|Rochdale 2018/19 part three: Getting points on the board|
Written by fitzochris on Tuesday, 16th Apr 2019 13:30
After 10 games Rochdale were lying in 17th place. This once again gave rise to the questions posed at the end of the previous season – just what is expected of Rochdale AFC in League One?
The forthcoming visit of Bristol Rovers for game 11 provided at least one answer – victory at home against a team with a near identical record.
To say this didn’t materialise is not a precursor to another tale of woe, however.
Rochdale, despite more tinkering to the starting line-up from Keith Hill, performed well. The goalless draw that followed was perhaps down to one key decision from the Rochdale goalkeeper at the end of the first half. Magnus Norman, starting in place of Josh Lillis, was red-carded for what was deemed a dangerous tackle after charging outside of his area. This act meant that Rochdale, while in the ascendancy against a poor visiting side, had to keep an eye on shutting up shop over going for the jugular throughout the entire second half. The fact that Rochdale still almost won the game is as much testament to their energetic endeavour as it is to the opposition’s lacklustre play.
Hill clearly had something different in mind for this tie. Opting for Norman over a fit Lillis could only be down to the former’s superior kicking range – but with no target men on the field (Aaron Wilbraham and Calvin Andrew were both dropped) it was hard to see what the initial plan was. Jim McNulty retained his spot in the heart of the defence, with Ryan Delaney making way for Harrison McGahey. Joe Rafferty and Sam Hart retained their fullback roles, while MJ Williams returned to the midfield at the bottom of a diamond, with David Perkins in the middle, at the expense of Callum Camps, alongside Ollie Rathbone. Bradden Inman was on hand at the tip to support an advanced pairing of Matty Gillam and Ian Henderson.
For a goalless draw, the game was not without action. Playing the ball on the deck, Dale moved between the lines nicely and the likelihood of scoring was more evident than it had been the previous weekend. However, defensive lapses still abounded and Rovers were handed a few gift-wrapped chances they failed to make the most of. The worst of these was a casual sideways pass from McNulty straight to Stefan Payne, who rattled the crossbar instead of tucking away.
And then came Norman’s red card. With covering defenders, it remains a mystery just why the goalkeeper felt the need to charge out of his area to take on Payne. Perhaps his trust in them was lacking. With that said, you still felt that, had the foul been committed by an outfield player, it would have resulted in a booking at most.
An enforced tactical reshuffle commenced, with McNulty sacrificed for Lillis and MJ Williams dropping back to centre half. Despite Rovers’ man advantage for the entirety of the second half, Dale looked the more accomplished side. Lillis pulled off saves when required and Henderson even had a gilt-edged chance to wrap up three points right at the death, but failed to find the required power for his shot.
So a hard-earned point was the reward, but supporters were left wondering what could have been had it not been for Norman’s rush of blood.
“I thought we had the chances in the second half and we had the energy in the first half, but I don’t think we had the intelligence,” said Keith Hill in summary. “We got into some great areas of the pitch very quickly but then there was no composure on the final pass and we were rushing things in front of goal. The half ended pretty dramatically with respect to Magnus [Norman] getting sent off and then the second half is obviously very difficult.
“I thought we managed the second half very well – you’re always going to come under pressure because the opposition are always going to create one or two opportunities, but I think the opportunities were quite equal in the second half and we probably had as many good opportunities in the second as we did in the first but we had more possession and more final third entries.
“The key decision of the game where the referee sends the goalkeeper off is poor defending from us as a side and it’s a shame really because there’s no way Magnus should have been sent off, but the lads did themselves proud with respect to building blocks. We’ve conceded a lot of goals and the players could have gone lame and felt like a victim but they didn’t and they reacted in the way I expected them to.
“[But] Magnus shouldn’t have been sent off. The referee doesn’t know and the linesman doesn’t know and between them they try to paint a picture for the supporters and for the technical areas to show that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing and they’re doing what they know is correct. We just want correct decisions and they haven’t made the correct decision.
“We’re again asking for better key decision making from officials – there are four out there and they should get the right decision, but, unfortunately, they haven’t tonight.”
Sadly, the FA didn’t agree with Hill’s assessment and Rochdale’s appeal against Norman’s red card later that week was unsuccessful. His three-game ban stood.
It was off to the seaside for Rochdale’s next league encounter − a local trip to Blackpool. The Tangerines had made a fairly promising start to their League One campaign and, with the internal strife between their supporters and owners put to one side for the sake of this entry, they posed yet another difficult on-field test.
Rochdale seemed to play a midfield diamond again: MJ Williams at the base, a recalled Zach Clough at the top, David Perkins and Ollie Rathbone in the middle.
Ian Henderson was the central striker, but it wasn’t immediately obvious where Bradden Inman was playing. At times the formation was quite possibly a 4-3-3, with Clough more advanced, but this confusion is clearly why Blackpool’s midfield won most of the afternoon’s battles in the 2-2 draw.
Blackpool took the lead just five minutes in as Jordan Thompson netted his first goal for the club. Dale’s familiar defensive issues were once again highlighted when the Northern Ireland U-21 international was granted a free header in the six-yard box from Marc Bola’s pinpoint delivery and he made no mistake, despite goalkeeper Josh Lillis getting a hand to the effort.
The Seasiders weren’t ahead for long though, as Dale got back on level terms just three minutes later after defender Ryan Delaney produced a delicious first-time volley that flew past Mark Howard and into the back of the net.
Rochdale then began to dominate possession without creating any clear-cut chances. On the half hour mark, they were made to pay for this recurring theme, as Curtis Tilt headed Blackpool back in front. The centre back rose highest in the six-yard box to nod a powerful header beyond Lillis from Jay Spearing’s corner for his second goal of the campaign, despite efforts to scoop the ball clear on the line.
The Seasiders were unable to capitalise on their period of domination after the break, however, and were eventually forced to sit back and soak up some pressure from the visitors who came back into the match in the last 20 minutes. With just three minutes remaining, Rochdale were level. It came after full-back Joe Rafferty whipped in a dangerous cross to the back post where substitute Calvin Andrew headed back across goal on the dive, and into the bottom corner.
After the match Hill offered some baffling contradictory statements, talking about ‘seeing his team play how he wants them to’ and ‘results not mattering as much’, despite previously saying he’d ‘found a way to win’ after the Gillingham match.
Then there were his comments about Ryan Delaney’s game-time consistency being affected by international call-ups − four days after apparently dropping him.
Despite these head-scratchers, he did, however, seem pleased enough with the outcome. “If we’re not going to win the game, I wanted to be sure we at least weren’t going to lose it,” he chimed.
Following the Blackpool game, Rochdale AFC announced the appointment of James Mason as the club’s new Chief Executive Officer following the resignation of Russ Green in August.
Former BBC journalist Mason joined the club from Bradford City, where he’d been CEO for the past four years.
“I have long been an admirer of Rochdale Football Club from my visits here as an opposing director and visiting fan,” he told the club’s official website. “They have a great reputation within the industry for being well run on and off the field and have a team of really talented and committed people working here already. My immediate role will be to offer my experience, advice and leadership in the areas where it is needed.”
It was back to the north-west coast the following Tuesday for a second group game in the Checkatrade Trophy and a second trip to Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town.
Keith Hill’s intentions for the competition were clear.
“I’ve put the challenge down to [the younger] players,” Hill told Rochdale’s official website ahead of the match. “It’s up to them to rise to the challenge to take us as far in the competition as they possibly can.”
As it transpired, Hill opted for a smattering of experience throughout his youthful line-up. The backline was made of Sam Hart and Luke Matheson at fullback, with Harrison McGahey and Kgosi Ntlhe the wall inbetween. The midfield diamond was again preferred, with Aaron Morley the anchor and Stephen Dooley the point, filled out by Andy Cannon and Daniel Adshead. Up top Jordan Williams and Matty Done would start.
Fleetwood, who had thrashed Doncaster 4-0 the previous weekend, retained just one starter from that line-up, Nathan Sheron, but Dale still had a task to do. Every player performed well on the evening and the resulting 2-0 away win was well warranted.
Jordan Williams bagged his first senior goal for Rochdale − an angled drive after a one-two with Matty Done that benefitted from a deflection − and Andy Cannon made the most of some very generous Fleetwood defending for the second.
Dooley, reappearing after another unexplained absence, looked very sharp in the hole, as did Dan Adshead in midfield before he was brutally scythed down by Kyle Dempsey after turning him inside out one time too many. This injury meant a reshuffle that saw Joe Rafferty come into the midfield, but the team was no worse off for the disruption.
At the back, McGahey and Ntlhe were responsible for a much deserved clean sheet, despite goalkeeper Luke Moore almost gifting Fleetwood a goal in the first half, while Hart continued to impress at left back and Matheson, while not replicating his headline-grabbing previous outing in the competition, was very solid at right back, especially in the first half.
The 2-0 victory also meant Dale qualified for the knockout phase of the Checkatrade Trophy with a game to spare, with Keith Hill claiming he intended to field a similar sort of line-up for the final group-stage tie, against Leicester City’s under-21s the following month.
“We’re going to stick with the same strategy and philosophy,” he told the Rochdale’s media team afterwards.
“It’s important that Daniel Adshead, Luke Matheson, Aaron Morley and Matty Gillam, if he’s fit, play. I want it to be energetic and I want players to be put in a position where there’s a bit of pressure on them, and I want them to respond and perform. I saw another good performance today, and it’s what I’ve been seeing from a good group.”
Hill was also pleased to see Jordan Williams open his first-team account for the club.
“Jordan is all energy,” he said. “I’ve told him to treat the football pitch like a running track, and if he does that, the other players will score. I’m pretty pleased with what Jordan is doing.
“It took him a long time to settle in and be part of the environment and feel like he was part of the environment. I’m not saying that in any shape, way or form that he’s going to be the next Jamie Vardy, but Jamie Vardy suffered similar in his first 12-18 months at Leicester. He’s acclimatising to the way we do things but he’s all in, and he puts players under extreme pressure with his energy.”
Hill wasn’t quite so upbeat on the challenge that saw Daniel Adshead substituted, however. It later transpired he had suffered ankle ligament damage and was expected to be sidelined for around four to five weeks.
“I was pleased with the way Dan was playing,” Hill said. “It’s a cynical challenge and not a great one from a fellow professional. Dan has done a lovely turn and the player has a left a bit on him.
“The consequences are that Dan is probably going to be out for a fair length of time, which is sad to see. I’m an old school manager and an old school player, but that type of challenge is not an acceptable challenge.”
Buoyed by a midweek victory, Keith Hill looked to take the momentum into the league when Doncaster Rovers visited Spotland.
Managed by Grant McCann, the visitors had achieved their own midweek Checkatrade triumph, against Grimsby Town, but had suffered two league defeats prior to that. Early season good form, however, meant Rovers occupied a play-off place and they patented yet another tough test for a Rochdale side that had so far failed to find a consistent rhythm.
It figured, then, that Rochdale would put in their most mesmerising attacking display of the season so far – only for the defence to once again motivate the headlines following a 3-2 defeat.
Hill’s starting line-up was full of intent. Full-backs Sam Hart and Joe Rafferty played so far up the pitch they were almost inside forwards at times. However, this left a lot of ground for centre halves Harrison McGahey and Kgosi Ntlhe to cover and they were not always helped out efficiently by anchor men David Perkins and MJ Williams. This was a shame, as, going forward, Zach Clough and Bradden Inman moved through the lines effortlessly at times, carving the Doncaster defence open and creating countless chances.
Unfortunately, not one of these could be tucked away in the first half, with Ian Henderson guilty of a particularly horrific miss, hitting the crossbar from point-blank range with only a prone defender on the line to beat. In fact Rochdale mustered up 22 shots in the entire match and it is telling that, of the two goals they did score, one was a penalty and the other a prod home in a melee resulting from a corner.
Doncaster, quite simply, made the home side pay for their profligacy. While Dale always seemed to want to find that extra pass, the visitors were direct and ruthless.
Ntlhe led the team out after Ian Henderson had awarded him the captain’s armband for the day – an act in recognition of Ntlhe’s imperious midweek performance at Fleetwood – and while he would have an impact on this match, too, it was not a day for the defence as a whole to reflect on fondly.
Despite Dale’s impressive footballing prowess, they were behind after just 20 minutes when an error by Perkins on the edge of the box led to former Hamilton Academicals man Ali Crawford lashing a first-time strike into the top corner. His first goal for the club.
Doncaster’s second, five minutes into the second half, saw Andy Butler escape the attention of Ntlhe for long enough to stop, leap and powerfully head home a James Coppinger corner. And the third, coming after Rochdale had pulled a goal back and threatened an equaliser, saw substitute Jermaine Anderson charge from deep to arrive onto the end of a cross and poke past Josh Lillis.
Dale had looked to have clawed their way back in when Henderson drilled in from the penalty spot after John Marquis had bundled over Ntlhe. And again, eight minutes from time, when Ntlhe himself hooked in a loose ball from close range, but it was always a case of Dale finding another foot to shoot themselves in.
“It’s a weakness of the team and it’s a weakness of the phase that we’re going through,” said Hill of the conceded goals, after the match.
“It’s individual, and I think all the goals can be stopped – they’re avoidable. You’ve got to keep your concentration levels high, irrespective of which position you’re playing. When we’re in possession, I don’t want the players to be watching the game. I think we got caught cold, probably by watching the way we were playing.
“I’m reasonably happy with the way we performed. From an entertainment value, I like to watch that football but I like to win playing that type of football and we haven’t succeeded in that today but we have to stick to our plan.
“There’s no quick fix, we’re a League One side and we’ll do everything we can within our own powers to turn performances like that into positive results. We did rue missed opportunities, but when you concede three goals, you tend to forget about the chances you created. We created a lot of opportunities and there is a responsibility for players to get shots off − I think we were taking one or two extra passes. Having said that, we got a lot of shots at goal but there was no accuracy.
“I feel as though the plan is coming together. That’s hard to see when you lose a football match, but I have felt really good this week about what’s coming together behind the scenes, the players that we’ve got and the Youth Team players that we’re introducing into the first-team training environment. With respect to what we’re trying to achieve, I’m really pleased with a lot of the foundation work, it’s just that everything we’re perceived to be doing is supposed to be showcased on the first team pitch on a match day.”
A trip over the Pennines into West Yorkshire saw Rochdale call on another one of the division’s heavyweights, albeit one that had endured an even more turbulent start to the season than their visitors.
Bradford City, a former Premier League club which still attracted large attendances, were languishing in the League One relegation zone ahead of Dale’s appearance. Still smarting from a heavy defeat at Accrington Stanley the previous weekend, there was a genuine pre-match fear of a backlash, despite the poor form.
Managed on the field by David Hopkin, the Scot who led Livingston to a very unlikely promotion to the Scottish top flight the season previous, the Bantams were in a period of transition. Head coach Hopkin’s task was a seemingly difficult one, given he had only occupied the hot seat for six weeks and the vast majority of Bradford’s squad and coaching staff were not of his recruitment − all with the backdrop of supporters vocalising unhappiness at the way co-owner Edin Rahic was running the club.
Regardless of Hopkin’s woes, all pre-match chatter was focused on the Rochdale manager. Once again, ‘Tinkerhill’ rang the changes to his starting line-up (six in total this time) and, while Dale did record a 2-0 victory at Valley Parade (I refuse to use daft stadium sponsorship names), it was achieved without the fluid attacking display put on against Doncaster the previous weekend.
Bradford, it has to be said, were very poor. Yes, the three points achieved were vital, but it’s important to not lose sight of the fact it took two very late Ian Henderson penalties to break the deadlock.
Brendan Moore was preferred over Josh Lillis between the sticks, with Joe Rafferty and Kgosi Ntlhe flanking Harrison McGahey and Ryan Delaney in a back four. The midfield diamond was again preferred, the personnel this time being Ollie Rathbone, Callum Camps, Matty Done and Stephen Dooley. Henderson and Jordan Williams made up the strike force.
Despite Dale looking marginally the better side in the first half, Bradford came closest to scoring as George Miller's effort was cleared off the line by Henderson just before the break.
In the second half, Moore repaid Hill for his faith with a fine goalkeeping display. Jack Payne put Miller through on goal, but the Rochdale stopper came quickly off his line to block the shot, just as he denied the same player in the 79th minute with a superb save to turn a 20-yard shot on to the roof of the net.
The first of Dale’s two penalties was awarded in the 83rd minute when City skipper Anthony O'Connor brought Henderson down in the box after Lewis O'Brien gave the ball away on the edge of the area. This was before Stephen Dooley intercepted O'Brien's backpass in stoppage time and was brought down by goalkeeper Richard O'Donnell. Henderson put his spotkick in the opposite corner this time.
“I thought it was a good performance,” said Hill afterwards.
“At the end of the day, you want your team to represent the values that you train to, that you try and teach, and I thought that’s what we did today.
“Our energy was superb, our commitment in front of our own goal was commendable as well. We nullified Bradford for the first-half, except for one scramble when we did really well to preserve and protect our goal.
“At the other end I think we could have been at least one to the lead at half-time and I was really pleased with the performance.
“In the second half, I thought we managed the game really well. I think we made the right substitutions at the right times and I was really pleased with the performance, but not just the performance, the preparation that’s gone into that performance.
“I do believe the team today deserved the three points. That’s probably the most honest performance and three-point-worthy performance that we’ve had for a long time.
“It was a plan to win football matches. I’ve looked at the way we played and it’s a bit like, as my Dad always used to say, we flatter to deceive.
“We’ve played some amazing football last week with the ball, but without the ball it wasn’t what I expected. We need to make sure that we’ve got energy when the opponent has the ball.
“We can’t always have the ball and that was what was wrong with last week against Doncaster. I know we can attack, I know we’ve got the players in the squad to attack, but those attacking players have to defend from the get go.
“As a manager, I know what we’ve got and I’ve been searching, and that’s why the changes have come on a regular basis, for performances that lead to results like that.”
There wasn’t much time for the Rochdale players and supporters to bask in the glory of the three points gleaned in West Yorkshire before they were boarding coaches and cars bound for the capital.
The thought of an unappealing near 400-mile round trip on a Tuesday evening to Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park is never one to get the pulse racing, but the prospect of back-to-back away wins probably tempted a few more fans to make the trip than would have otherwise.
The Chairboys sat just below Rochdale in the table at this juncture, their first season back in League One following promotion the season previous, but manager Gareth Ainsworth was under no pressure given the limited finances at his disposal. In fact his words echoed those previously voiced by Keith Hill: “We know we have possibly the lowest budget in the division, but we are not new to the term ‘underdog’ – let’s embrace it and try and cause a few upsets.”
Well, they certainly caused an upset, that’s for sure.
Hill elected to stick with the same formation as Bradford, only electing to bring in MJ Williams for Ollie Rathbone, but while this was functional if unspectacular at Valley Parade, it was an abject failure at Adams Park.
Dale came out of the traps sprightly enough. The opening attack was like a surgeon’s scalpel down the right and Jordan Williams was presented with a simple tap-in, but elected to utilise a back heel that did, in fact, move sideways. This, in truth, was as close as it got for Dale.
A 35-yard free kick was awarded to Wycombe on 10 minutes and, as Bryn Morris sent his knuckleball goalwards with no real pace, swerve or dip, Luke Moore in the Rochdale goal seemed to simply allow it through his hands and into the net.
This served as a catalyst for the visitors’ capitulation. Matty Done, sitting in the heart of midfield rather than at the tip of a diamond, was visibly not working and left back Kgosi Ntlhe found himself on a yellow card far too early in the game. This forced Keith Hill to bring on Andy Cannon and push Done to left back. While this move served to give the midfield a touch more solidity, the improved passing still brought nought on the attacking front. It’s no exaggeration to suggest Wycombe goalkeeper Ryan Allsop could’ve brought a deckchair.
And then that recurring problem of set-piece marking reared its head. First powerhouse forward Adebayo Akinfenwa was allowed to control a delivery on his chest and place past Moore on 67 minutes, before Fred Onyedinma was gifted a free header at a second ball from the right a few minutes later.
Wycombe were muscular, direct and effective and Rochdale simply couldn’t deal with that.
Many of a Dale persuasion sought to blame the referee after the match. This was missing the point. While Brett Huxtable certainly failed to award clear fouls on Henderson and Wilbraham, which would have led to a penalty and a dangerous free-kick had he awarded them, it would not have disguised the true failures that led to this defeat.
Unfortunately, this is where Hill directed his attention afterwards. “The whole game, the way it was orchestrated by the conductor in the middle of the pitch, wasn’t great,” he said.
“I can’t say too much because I’ll get fined. The FA want respect, but I want respect from the FA and the EFL. I should be in the position where I’m fining them, to be perfectly honest, because they’re not providing me or the football club with a professional service.
“It’s sad that we’ve witnessed a poor performance [by the referee] tonight. The last time he refereed us we got beat 3-1 by AFC Wimbledon away from home and Keith Keane got sent off, so I was very worried.
“The game itself, we gave away too many free-kicks. We were a little bit naïve to their tactics. They’re a very good side, so you’ve got to be street wise and better than we were tonight.
“We can’t seem to press the reset button as a group of players or individually. We had some sterling performances on Saturday at Bradford and we made one tactical change tonight, which was the right tactical change to make with respect to the opposition.
“The first goal is a poor goal and then it’s an uphill task. I’m disappointed but the players have got to press the reset button. They can’t let one goal become two, or two become three.
“We were having some good sustainable pressure in the second half through possession, whereas in the first half we had players running out of position instead of using their brain. We forgot our brain a little bit today, but I will certainly reset and we’ll go again on Saturday.
“Saturday is another big game, like every game is. I’m looking for consistency in performance, and that’s the disappointment.
“It’s disappointing that we failed to kick on from Saturday’s performance and Saturday’s vigour, passion and willingness to stop the opponent scoring. It seemed a little bit bitty and like ‘it we should be ok tonight because we did well on Saturday’, but you have to turn up with your work bag, first and foremost, and when we you come to places like this, it’s very important.”
A chance at the weekend, then, to make amends for a disappointing defeat and to improve on a dire home record. Interestingly, it was to be a repeat of the fixture which brought the ‘fairytale’ result that led to Rochdale keeping their League One status in tact the previous season. While victory against Charlton Athletic here didn’t quite carry the same importance as it did then, the three points up for grabs were no less welcome.
Still managed by Lee Bowyer, the Addicks were sitting midtable but within easy reach of the play-off positions. This was to be no ‘gimmie’ but Rochdale would secure their second home win of the season by the same scoreline as on that fateful day in May.
The starting line-up was once again shuffled by Hill. Sam Hart, Bradden Inman and Ollie Rathbone returned to the starting line-up.
It took Dale just four minutes to take the lead.
Stephen Dooley moved into the box from the right, with jinks and stepovers bamboozling the Addicks defence, before squaring to Inman, whose recorded a swing-and-a-miss, but Ian Henderson was alive to the opportunity and made no mistake as the ball fell to him, sidefooting home from 12 yards. His 99th goal for the club.
But it wasn’t a case of the home side being completely dominant. Lyle Taylor thumped the post from outside the area shortly after, before the visitors were awarded a penalty after Brendan Moore slammed into Darren Pratley during a melee in the 18-yard box. Taylor stepped up to take and stroked it to the left, but Moore had already gone that way and kept out the effort with a redeeming dive.
Moore kept Dale in it again in the second half, palming Josh Cullen’s 25-yard piledriver onto the right-hand post, but was fortunate when he was saved by the assistant referee’s flag after letting the same player’s free-kick curl round him into the net not long after.
Yet it was the home side who created the most chances over the piece − pleasing after the inability to do so at Wycombe. Henderson, Inman and Williams could have all added to the score and it’s no coincidence that Hart’s reintroduction to the side at left back led to the increase in opportunities.
But it was the defence - the much maligned defence - that stood firm here. Harrison McGahey was a literal battlement as Charlton were left frustrated going forward.
“The performance had a lot of courage in it,” said Hill in his post-match interview.
“League One is very difficult – the opponents are a very good side that are represented by a very good manager, so it was a stern test for us, but we created goal-scoring opportunities and we did well to defend our goal, so I’m pleased. Well done to the players.
“I think we could have been slightly better in possession. At every opportunity we tried to attack. Our full-backs should have slowed the game down a little bit more, but I’m pleased.
“It’s 1-0, we’re at home, we’re getting points on the board, which we need if we’re going to have a chance of staying in League One, so we’re giving ourselves a fair crack of the whip.
“We can’t do what we did on Tuesday and have a negative bounce. We want players who want to retain the shirts and retain their place on the substitutes bench, rather than me having to think and work extra hard, which is what I’m doing at this moment in time to select a side that represents our values and the opponents’ values. I think we got the balance right today but it took me a long time to pick that side and get it out there. It has taken a lot of energy out of me to try and select a side - it would be nice to pick the same 11 consistently.
“We were at it from the get go and that’s why we got the performance. We didn’t give the opposition time and instead of me changing tactics, they were changing tactics. If you’ve got all your players putting everything into the performance then you will get results. One quality we should always have over any opposition is our energy, our work rate and our honesty. I think we showed that today and it certainly gave us a platform for the result.”
The victory ensured Dale now had 19 points from 16 games, leaving them 14th in League One – five points from the relegation zone and eight points from the play-off positions.
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Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
“[i]And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain…regrets, we’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention[/i]”. Not quite right Paul Anka, probably more than a few, but otherwise a fair assessment of where the U’s are today. It’ll be interesting to see how we perform with the relegation monkey finally off their back – I’m not expecting miracles, particularly with Tranmere needing at least a point to guarantee making the play-offs, but they’ll certainly be more nervous than we will be, so can we make that count? This will be my last blog of the season, and not yet sure what I may or may not do for next season, but suggestions are always welcome.
Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
That was quite a week for us all then. In the space of four short but remarkably tense days we have gone from having to take shoes and socks off to check how many more points we need to guarantee survival, or whether we would even achieve it, to breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we’re almost there. But close of play this afternoon, whether by our own actions or the failure of others, I am sure survival will be confirmed. Of course, Tuesday night not only all but guaranteed it, it also virtually condemned local rivals Southend United to non-league football for the foreseeable. Looking at the host of fully professional former football league sides currently battling it out for the two promotion slots out of the National league (including Hartlepool, Torquay, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Notts County), it is not going to be a walk in the park for Southend to return any day soon.
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.