|Rochdale 3 v 2 Sutton United|
SkyBet League Two
Saturday, 23rd October 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Match Preview: Dale vs Sutton
Friday, 22nd Oct 2021 14:09 by AtThePeake
Dale's search for a long-awaited win continues as newly-promoted Sutton United head to Spotland for the first time ever on Saturday.
Date: Saturday 23rd October
All of that optimism following the wins at Port Vale and Tranmere last month seems like a hell of a long time ago now, doesn't it?
An eight game winless streak in all competitions has seen the boys in blue and black slip to 18th place in the table, although their have been some shoots of recovery in the last two games over the last week.
Last Saturday, the side produced a fine second half performance to take the lead at Swindon Town thanks to goals from George Broadbent and Liam Kelly and did appear to be heading towards a much-needed and unexpected win against the promotion contenders.
However, the winless run was to stretch on as the hosts managed a 94th minute equaliser to prevent the visiting fans from having a long-awaited victory, as Jonny Williams ghosted in to earn the hosts a point.
And it was to be another draw for the Dale on the road on Tuesday night, this time at the Peninsula Stadium, where Salford City were hosting us in a league fixture for the first time in their history, thankfully without the injured Ian Henderson.
A few smart saves from Joel Coleman helped Dale to rescue a point and although they had a handful of chances themselves on the break, a draw was seemingly considered to be a fair result on the night in Kersal.
Now it's back to Spotland, and although the majority of Dale fans will actually have watched Tuesday night's game at Salford given the size of the travelling support (and the ability to watch online via iFollow for those unable to attend), the home crowd will really expect a response on Saturday afternoon.
The last two home performances from Robbie Stockdale's men have been particularly dour as struggling Oldham Athletic and a Crawley Town outfit that had previously lost four out of five on the road this season both managed to escape Spotland with 0-1 away victories.
In both cases though, it was the performances more than the results that attracted criticism from the home crowd as the Dale players looked fatigued and disinterested in games that seemed winnable on paper, particularly after the good form displayed in late August and early September.
But these two performances on the road over the last week, while not yielding much-needed wins, have at least stopped the rot in terms of defeats and there have been encouraging signs in both games.
Stockdale has thus far stuck with his back three and despite consistent calls for a return to the starting eleven for ex-Manchester United trainee Max Taylor, the manager continues to prefer both Sam Graham and Jeriel Dorsett either side of captain Eoghan O'Connell, who is surely the first name on teamsheet.
Some supporters were happy to see Aaron Morley drop out of the starting eleven on Tuesday night, but he actually improved the side's performance when he came on from the bench and it remains to be seen who will be chosen in midfield. Perhaps it would be time for a 4-3-3 formation to be tested, which could see someone like Jimmy Keohane or Connor Grant move into the centre of the park.
Abraham Odoh, Danny Cashman, Alex Newby and Grant himself seem to be competing for the two wider positions in the front three at the moment, while Jake Beesley will be expected to lead the line again - although he is in real need of a goal having struggled for chances since his well-taken strike at Burnley.
While rotation and options can undoubtedly be a positive, it seems that Stockdale is struggling to decide upon his best eleven at the moment and the amount of chopping and changing, while expected with such a young squad, could be stopping some players from gathering any kind of form or momentum, so the team selection on Saturday will certainly be an interesting one.
This fixture may be seen as the perfect opportunity to do just that, but Dale players, management and supporters should only underestimate Sutton United at their peril.
As such, this will be the first ever meeting between the two sides and any fans checking the validity of that claim should be reminded that 1933 FA Cup clash that Dale lost 2-1 was not only not against the same Sutton, but was actually against a club from Nottinghamshire rather than South London.
As such, Sutton United may perhaps be something of an unknown to most supporters, which gives me a good excuse to reel off something of a potted history before we get onto the club's current squad and manager as well as their recent form.
Aside from last year's title win, their proudest moments came in 2016 when they won the National League South and 1979 when they won the now defunct Anglo-Italian Cup, as well as 5 Isthmian League Premier Division titles between 1967 and 2011.
Unsurprisingly given their suffix and kit colours, the club are known locally as either the U's or the Yellows and some of the players donning those colours at Spotland on Saturday include recognisable names such as Richie Bennett, Harry Beautyman and Craig Eastmond, although it is mostly made up of players that have spent the majority of their previous career in non-league.
Not that it's stopped the U's from displaying their ability in the EFL so far this season. Although some fans may have feared the worst after a home defeat to struggling Oldham at the end of August, Sutton have since won six of their last eight League Two fixtures and stormed up the table into eighth place
A run of four consecutive victories was brought to an end in midweek by Swindon Town at Gander Green Lane, but the likes of Ben Goodliffe, Donovan Wilson and David Ajiboye will now feel that they're establishing themselves as more than capable players at League Two level, raising expectations for the rest of the campaign among the Sutton fans.
This season has been a step into the unknown for those supporters, but they'll undoubtedly be enjoying the ride so far and they've shown no fear against more established EFL clubs, beating the likes of Port Vale, Northampton and Crawley in the league as well as Portsmouth in the EFL Trophy thus far.
It's been something of an unknown for manager Matt Gray too, who has gone from strength to strength since being appointed the club's manager in 2019. His short, injury-stricken playing career ended in 2007 after spells in non-league with Hayes and Havant & Waterlooville at the age of just 25 - but he could find himself enjoying life higher up the EFL pyramid if he continues his fine work with Sutton in the coming months and years.
As such, another lacklustre home display from Dale could lead to all sorts of problems on Saturday as the visitors are starting to look more and more at home in the EFL and may even have their sights set on an unlikely play-off push at the first time of asking in League Two.
This is the first ever meeting between these two clubs.
Photo: Action Images
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