|Harrogate Town 3 v 2 Rochdale|
SkyBet League Two
Saturday, 7th August 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Match Preview: Harrogate vs Dale
Friday, 6th Aug 2021 21:00 by AtThePeake
Football is back football is back football is back football is back football is back football is back football is back!
Date: Saturday 7th August
Since I last jotted down my pre-match thoughts, Dale have been relegated, had two directors removed as a result of a vote during an incredible night of EGMs and AGMs, added four new directors included a new chairman in Simon Gauge, lost their manager, hired a new manager and assistant, lost a handful of important players, signed seven new ones and now find themselves embroiled in a lengthy battle to stave off a self-professed hostile takeover bid.
It's fair to say it's been a summer to remember.
But now, focus turns to the pitch for the first time in a long time, if only for 90 minutes, when Dale take on Harrogate Town in their opening match of the 2020/2021 League Two campaign in the first game in which supporters have been allowed to watch live in the ground since a 3-1 win over Rotherham in March of 2020.
It's the first league fixture that we will see the side play under new boss Robbie Stockdale but supporters have been enthused with the new manager's interviews thus far and with the playing style that the team seems to have preferred during his handful of friendly fixtures that have been available to view.
With Jake Beesley acting as a fulcrum at the no.9, Stockdale looks set to expect a more direct approach from his side, without resorting to a long-ball on every occasion. The change of pace and the different options off the ball are things that supporters found themselves asking for plenty of times under former boss BBM, so they'll hope to see evidence of those changes from Saturday afternoon onwards.
Should all of the new signings be available for selection to Stockdale, then the former WBA and Sunderland coach will have some selection headaches to contend with. Not least in goal, where Jay Lynch's fine performances at the end of last season may well be enough to keep newbie Joel Coleman on the bench for now.
In defence, Corey O'Keeffe is expected to line-up at right-back with Jimmy Keohane at left-back ahead of another new signing in Aiden White. In defence, Eoghan O'Connell's fitness is doubtful after he was withdrawn in the friendly win at Fylde but if fit he will start alongside either Max Taylor or Sam Graham.
Aaron Morley will hope to keep his starting berth in the centre of midfield while the likes of Stephen Dooley, Connor Grant and Sheffield United loanee George Broadbent will compete for the other two spots.
Finally, across the front three, Jake Beesley is surely a shoe-in for the starting XI following his performances in pre-season but the wider positions could be taken up by any two of Abraham Oooh, Danny Cashman, Matt Done and Alex Newby.
But really, this game is all about the fans. After so long away, 650 Daleys will make the trip across the pennines and up into Yorkshire to see their team play live in the flesh. If you're lucky enough to be going then be loud, be proud and enjoy every second. We'll never take this for granted again.
The two clubs have met in two pre-season friendlies, playing out a 2-2 draw in 1989 before Dale ran out winners by a 2-0 scoreline 12 months later (thanks TVOS!) but having never been a Football League club before 2019, the two clubs have yet to meet with points on the line.
The first season as a league club proved to be a difficult one at times, but given their lack of experience in the Football League, the Yorkshire outfit will have been more than happy to keep themselves well clear of the relegation scrap in eventually finishing 17th.
It was something of a streaky season for the Sulphurites, as displayed by their great start and poor end to the campaign. Having kicked off with just one defeat in 6 games, they finished with only two victories from their final 12.
As they look to establish themselves yet further at League Two level, boss Simon Weaver has clearly looked to restructure his squad some what, with no fewer than 11 players heading out the exit door at Wetherby Road this summer.
The most notable name among that 11 is former Blackburn and Sunderland striker Jon Stead, who called time on his career at the end of last season. Others to leave included Brendan Kiernan, Jake Lawlor and James Belshaw, who have all signed for fellow League Two outfits.
Unsurprisingly, Town have looked to replace those outgoings with fresh faces and one new name will be particularly recognisable to Dale supporters. Rory McArdle made 153 for Dale during the early days of his career before leaving the club in 2010 and he joined Harrogate this summer following one season with Exeter City.
Lewis Page and Nathan Sheron arrive from Exeter and Fleetwood to further bolster the defence, but the most exciting signing of the window is that of Luke Armstrong, who scored 13 times in 28 appearances while on loan at Hartlepool last season from Salford.
Given that previous fixtures with fans allowed at Harrogate's Wetherby Road grounds have been socially distanced, this match will perhaps be the first opportunity for many of their supporters to see their team in EFL action in the flesh for the first time.
After (most of) the ticket issues ahead of the game were finally sorted, both Sulphurites and Daleys will now be feeling like kids on Christmas Eve with football back. What a brilliant sentence that was to write. Up the Dale.
No previous meetings.
Photo: Action Images
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