matthew Dolan, Adam Reach | Aaron McLean, James Hanson | Gary Thompson

When Gary Jones scored City’s equaliser with five minutes left of a blustery scrap at Valley Parade it seemed that the Bantams may be set to lay siege to the Crewe Alexandra goal for a winner in a game which the visitors never trailed it but ultimately went home happy.

Instead City seemed exhausted and the game ended with little more to report. Having refused to be beaten twice it looked very much like Phil Parkinson’s team could not muster much more. Bradford City – it seems – have reached a limit.

Looking down the teamsheet at the number of new or younger players in the side one might think that Parkinson has come to the same conclusion. He gave Carl McHugh a start to allow the young defender to show what he can do. McHugh misjudged controlling the ball with his head a dozen minutes into the game and Uche Ikpeazu steamed past him to lob home an opening goal.

McHugh floundered in tough conditions. Fingers were pointing at left back Matthew Bates in the murmuring of supporters but McHugh as central defender failed to command his part of the backline all afternoon and will have to step up his level of performance to turn potential into progress as a player.

Similar improvement is needed for Kyle Bennett who looked as lost a player on the right flank as one can recall. Bennett – as with a good few of his team mates – is ostensibly playing for a contract at Bradford City next season but proved very easy to defend against for the visitors and offered little for his teammates to find useful. He represented neither an outlet to pass to for the midfield or a danger when on the ball. The combination of these failings meant that much of the progress down the right in the first half resulted in long, raking balls to no one.

Bennett needs to do a single thing well to start being useful and I’d suggest that thing would be to improve possession when he gets it rather than cheaply giving it away either to an easy tackle or a wayward shot.

Better was Adam Reach who needs to get involved more but shows signs of attempting to do that. In the second half he combined well with fellow Middlesbrough loanee and debutant Matthew Dolan who had a better second half prompting play and able to say at the end of the game that the two Crewe goals and most of the attacking play came from going around his position rather than through it.

Ikpeazu’s second came after City had taken the game to Crewe but been caught with an extremely high line which Stephen Darby was outpaced to exploit. It sparked a revival that manifested itself as Aaron McLean turned back a ball across the box for James Hanson to thump in from eight yards.

A minute later and Hanson’s leap found McLean who used the strength he offers over Nahki Wells to tuck the ball back to Jones. A well hit shot and the power given by a fierce wind did the rest.

That Mathias Pogba scored for Crewe seemed to go against the spirit of proceedings as City launched a series of assaults. James Hanson spurned the best chance after he had taken and beaten the impressive Mark Ellis (different one, me thinks) only to fire over and it seemed that City lacked the ruthlessness that Crewe were showing.

Crewe, for what it is worth, seemed a surprisingly unsophisticated outfit firing balls forward to big, fast attacking players. After the years of Dario Gradi one got used to the idea of the Railwaymen playing good football. Nothing lasts forever.

Nothing at all.

To watch Gary Jones is to highlight City’s problems. I’m often mystified by modern football’s desire to make definitive judgements on events in progress. Jones – one is alternatively told – is either past it and needs to be replaced or he had fuel left for more and perish the thought he would ever not be in the midfield.

For me the joy of watching Jones is seeing how he valiantly pushes back the drawing of the night. There will come a day when Jones no longer should take his place in the City midfield but that day was not today.

He got to a flick back – the Hanson/McLean partnership starting to create goals – and lashed the ball low and long to nestle into the back of the goal.

Jones represent the state of the team at the moment. The limitations are obvious but the character is to push those limits as far as they can be. To play in the way Jones does that says that for all the sight of dark you will rage against the night.

The aforementioned Wells talked about crying the day he left City because he would miss the team which is already breaking up.

It’s impossible to know how many more vociferous moments Parkinson’s team of 2013 before it’s last hurrah but Jones’ arrowed strike was one of them.

How good is James Hanson?

When a shelf stacker and Guiseley forward put a couple of goals past Bradford (Park Avenue) on new year’s day two years ago one has to wonder if the people at the other Leeds/Bradford game asked the question “How good is James Hanson?”

For sure he had – by all accounts – dominated the Park Avenue defenders but – like Hanson – they were part times and while the Guiseley looked good he did not stride the field like a Colossus. Eventually Mark Ellis had a whisper to Stuart McCall who took him to Bradford City where he became top scorer in his first season.

When watching England beat Hungry on Wednesday night most of the discussion around our sofa was on the young players called up by Fabio Capello and the ramifications of that. There was a contention – by yours truly – that Newcastle United’s much coveted Andy Carroll should have been given a call up. Others thought that (amongst other things on a lively night of discourse) a player could not be judged as good enough for the England side if he had not been proven good enough in the Premier League.

So the question formulated that if Carroll might be considered good enough on the basis of a season not competing against the top class of English football how good could Hanson be?

Rewind to Hanson’s first season at Valley Parade and one recalls on many occasions turning to those around and exclaiming with an amazement that “that guy just does not lose headers!”

Indeed Hanson – when fit and on form – is uncanny in his abilities to rise high, win the ball and feed it accurately to his team mates. Ball winning was a Barry Conlon thing but Barry did not win as often, nor did he head it as accurately, nor did even he put in the effort of James Hanson and when watching last season’s player of the season very few would have put the limits on him that were placed on Conlon.

Conlon – it was said – had to have his best game to be as good as the rest of the side and “good enough” for League Two. Hanson – thus far – has not come up against a League Two defence where he did not enough the balance of play. Long may his superb attitude continue because – at the moment – one doubts that League Two is poising different problems than that game with Park Avenue.

Then came Nottingham Forest a team that – were it not for the randomness of the play-offs – be in the Premier League and the squad to go with it. Hanson – a half time sub – enjoyed as good a return against the twice European Champions as he did against League Two sides, and did in his non-league days. He won more in the air than one would expect against a League Two side, let alone a side who have pretensions for the Premier League.

So how good is James Hanson? Tongue in cheek one might say that if Andy Carroll might wear the three lions then why not give Hanson a call up? If one does not believe that having played in the top flight is essential for England honours – and Steve Bull‘s five in thirteen suggest that a player who has not been at the highest level can offer something to England – then perhaps the national management should be looking at the League Two players who impressively play up when facing a side from a higher division. Scalability in football play is a rare concept.

Returning to the question in hand – and not suggesting that he should be partnered with Wayne Rooney next game – how good is James Hanson?

Certainly he has proved himself able at levels lower than League Two and at League Two itself. His first game against a higher opposition did not curtail his progress so perhaps all one can say is that so far we have yet to see a ceiling on his abilities.

Perhaps though for an answer to the question we need to look not at ourselves, but at the stars. The younger stars of Nottingham Forest that is who were used that night and that manager Billy Davies described as having things come to easy to. Davies’ criticism that a young player has the big car and the nice house too early at his club and as a result they lack the hunger makes a sharp contrast to the two City goalscorers on the evening.

As Davies bemoans the BMWs that his teenagers drive Hanson and fellow goal getter David Syers and men of the match Jon McLaughlin Steve Williams know that a failure will take them back to the days of part time football and a day job. If they ever drive a BMW it is because they have rewarded themselves for a lot of hard work by replacing the broken down Skoda.

There is something utterly refreshing about watching Hanson, Syers, McLauglin and Williams play. When asking how good one of these players can be then the answer is something of a cop out – they can be as good as they want to be.

At present there is a debate on McLaughlin and if he is “good enough” as if this were a binary situation and one which should the player kick back and stop making the effort that has put in him in the position he is in now he would remain at the level he is now.

It is an excellent attitude which has brought them into league football and that same attitude that saw them as the core members of a team which beat Nottingham Forest. Maintain that attitude and it is hard to set a limit on what they can achieve, lose it and they will stop being “good”.

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