Chelsea v Bradford City: Hanson is ready to rise to the occasion once more

WHEN Chelsea fans scan the squad lists in today’s match-day programme and see the name of the Bradford City No 9, they would be doing James Hanson a complete disservice to utter the phrase ‘James Who?’

Chelsea's John Terry
Chelsea's John Terry

As regards the majority of those in the home sections at Stamford Bridge this afternoon, it can be safely assumed their collective knowledge of the Bantams will probably begin and end at Filipe Morais and perhaps another ex-Blue in Billy Knott.

But maybe, just maybe, the name of Hanson – of ‘he used to work in the Co-op’ fame – might just ring a bell with the better-informed ones.

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You can bet your last penny it does with Jose Mourinho. Charismatic and confident the self-styled ‘Special One’ may forever be, but his defining footballing characteristic is a forensic attention to detail.

Bradford City's James Hanson

He will have heard of Hanson, for sure; he will have made it his business to. Mention the former supermarket worker’s name to the seasoned international trio of Ron Vlaar, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen and chances are they will also provide a nod of respect, too.

Hanson may have never plied his trade in the Championship, let alone the Premier League. But big-game hunting goes with the territory for him. Unassuming away from the pitch he may be, but provide the stage on it and he will not shy away.

He did not on one celebrated winter’s night at Villa Park just under two years to the day on January 22, 2013, when his goal in the second leg of the Capital Cup One semi-final against Aston Villa, rising majestically above Dutch defender Ron Vlaar to head home, represented a moment when time stood still for everyone of a claret-and-amber persuasion.

In the previous round, he hounded Gunners defenders Mertesecker and Vermaelen for 120 relentless minutes and, at a more parochial level, he made his mark on Leeds United’s back four with a cracking Cup winner last August in front of a televised audience of millions.

Many connected with the Bantams, 49 places below Chelsea in the league pyramid, may appreciate a bit of clemency from the hosts when they hand in their starting line-up.

For Hanson, it is a case of the bigger names, the better, though his hopes of coming across former England captain John Terry have been dashed, with Mourinho deciding to give the defender a rest to the bench.

That still leaves another seasoned international in Gary Cahill in the reckoning to blot out the City attack.

Hanson, hoping to become just the fourth visiting Englishman to score at Chelsea this term after Jonjo Shelvey, Matt Mills and Charlie Austin, said: “It would have been nice to play against two of England’s great defenders.

“But whichever centre-halves they decide to field, they will be top-class and a good challenge.

“You will always raise your game if you come up against the likes of John Terry and other international defenders.”

Hanson is savvy enough to know that whatever side Chelsea field, it will be one packed with talent and strength across the park with only an ultra-disciplined and tactically astute performance from City – allied to the fates falling their way – giving them any chance of causing a seismic upset.

But if it is a loaded line-up full of household names, do not expect Bradford to cower. They did not after being handed the ‘all-star’ Arsenal team-sheet in December, 2012, which famously prompted a spot of mirth from assistant manager Steve Parkin.

Hanson added: “We have got the scout report from the Watford game in the FA Cup and throughout that Chelsea team, it was full of internationals and there’s no real weakened side.

“It is a team who obviously should expect to beat us, but we know we can go there and enjoy it and there’s no pressure on us.

“I remember that Arsenal game and the lads were expecting a lot of changes. Briefly looking from the (dressing-room) door, we saw the big-name players here and thought: ‘I don’t think they are all going to be on the bench.’

“Then, they named probably one of the strongest teams they could have on the night and Parkin just put ‘All the best lads’ on the team sheet!

“But we showed a lot of discipline on that night and kept our shape really well and earned our luck as well as we had a fair bit of that. Let’s hope we get that luck we will need to have at Stamford Bridge.”

Not even the most myopic Bradford fan among the 6,000-strong contingent present today will believe that Phil Parkinson’s side can trade footballing punch for punch with Chelsea and prosper in a free-flowing match.

City’s game-plan will be based on shape, an indefatigable work ethic, organisation and intelligence, in the very best traditions of Mourinho, whose managerial credo was something Parkinson spoke about with reverence in his pre-match press conference.

If a chance or two are to come City’s way, a set-piece, with a renowned aerial exponent in Hanson on board, remains the most obvious outlet, something the big centre-forward fully acknowledges.

He said: “Let’s be realistic, it is going to be our best chance of scoring a goal.

“Set-pieces are a level playing field and one bit of good movement or a good ball and it is going on your head then.

“That is what we are all going to dream of as Bradford players.

“You just want one chance against the big boys.”