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Match Preview: Dale vs Gillingham
Thursday, 23rd Jan 2020 14:33 by AtThePeake

Dale look to bounce back from a gut-wrenching last-gasp defeat at Wycombe as they host Gillingham at Spotland on Saturday afternoon.

Date: Saturday 23rd January
Kick-off: 3pm
Venue: Spotland
Having come so close to snatching a point away at promotion-chasing Wycombe Wanderers last weekend, a last-gasp penalty conceded by Luke Matheson saw Dale slip to their first league defeat of 2020 at Adams Park.

Having begun the year with back-to-back wins over fellow Lancashire outfits Accrington Stanley and Bolton Wanderers, an important point on the road would've had Dale level on points with John Coleman's Stanley outfit, but Joe Jacobson was typically deadly from the spot to give the Chairboys all three points.

Those two victories earlier in the month have eased Dale's relegation worries, but the fight is still very much on. As things stand, Brian Barry-Murphy's side sit in 18th place, with just six points separating them from Tranmere who occupy the final relegation spot - and do still have a game in hand to play.

With rumours continuing to circle regarding the possible exit of players such as Ollie Rathbone and Luke Matheson, Dale will have to be focused on their return to home action and a performance similar to the ones that came at Spotland against both Newcastle United and Bolton will no doubt be welcomed by the fans.

Of course, next up after this clash comes a trip to MK Dons, who currently sit just one place and three points clear of the relegation zone themselves, with some very tough fixtures to come in February including away trips to Doncaster Rovers, Sunderland and Portsmouth.

As such, it's of vital importance that a Dale use these more winnable home fixtures to get some points on the board. The Gills are by no means a pushover, sitting in mid-table and having beaten Dale at Priestfield last month, but this is a game that Barry-Murphy will surely be targeting ahead of some games where Dale will have to show a little more defensive solidity rather than the expansive style that the Irishman prefers.

Paul McShane penned an 18 month contract with the club earlier this month and returned to the starting line-up in Buckinghamshire last week. Fellow centre-back Jim McNulty earned a spot in the match-day squad for the first time in months alongside Josh Lillis, who was named in the 18 for the first time this season with loanee keeper Robert Sanchez missing out following the injury he picked up in the FA Cup replay defeat at Newcastle.

The walking sick-note Ryan McLaughlin missed out on the squad again last time out, as did youngster Kwadwo Baah and midfielders Aaron Morley and Ollie Rathbone. The latter also missed out on the Bolton game and Newcastle replay, further fuelling rumours of interest from the likes of Sunderland and Blackburn, but he could return to the squad for this one.

Tyler Smith joined up with the squad this week after joining the club on loan from Sheffield United last week and may be involved, depending on the progress he has made since picking up an injury during his last loan spell at Bristol Rovers.

Although there are clearly still several players struggling for fitness, the squad is slowly starting to look a little stronger - can BBM make the most of that by making it three wins from four in League One here?

It's kids for a quid down at Spotland for this one - so if you have a youngster to indoctrinate then bring them along and hopefully the boys can put on a display that will make them want to come back for the Shrewsbury game next weekend!

Gillingham make the trip to Dale this weekend having gone four games without a win - their last victory coming against Brian Barry-Murphy's men back in December.

Perhaps that stat doesn't quite tell the whole story though. Of those four games, the only defeat came against Premier League outfit West Ham United in the FA Cup, whilst the Gills have picked up three consecutive League One draws against strong opposition in the shape of Portsmouth, Peterborough United and Oxford United, who all currently occupy position in the top eight of the table.

In fact, those three draws mean that although the Kent outfit are winless in their last four in all competitions, they have actually gone eight games unbeaten in the league. Draws have been the issue all season long though - only Coventry City have tied as many games as Gillingham's return of 11 so far this term.

Heads were turned to Priestfield in the summer when the club made the bold move to appoint the ever-unpopular manager Steve Evans. The Scotsman has never exactly won the hearts of lower league supporters, stemming from his murky time at Boston United, which led to him serving a 20 month suspension from the game amid allegations of contract irregularities.

Despite his rather abrasive personality, Evans' record in the lower leagues is certainly impressive given that he has won promotions with Boston, Crawley and Rotherham, although he hasn't managed to replicate that success in his last two jobs with Mansfield Town and Peterborough United and his personality rarely endears himself to the supporters of any club that he is employed by, the Gills being no exception it would seem from social media.

Despite the club sitting firmly in mid-table in 14th place, Evans certainly does have some talented players at his disposal. The experience of players like Olly Lee and Barry Fuller, coupled with exciting younger players such as Alfie Jones, Brandon Hanlon and Connor Ogilvie gives Evans some balance - but he'll no doubt be looking to add to his squad in the final days of transfer window too.

Gills weren't exactly impressive in the reverse fixture at Priestfield last month but managed to take all three points thanks to a late winner from ex-Tottenham young product Ogilvie. They'd undoubtedly take the same again on Saturday having not won on their last seven trips to Spotland.

_________ _______________________________________________________________
Wycombe Wanderers (a) - LOSS
Newcastle United (a) - LOSS
Bolton Wanderers (h) - WIN
Newcastle United (h) - DRAW
Accrington Stanley (a) - WIN

Bolton Wanderers:
Oxford United (h) - DRAW
Peterborough United (a) - DRAW
West Ham United (h) - LOSS
Portsmouth (h) - DRAW
Rochdale (h) - WIN
DRAWS – 17

23 Sep 2017 - Rochdale 3-0 Gillingham - League One
13 Jan 2018 - Gillingham 1-2 Rochdale - League One
15 Sep 2018 - Rochdale 3-0 Gillingham - League One
30 Mar 2019 - Gillingham 1-1 Rochdale - League One
29 Dec 2019 - Gillingham 1-0 Rochdale - League One

Photo: Action Images

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