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Bradford City striker James Hanson returns to bug home-sick hosts Aldershot
Aldershot Town 0 Bradford City 2
This walk in the park for City began with a jog round one.
The seeds for their third away win of the league campaign – and by far the most straight-forward – were sewn with an impromptu fitness session near the team hotel.
With traffic on the M1 brought to a standstill by an early-morning accident, City’s training plans for Friday went out of the window.
So instead, Phil Parkinson sent the squad out for a loosener around a local public park. Among the players shaking off the stiffness from being cramped up on a coach for hours on end, was one who had hardly seen fresh air all week.
James Hanson had effectively been in quarantine for five days since being laid low by a virus. Fearful of the germs spreading – Ritchie Jones had suffered something similar recently – Parkinson kept the big striker away from all contact with his team-mates.
Hanson was not able to train until Thursday – and even then he did a solo session in the afternoon once everyone else had gone home for the day.
But Parkinson took the risk of taking him south and sent him out jogging with the rest. Hanson looked drained afterwards – but his City boss knew he had made the right decision.
City minus Hanson had looked toothless against Chesterfield in midweek. If the big man fancied it, he was always going to play on Saturday.
Parkinson asked the question on the morning of the game and got the response he’d hoped for. Then Hanson backed it up with a battering-ram performance that had Aldershot’s defenders running for cover.
You wouldn’t have known that he had lost weight and been drained of energy in the days leading up to it. He won everything in the air – and his presence galvanised City into a dominant display.
His toughest opponent was sat neutralised in the home dug-out. Guy Branston would have relished a no-holds barred contest but at the moment he can’t seem to buy an appearance from Dean Holdsworth, a manager who is surely on borrowed time.
Aldershot were truly dreadful; a side living down to their league position.
Somehow they had scrapped together a four-game unbeaten run going into the weekend. But they have still won only one league home game – and that was against Barnet, the side locked alongside them at the bottom.
Since that rare high, they have not scored in the last five league outings on their own patch – almost eight hours of nothingness.
That drought never looked like ending against a City side who meant business. Parkinson had called on them to exploit the psychological barrier of being at the foot of the division and they went about the job in clinical fashion.
Holdsworth threw on three different strikers in the second half but none of them threatened to penetrate a back four orchestrated by the excellent Rory McArdle.
His newly-formed central partnership with John Egan has now yielded two clean sheets. While never over-stretched, they had more useful employment than during the Chesterfield bore draw and got everything done with the minimum of fuss.
Egan, his game forged on a no-nonsense background of Gaelic football, looked strong and powerful in the air. McArdle was the composed figure at his side, mopping up any hint of danger.
Matt Duke has conceded only one goal in the four games since he replaced Jon McLaughlin. This was not his most convincing form but he was well covered by those around him, none more so than when Stephen Darby kicked Danny Hylton’s goal-bound effort back off the line with the keeper left in no man’s land by a poor punch.
That was Aldershot’s one moment of menace, in between the two City goals, and it was swiftly dealt with.
At the other end, Hanson was claiming headers and flick-ons for fun.
One nearly teed up Will Atkinson, then keeper Jamie Young produced a blinding reaction save from Nathan Doyle after Hanson had taken out two defenders.
But Aldershot were the authors of their own downfall, with both goals coming from defensive blunders.
The first was left back Sonny Bradley, who got the ball stuck under his feet as he thought about a back pass. It squirted a couple of yards behind him and Nahki Wells pounced, striding clear to beat Young with a calculated finish.
The Bermudian almost added to his tally straight away with a cross which Bradley missed completely as he tried to clear, the ball instead fizzing past the far post with the keeper helpless.
Wells got in again but dinked his shot the wrong side of the post after drawing the keeper out of his goal.
But then another Aldershot gift. Skipper Ben Herd coughed up possession on the right of the box and Hanson found himself with just Young to beat.
His shot was parried across the six-yard box, where Wells had all the time in the world to control and tap home.
There were still six minutes of the first half left but Aldershot had drawn up the white flag.
It was the first time City had been two up at the break on their travels since Northampton last April, the afternoon that Wells went on to bag a hat-trick.
He had the chance to repeat that late in the second half – and was only denied by the woodwork.
The build-up again typified City’s spirit. A corner was cleared 30 yards from danger, where James Meredith was at full stretch to propel it straight back.
With all home eyes on Hanson, nobody reacted to the bouncing ball, which allowed Wells to shape his body for an overhead kick which pinged against Young’s left upright.
A third goal would have confirmed City’s superiority but that’s a minor quibble from an afternoon that restored their place among the front-runners.
Aldershot away has traditionally been a grim trek. City have lost all four visits since the Hampshire club regained their league status in 2008.
They hadn’t even scored in the previous three games there – Lee Bullock netted City’s last goal.
Hanson was part of the team beaten by three successive 1-0s. He may not have got his own name on the scoresheet on Saturday but nobody did more to put that record to bed.