FC Halifax Town: "These clean sheets are just breeding confidence" - Defender Bradbury on Shaymen's impressive defensive record
While FC Halifax Town's flowing football has caught the eye this season, it has been built on a rock solid foundation of defensive stability.
The statistics speak for themselves: only five teams in the top five divisions of English football have conceded fewer goals this season than Halifax, no team in the National League has conceded fewer goals than them this season and they have kept nine clean sheets in 16 games, including eight in their last ten games.
Tom Bradbury has certainly played his part in Town's outstanding defensive record, helping The Shaymen to six of those clean sheets in his 13 appearances this season.
"I'm very pleased, obviously having the joint best defensive record in the league looks good on us defenders, and we've got quite a lot of clean sheets as well, which shows we're doing well," he said.
"I'm very happy, and long may it continue."
When asked what he puts Town's watertight defence down to, Bradbury said: "I think the main thing is the security behind the ball, the coaches at the club work on it a lot and it's making sure that, for example, when our strikers have the ball, previously we might ball watch and hope they score, but now I'm not even watching the ball, I'm looking at the people I'm marking, the space they could potentially run into, where's the right winger, where's the left winger, where's the number ten, are we two v two at the back or are we three v two with a man in our favour.
"That's playing a huge part because as soon as the ball gets kicked out and comes back to us, we're three against two, we've got an extra man on the cover and we're sniffing out attacks before they even start."
Bradbury also feels a settled line-up at the back has helped, with him, Niall Maher, Tyrell Warren and Jack Senior making up the back four regularly over the last few weeks.
"Me and Niall Maher have got a good understanding at the minute, this is our second season so maybe it does take a bit of time," he said.
"With a few of the people that went out of the door this year I've got more of a senior role in the dressing room and on the pitch so I've had to step into those shoes.
"I'm maybe a bit more vocal on the pitch, organising a bit more, but as the clean sheets keep coming, confidence comes with it and when you're confident, you play well.
"With title-winning teams in any league, you can probably name the back four for the majority of the season.
"I do think we've got a really good squad. Unfortunately young Jay Benn has been injured but he'll be a great addition when he comes back, obviously Jesse Debrah is pushing me and Niall all the way, so we've got good strength-in-depth.
"But if you keep the back four and they consistently keep clean sheets, you just get an understanding with each other and you know how each other plays.
"If you take me and Jack Senior for example, at the minute, we're talking to each other throughout the whole game, I know when he needs a bit of help and I need to cover him, and he knows when I need a bit of help and he covers me well.
"It's the same with me and Niall and I'm sure for Niall and Ty Warren.
"We do have that consistency and it's got to be working based on the stats."
Bradbury says the contribution from the rest of the team shouldn't be ignored either, with striker Billy Waters the first line of defence with his relentless work ethic.
"The work rate up-front is brilliant, if they're pressing defenders and then they're maybe going long, their defenders have got less time on the ball and their passes are less accurate, so they might not play such a good pass into their strikers' feet, or they might kick it out of play or something, so that's easier for us, and we have easier balls to defend," Bradbury said.
"So if they're forcing them to kick more hopeful long balls then that's bread and butter for us as defenders."
The Shaymen's free-flowing football has earned them plenty of points this season, but so has their resolute defending, as seen in particularly hard-fought wins over Dagenham and Redbridge, Pontefract Collieries, Aldershot. and Woking.
"They're my favourite games!" said Bradbury.
"They're horrible to play in but as soon as that final whistle goes it's such a good feeling.
"Obviously a 1-0 puts a bit more emphasis on the defence rather than a 3-0, so I do enjoy them.
"But we've shown a few times that we can dig in and defend this year when maybe last year we might have shipped a goal or two and not got the three points.
"So there's a difference in mentality, these clean sheets are just breeding confidence and when you go under the cosh, you cling onto those experiences and think 'we've done it before, let's do it again'."
Bradbury feels he has improved as a player from last season.
"I think so yeah, it's more organising what's in-front of me when we're in possession," he said.
"I think maybe last year with us playing three at the back and me having more of an offensive role in the team and having to join in with attacks going forward, maybe we didn't focus on the threats and dangers that can happen when the ball gets turned over in transition, when the other team wins the ball.
"This year we're not getting counter-attacked on because I'm sorting out men in-front of me and making sure we've got enough numbers in the right areas to stop that.
"So I'd say I've improved in that aspect and it's showing with the clean sheets."
And the defender feels Town have taken things to the next level this season too.
"I think we're just under two points a game, and if you get two points a game, that not only gets you promoted but it wins you the league," he said.
"The evidence is there that we're a better team and I think that's through the core of the squad.
"You've got the keeper, the two centre-halves and the two midfielders who were all here last year, so we've kept the core and we've added brilliance around it.
"Most of the lads have known what Pete wants and had one or two seasons to learn it, and maybe this year is when we've learned the ideas and putting them into practice, and delivering on all the hard work that goes in off the pitch."
And the 23-year-old was optimistic about whether The Shaymen could maintain their impressive form.
"Of course we can," he said, "we've beaten some so-called big teams this season with big budgets, so why can't we do it for the remaining games?
"We've proven we can beat them. I think we've already played four or five out of the top seven, so if we can beat them, bring it on.
"Me and Sam Johnson were joking the other day that it feels like we've not conceded a goal in ages.
"It's brilliant, we just don't feel like we're going to be beaten, everyone's buzzing Monday to Friday, which makes for better training sessions because the standard's higher with everyone being confident.
"The mood's great, it's so nice coming in on a Monday morning when you've won and had a clean sheet, and we're getting that every week so long may it continue."
Town's immediate focus switches to the FA Cup this weekend for their first round clash at home to Maidenhead.
"Every player wants a big fish in the latter rounds of the FA Cup," he said.
"Maidenhead have done us at our place this year, which was annoying, so we've got to show that we've improved on that first game.
"If you can't beat Maidenhead, no disrespect to them, then you don't deserve to get a big fish.
"We're looking forward to it, we know the benefits of sitting at home watching that second round draw and who you can potentially get.
"The gaffer's emphasised how important the game is, we all know it, and I'm sure we'll try our absolute best to make sure we're in that second round."