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James Hanson back to his Bradford City best as Bantam menace
City 3, Cheltenham 1
Phil Parkinson is delighted to change the record at last.
It has been the same old song in recent weeks – a tune of heartbreak and missed opportunity; chances going begging; points slipping away.
Bittersweet lyrics along the lines of not getting what you deserve.
The City boss was getting sick of saying the same thing. The fans were no doubt equally fed up of hearing it.
So everyone welcomed the upbeat version of press conference that followed a first win for five league games. A beaming Parkinson could talk about a performance built around determination and resilience – and, finally, the result to match.
This was as good a three points as City have earned all season. It wasn’t just the joy and relief at putting paid to the recent hiccup but the quality of the opposition that they had tamed.
Not to mention the fact that the Bantams had to do it the hard way by coming from behind against a team that were previously unbeaten away from Whaddon Road.
Sides like Cheltenham are tough to break down at the best of times. Give them a goal start and they slip into uber-spoiler mode.
It would have been easy for City’s heads to drop when Marlon Pack drilled the visitors in front from the penalty spot.
It would have been simpler to settle into “hard luck” mode; another tale of a chance that had slipped from their grasp.
Instead, City dusted themselves down and produced a response that was bristling with positivity and intent. In short, a display of a side ready to force their way back among that leading pack.
Parkinson was not surprised. He knows his squad is as good as any in this division, even without two of its key components on injured reserve.
But sometimes it’s good to hear it from an outsider – and Cheltenham chief Mark Yates was fulsome in his praise of their hosts.
His comment that he “wouldn’t mind having a few of their players” may have dripped with envy but was intended as just as big a compliment. James Hanson, in particular, stood out in his eyes as the leading Bantam menace.
Hanson has been going through his own tough time. It’s not just the goals that have dried up – he has not scored in eight games now – but his barnstorming impact has been muted a little of late.
Not on Saturday. This was Hanson back to his dominant best, not giving centre halves a moment’s respite – particularly stand-in Keith Lowe.
The Cheltenham right back, deputising for suspended skipper Alan Bennett, must have woken up yesterday feeling he had gone 12 rounds with the Klitschkos.
The only element missing for Hanson again was a goal as Scott Brown pulled off a fine reaction save to keep out a first-half header. As Garry Thompson, preferred to Zavon Hines on City’s right, whipped the loose ball back in, Hanson propelled the follow-up the wrong side of the post.
Later, there was a fiercely-hit volley that would have flown in if it hadn’t been straight at Brown. But the goals will come again for the big fella playing like that.
The double from Nahki Wells left Hanson trailing in his wake in the scoring stakes. The Bermudian also had a point to prove after his work-rate in the York game was criticised by his manager.
Goal number eight from the penalty spot could not have come at a more opportune moment as City faced the prospect of trailing off at half-time for the second week running with a deficit to claw back.
The penalty against them looked harsh. Jermaine McGlashan had been too quick for Andrew Davies on the byline but the defender’s touch was light.
Parkinson complained afterwards that the assistant nearest to the incident did not react. It was referee Brendan Malone, 30 yards away, who pointed straight to the spot.
Cheltenham, chasing a fourth away win, then proceeded to slow the game down. Injured players stayed down that bit longer, Brown annoyed the Kop by switching sides to take every goal kick.
Tempers were also hotting up on the touchline when Wells went down under Russell Penn’s tackle. No penalty said Malone and Yates stirred up Parkinson with his loud suggestions the striker should be booked for simulation.
The dugouts got warmer when McGlashan appeared to be straight-armed by Luke Oliver. It looked far more of a penalty than Cheltenham’s first but the official was unmoved and this time booked Penn for his protests.
Wells followed before Malone showed his yellow card for the fourth time in four minutes. Right back Sido Jombati’s booking was the most significant of the lot for a needless handball which threw City a lifeline.
Debutant winger Craig Forsyth, who made a promising start, left him on the floor and the defender needlessly flung out an arm to flick at the ball. Wells accepted the gift with a thumping spot-kick.
Parkinson later insisted the equaliser did not change his half-time team talk. Maybe not, but it must have made it far simpler addressing a more upbeat audience.
City had the bit between their teeth and were in front midway through the second half.
Parkinson had made his substitutions and both Will Atkinson and Zavon Hines had a say in the second goal.
Atkinson, a livewire presence, provided the cross which Wells nodded across goal. Hines beat his man to nod it back and the Bermudian finished near the post.
But the best was yet to come. With seven minutes left, Luke Oliver’s angled long ball sought out Hanson’s head.
The knockdown dropped straight to Atkinson, he saw an opening for a lobbed pass into the Cheltenham penalty area where James Meredith had timed his run to take it on the chest, allow for a bounce and beat Brown with a crashing half-volley.
Parkinson said: “It was a really important win for us against a very good team. Look at the stats for the last four games and what I’ve been saying. Was there a great deal wrong?
“Missing a couple of key players does correlate with a slight dip but we’ve got to keep going and not feel sorry for ourselves. We didn’t do that at 1-0 down, kept doing the right things and got the result we deserved.”