Interview: How moment came for Millwall’s Tom Bradshaw at Hull City to show if boss chats paid off

TOM Bradshaw has been told this season by Gary Rowett he has tended to over-think his finishes – so last Saturday at Hull City a moment arrived to test if those chats had paid off.

Bradshaw had a whole half of a pitch to run into from Benik Afobe’s brilliant through-ball with only goalkeeper Nathan Baxter between him and goal.

Bradshaw described what was going through his mind as he raced towards the penalty area.

“A lot of the time as a striker you’re kind of making a decision based on factors around you such as the keeper and what he does,” Bradshaw said.

“When I was going through I just glanced up and the keeper had come out to the edge of the 18-yard box, which made it a little bit easier for me. I could shift it a yard to the right and play it around him (above).

“It’s always more difficult when the keeper stays a bit deeper because when you’re going through you’ve got a longer distance to take the ball which gives more time for defenders to get back and tackle you.

“Equally, it narrows your opportunities. But when I glanced up and saw him off his line it made my decision for me, really, to shift it to the right and curl it around. It was brilliant to see it go in.

“Generally those chances are harder than they look. One-on-ones are classed as a really good chance, and they are, but when you’ve got a lot of time to think about what you’re going to do they can be more difficult than they look.

“Surprisingly, you don’t actually get too many a season. Most of the work we do in training is based on instinctive shooting, cut-backs, more half-chance stuff that you get a lot of in games. It just keeps you sharp.

“We don’t do too much one-on-one work. It’s just down to you as a professional striker what to do when you get into those positions and luckily on Saturday I made the right decision and it went in.”

Tom Bradshaw celebrates after scoring against Stoke City

Bradshaw explained what he is doing differently this season.

“I’ve spoken to the gaffer about this a fair amount this year. The way I used to approach games was to analyse a lot of things and be uber-focused in the lead-up to the game,” Bradshaw said.

“This year I’ve taken a different approach. I’ve been a professional footballer for 12 years now and I know what I’m doing. There’s stuff that you don’t really have to worry yourself about. It’s just a case of, for me, not really thinking about the game too much until you get on the pitch and then let your instincts take over.

“That’s really helped me in terms of not getting in my own head and not getting in my own way. It allows me to be more creative and more instinctive on the pitch. I feel like I’m a better player when I’m playing off instinct rather than trying to pre-meditate anything that’s going to happen in the game or this, that and the other.

“I think getting out of my own way and thinking less about it has helped me this year.”

Bradshaw could have been forgiven for thinking negatively after he didn’t score in the first eight games of the season.

In his fourth appearance of the campaign, the 1-1 draw against Coventry at home, Bradshaw had a legitimate goal chalked off after a wrong offside call.

The striker had a goal wrongly ruled out against Coventry City

Bradshaw finally got off the mark with a double to help turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win at home to Stoke City. They were typical centre-forward goals, Bradshaw running in behind unseen by defenders to tap home crosses from Sheyi Ojo and Ryan Leonard in front of Cold Blow Lane.

That doesn’t happen by chance. Bradshaw is methodical about how he thinks about the business of being a striker, and he won’t let things like wrongly ruled-out goals change his approach.

“That’s one of the most difficult things in football for a striker, when you have a perfectly good goal disallowed. It’s the most frustrating thing you can get,” Bradshaw said.

“But football moves on so quickly, it’s a case of keep getting into those positions where you scored the goal, focus on your hold-up play, link-up play. Just keep getting into those areas because we’ve got good players who can get the ball in there.

“If you’re not there it’s on you. The two goals against Stoke, I didn’t have to do too much. It was a great ball by Sheyi for the first one and great play by Lenny for the second. But if you’re not there you don’t score the goals.

“As a striker it’s important to keep positive and keep getting into the areas where you know there are balls going to be played and you know you’re going to get big chances.

“You have to keep making those runs and keep believing the ball is going to come.”

Bradshaw has struck up a good partnership recently with Afobe. Bradshaw has three goals in his last five games and Afobe two.

The goal at Hull demonstrated the understanding that they have.

“It was a brilliant ball, the weight on it was perfect and the way it split the defenders,” Bradshaw said. “I saw Benik get hold of it and shift inside and I was running as quickly as I could because I saw the gap in the defence.

“I shouted as I was running past but obviously it’s quite loud [n the stadium] so I wasn’t sure if he had heard me or not. So I saw him do a 180-degree spin and send the ball over.

“Especially the last three or four games, you’ve really seen his quality shine through. Once he gets a foothold in the game he’s got real quality and he can manipulate games.

“It’s great playing with him. He’s got the quality to play those through-balls but also the ability to get into areas to score easy goals by his standard. I’ve been really impressed with him.”

Benik Afobe scores against AFC Bournemouth

Millwall are in their best position after 20 games since their return to the Championship in 2017-18.

But Bradshaw insisted the squad aren’t standing back admiring a statistic like that.

“We’re never happy,” he said. “I had seen a stat that it was our best start in a few years. But every poorer result we’ve had we take hard, like the result Saturday after we had been on a good run.

“But for whatever reason we just didn’t quite click. We were all extremely frustrated and it’s not something we take lightly at all.

“We want to try to get three points every game regardless of who we are playing.

“It’s a good stat, I guess, but it’s one of those stats that kind of mean nothing because the script changes every week and with every game that you play.

“We’re not happy with 10th. We’ve been aiming for the play-offs the last couple of years and that’s where we’re striving to get to.”

Image: Millwall FC 

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John Kelly