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Match Preview: AFC Wimbledon vs Rochdale
Friday, 12th Feb 2021 18:50 by atthepeake

With pressure mounting on Brian Barry-Murphy, Dale make the trip to London to take on fellow strugglers AFC Wimbledon on Saturday.

Date: Saturday 13th February 2021
Kick-off: 3:00pm
Venue: Plough Lane
Rochdale will make their first ever trip to AFC Wimbledon's new Plough Lane stadium on Saturday in desperate need of three points following two demoralising defeats at Spotland last week.

After play-off chasing Charlton left Greater Manchester with three points earned from a 0-2 victory on Saturday, Dale succumbed to a 1-3 loss to Milton Keynes on Tuesday night. A disastrous eight-minute spell, in which the visitors scored three times in quick succession, saw questions asked regarding Brian Barry-Murphy's future in the aftermath of the defeat.

While some supporters have never quite taken to the Irishman's footballing philosophy, the vast majority have remained patient and positive, but the manner of Tuesday's defeat felt like a turning point for many and pressure is seriously mounting on the manager and his team at this stage of the season.

Although hopes for the campaign were low amongst many fans at the start of the season, there have been flashes of quality to show the potential of this squad, including emphatic away wins over the likes of Wigan Athletic and Plymouth Argyle. Given the obvious ability of the players, some fans are now rightly questioning whether the set-up of the team is holding them back given more recent performances and results.

It would be unfair to suggest that these problems have only started to arise now, too. Many, while backing BBM to turn the team's fortunes around, have often criticised his stubbornness to stick to the plan even in the face of adversity and the leaky defence has shown little to no signs of being fixed as the season has progressed either.

With questions being asked, it remains to be seen whether Barry-Murphy's seemingly unwavering belief in his philosophy will be temporarily halted in order to produce a more effective, if less attractive, style of play. With just two points separating Dale in 18th from Northampton in 23rd, now would be the time to adopt a more pragmatic approach like the one seen in the latter stages of the 2018/2019 season upon the manager's appointment.

One player who would certainly add some much-needed aggression and experience to the team would be Paul McShane, but it seems unlikely that the former Sunderland and Hull City man will return from injury for this game while Jimmy Ryan and Jake Beesley are both expected to be out too.

Captain Eoghan O'Connell limped off the pitch during the defeat to Milton Keynes so yet another defensive reshuffle may be required while Conor Shaugnessy will hope to retain his starting position at the base of the midfield having made his debut on Tuesday evening following his deadline day arrival.

With Bristol Rovers set to face Swindon Town whilst Northampton host Burton, at least two of the teams below Dale will pick up points this weekend. As such, this feels like Dale's biggest game of the season to date. With AFC Wimbledon surely considered a winnable fixture, defeat could have disastrous consequences for the team's hopes of avoiding the drop and the manager's hopes of remaining in his job.
AFC Wimbledon have made their long-awaited return to their spiritual home of Plough Lane this season, although supporters have yet been able to christen the new ground.

With the previous re-iteration of the club playing games at Selhurst Park before being relocated to Milton Keynes, the Dons had worked their way up through the non-league pyramid playing games at Kingstonian's Kingsmeadow Stadium before their new, purpose built ground was erected just a stone's throw away from Plough Lane where the Crazy Gang teams bullied and entertained in equal measure in a previous era.

For now though, supporters will just be hoping that the first game they get to see from inside the ground is a League One fixture as, like Dale, they find themselves in the midst of an incredibly tight relegation scrap at the bottom of the third tier table.

Manager Glynn Hodges was given the boot following the 0-2 home defeat to Milton Keynes at the end of January, and caretaker manager Mark Robinson will hope that the 2-3 win that his side picked up at Wigan Athletic in his only game in charge so far proves to be a perfect audition if he desires the job on a permanent basis.

That that victory came on the road however is no surprise. Much has been made of Dale's home form this season but remarkably, Wimbledon have picked up even fewer points on their own patch so far this season. In 11 home fixtures, the Wombles have picked up just eight points, with two wins and two draws (in comparison to Dale's nine from one win and six draws).

Long-serving defender Will Nightingale will hope to retain his place in the heart of the defence here while the midfield creativity comes from Brighton loanee Ryan Longman and former Gillingham man Callum Reilly.

The star turn however, is clearly striker Joe Piggott. The two goals scored by the 27 year old at the DW Stadium last time out took his tally to 13 League One goals for the season and he offers the kind of physical presence that Dale have struggled to handle defensively so far this season.

As this relegation battle unfolds, both Dale and Wimbledon are likely to be direct rivals once again to remain in League One, which places an added importance on what could be deemed a relegation six-pointer in South London.

In the reverse fixture earlier in the season, Dale toiled against a well-organised Wombles backline but were ultimately frustrated and outdone by a last-minute strike from

Wigan Athletic (a) - WIN
Oxford United (a) - LOSS
Milton Keynes (h) - LOSS
Doncaster Rovers (a) - LOSS
Crewe Alexandra (h) - DRAW

Milton Keynes (h) - LOSS
Charlton Athletic (h) - LOSS
Bristol Rovers (a) - WIN
Oxford United (h) - LOSS
Gillingham (a) - DRAW

17 Mar 2018 - Rochdale 1-1 AFC Wimbledon - League One
08 Dec 2018 - AFC Wimbledon 1-1 Rochdale - League One
19 Feb 2019 - Rochdale 3-4 AFC Wimbledon - League One
05 Oct 2019 - AFC Wimbledon 3-2 Rochdale - League One
21 Nov 2020 - Rochdale 0-1 AFC Wimbledon - League One

Photo: Action Images

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