How Cook became League Two’s answer to Haaland

How Cook became League Two’s answer to Haaland

“The man’s a machine, isn’t he?!”

With Erling Haaland having scored five against RB Leipzig in the Champions League the night before Andy Cook’s exclusive interview with Sky Sports, the Manchester City sensation – which, in truth, is an understatement at this point – is first on the agenda.

In fact, it is near-impossible to speak to Cook without Haaland forming part of the conversation.

One plays in the top flight, the other in the fourth tier, but have both scored with such regularity that they have sat atop of the goal charts for their respective divisions for the majority of the campaign.

Cook has scored the third-most goals in domestic league and cup competitions this term (23), behind only Middlesbrough’s Chuba Akpom (24) and Haaland (29).

He also sits level with Peterborough’s Jonson Clarke-Harris on 28 goal involvements in all domestic competitions for the season, a figure bettered only by the Norwegian’s 34 (excluding Champions League).

Is he League Two’s answer to Haaland? “I’ll take that, of course!”

He did not start the season as Mark Hughes’ first-choice No 9, but had the shirt by mid-August and had scored 16 goals and provided one assist by Christmas.

“If someone told me if I’d be on this amount of goals at this point, after how the end of last season went, I’d have laughed at them and snatched their hands off,” he told Sky Sports after being named Sky Bet League Two Player of the Month for September 2022.

But it has not been plain sailing the whole way, though.

Following a 1-0 defeat at Carlisle on Boxing Day, Cook was replaced by Vadaine Oliver in attack and did not start once in January, mustering only 67 minutes on the pitch throughout the month.

“I think it was just a case of freshening the team up, but I didn’t want to be sat on the bench – I wanted to be on the pitch, helping the lads out,” Cook admits

“I just had to grin and bear it. I kept my head down, kept training well and doing what I could when I got on the pitch.

“I would say I dealt with it better being that little bit older. I used to let things get on top of me and worry what I’d done wrong. Now I know what I can do and what I was doing, so I didn’t see why I would get back in the team and not score.

“To be fair, I’ve come back stronger, I’d say. At the time, I’d have said I didn’t need taking out of the team, but maybe it was for the best because I’ve come back firing on all cylinders straight away.”

The 32-year-old recently made his 100th appearance for Mark Hughes’ Bantams

That goes without saying. Cook has started nine games since that first start back in the team on February 4, scored seven goals and assisted three more.

Is he in the form of his life?

“Yes, 100 per cent. This season has gone from good to better – and it’s getting even better now.

“I’m in a good place. I scored last Saturday against Newport with the one chance I had and I always feel, at the minute, like every chance I get, I will take. I don’t know if that’s because of the way the season’s gone or because I’m a bit older and wiser.

“I’d say I’m fitter now than I have been in the past, too. When I was at Walsall, we got relegated and I scored 18 goals in all competitions in my first season in League One. I’ve always been confident I would hit these numbers again, it’s just taken an extra couple of years.

“After leaving Walsall, I didn’t really play much, if I’m being honest. I went out on loan to Bradford, got game time and you’re happy when you’re playing, so since I’ve been here, I’ve had a good mindset and I’ve done enough for the gaffer to trust me to play week in, week out, which is a big thing for me.”

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Highlights of the Sky Bet League Two match between Newport County and Bradford City

If he maintains his current goals-per-game ratio of 0.56 and assists-per-game ratio of 0.13 for the rest of the season, Cook will end with an incredibly impressive 29 goals and six assists in 50 games to his name and will have set a new personal best goal return.

The figure to beat is the 28 goals in all competitions he scored for Tranmere when they were promoted from the National League in 2017/18.

With 11 games to play, he has a target in mind.

“I did have one earlier in the season and I’ve changed it now because I hit it!” he laughs.

“Through the last couple of seasons, I’ve set myself a target of between 15 and 20 goals and now I’ve set a new one – if I hit it, I’ll be over the moon.”

It is even conceivable that he could match or better Paul Mullin’s League Two record 32-goal haul – but as is often the way with frontmen, for now, he will not disclose what that target looks like.

He will admire the numbers and accept the plaudits once the job is done, though.

“I get tagged in tweets where I’m in lists with Haaland, Marcus Rashford and people like that, but I don’t really take much notice as I want to take things game-by-game.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s mental to see my name in those lists and it’ll be something to look back on, especially if we get where we want to be as a team – promotion would be the icing on the cake.”

Cook is content to leave talks about his future at the club until a later date, too.

The two-year contract he signed in June 2021 expires in little more than three months’ time and he admits there have not yet been any talks regarding an extension.

Perhaps it is in Bradford’s best interests it stays that way for now. Their talisman is romping his way towards the Golden Boot and to potentially disrupt his flow with discussions at this late stage of the campaign could prove detrimental to their promotion challenge.

Whatever happens from here on out, though, Cook appears destined for another crack at League One – whether that be with Bradford or not.

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