BY SAM SMITH
AFC Wimbledon striker James Hanson feels his exploits with Bradford City in the 2012-13 League Cup can be repeated by the Dons.
Hanson starred as the Bantams – then in League Two – stunned the Football League by reaching the final of the competition, only to lose 5-0 to then-Premier League outfit Swansea City at Wembley.
Bradford beat three top-flight sides on their way to the final – Arsenal and Wigan Athletic, before edging past Aston Villa across two legs. On Tuesday, the new Wimbledon signing could line-up to face West Ham in the second round of the now rebranded Carabao Cup – and, with the Sky cameras at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, he says Neal Ardley’s side could pull of an upset.
“The run with Bradford was surreal. You can’t really describe that season, it was just surreal,” Hanson explained.
“You can kind of look back on it and see what we achieved as a group of players was phenomenal, it probably won’t be done again. A League Two team getting to the League Cup final, playing in front of a full house at Wembley – 93,000.
“To be playing in League Two at the time, playing against so many Premier League sides and knocking them out. There are a few more lads in the team who are well aware of cup runs, a few have experienced them.
“I don’t see why we can’t repeat it. We’ve been playing well recently but just haven’t been getting what we deserve. We can go for it, we’ve got nothing to lose. [The West Ham game] will be on TV which means Sky might think there could be an upset so we don’t want to disappoint. We’re going to give ourselves every chance.”
The 30-year-old has had a stuttering start to life under Neal Ardley. Having signed from Sheffield United, he missed a large chunk of pre-season having pulled his groin in one of his first training sessions and missed a large chunk of Wimbledon’s successful pre-season – with the Dons defeating Premier League Brighton and Championship outfit Reading.
But Hanson is back and has featured in all of the South Londoners’ opening League One fixtures – starting Saturday’s unfortunate 2-1 defeat to Sunderland – and he feels he is close to full fitness.
“[The injury] was tough. I’ve been playing catch-up, obviously it wasn’t ideal to get injured for the first three weeks of pre-season and missing a lot of the friendlies.
“[In the Sunderland game] I felt like I was getting back to my full fitness which I knew would take three or four games anyway. Thankfully I now feel fit and can begin to perform at the level I know I can play at. In the last few games I haven’t had as many chances as I would have liked so hopefully I will also get a few more of those.”
Ardley’s side should have beaten the Wearsiders. They led through Joe Pigott and wasted a plethora of excellent opportunities to add two or three more, before a Lee Cattermole brace succumbed the Dons to their second defeat of the season.
Their only victory was the League Cup first round success at Portsmouth, but Hanson is confident that performances have proved the Dons can improve their form.
“The performances at the moment aren’t leading to the results that we deserve. In this league you can’t beat yourself up about it and [you have to] go again. I’m sure if we keep putting in these performances week in, week out we will start picking up more points, ones that we feel we deserve.
“It could easily have been 2-0 in the first half, but in the first 15 minutes of the second half we didn’t come out properly. I know the [Sunderland] goalkeeper, he walked in with me at half-time and said ‘we wouldn’t have any arguments if this was two or three-nil’.
“We’ve got a good group of players who are all able to regroup and go against Tuesday. That’s the best thing about this [having a game on Tuesday], the games are coming thick and fast and you don’t have time to dwell on anything.”
IMAGES BY KEITH GILLARD
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