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Rochdale 2 v 2 Stevenage
SkyBet League Two
Tuesday, 23rd November 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Match Preview: Dale vs Stevenage
Monday, 22nd Nov 2021 15:19 by AtThePeake

Rochdale begin a run of three consecutive home games on Tuesday night as they welcome an improving Stevenage to Spotland.

Date: Tuesday 23rd November
Kick-off: 7.45pm
Venue: Spotland

This is always a strange stage of the season isn't it? By this point, the table has started to take shape, yet as we know from years previous, there is still enough time for the most dramatic of surges up the table and most alarming of slides down them.

And when you find yourselves slap bang in the middle of the table, like Rochdale do right now, it can be even harder to work out exactly how the season is going to turn out.

As things stand, that's exactly where Dale find themselves - and a look back on recent results and performances perhaps show why. At no point have we looked consistently good enough to push on for a promotion charge, but nor have we looked so weak as to be under any sort of relegation threat.

The beauty of being mid-table at this stage of the season, particularly in League Two, is that the upper reaches of the table look more than attainable, while the cushion between yourselves and the relegation zone appears to be a larger, more comfortable one than it does in League One, as we've found out to our detriment over the last couple of campaigns.

As things stand, that gap between the bottom two and 13th placed Dale is a pretty comfortable nine points. On the other hand, only four points separate Robbie Stockdale's side from the play-off places, while even the automatic spots are closer than the drop zone, with seven points currently between ourselves and 3rd placed Port Vale.

And although we've perhaps been lucky to take points from a few of our recent games, the form table makes for fairly encouraging reading right now. In fact, if you don't count the Pizza Trophy (and as you can probably tell from the lack of my previews on them, I don't), Dale are now eight games unbeaten including the two FA Cup matches against National League Notts County.

That was a tie that Dale eventually emerged victorious from thanks to an injury-time winner from Jake Beesley in the replay after a draw at Spotland a week previous and the task for Stockdale right now will be turning tied games into victories - five of those aforementioned eight games have ended level.

And it was another draw for Dale on Saturday afternoon at the Banks' Stadium against Walsall as both times huffed and puffed but struggled to break down the opposition door.

Walsall had the best chance of the first-half, only to be denied by a wonderful Jay Lynch save and a Max Taylor clearance on the follow-up, but Dale came closest in the second-half through right wing-back Corey O'Keeffe, whose thunderous strike came back off the crossbar.

In a frustrating game, Dale will at least be happier with their defensive efforts here. It was one of only four clean sheets that the side have managed this season, with Max Taylor's efforts seemingly helping to steady Jeriel Dorsett, who enjoyed one of his better performances of the season.

Those two will expect to start again here on Tuesday night with both Sam Graham and Jim McNulty expected to miss out through injury again, while Eoghan O'Connell will skipper the side from the centre of that back three.

It was perhaps a surprise to see Jay Lynch start between the sticks in the Midlands on Saturday, as he's mostly been used a cup goalkeeper over Joel Coleman thus far - but a clean sheet should see him earn another start on Tuesday night.

Aidy White was named in the starting eleven on Saturday only to be replaced by Jimmy Keohane before kick-off. Whether that was just a precaution or not is as yet unclear, so the left wing-back berth could be taken by either player on Tuesday - or indeed Matty Done.

Corey O'Keeffe will likely start on the right after another strong display at Walsall, while Stockdale's preferred midfield duo of Aaron Morley and Liam Kelly appear to have their places locked down at the moment, although with a few midweek games occurring of late, Stephen Dooley and George Broadbent will provide options should there be some rotation.

Jake Beesley has been moved to the right side of the front three in the last week to allow Josh Andrews to start as the central striker with Alex Newby on the left, but Danny Cashman and Abraham Odoh will both hope for some minutes in attack.

So as Dale's season hangs in the balance, could three points here put pressure on the teams chasing the top seven or will defeat lead to more frustration as Stockdale looks to improve the side's home form after a below-par few seasons at Spotland. ________________________________________________________________________

Anyone who remembers Dale's only two previous league meetings with Stevenage will be hoping for an altogether more positive performance this time around.

The first time these two teams met in an EFL fixture came in the 2011/2012 season after Stevenage had won back-to-back promotions from what was then known as the Conference straight up to League One.

There, they came across a Dale side that was scrambling for form in the early stages of the season under Steve Eyre, with Boro running out 4-2 winners - before running riot at Spotland in January with Chris Beech in caretaker charge by then, winning 5-1 thanks in no small part to a brace from Luke Freeman.

Given that this is now Stevenage's 11th consecutive season as a Football League side, it seems odd that the two teams have avoided each other in so many recent campaigns, but Stevenage have settled into life in League Two in recent years after being relegated in 2013/2014 as Dale won promotion back out of the fourth tier.

In their first season back in League Two, Boro did manage to finish in the play-offs, but since then they've mostly been floundering in the bottom half of the table and indeed they were lucky to be given a reprieve from relegation in the COVID-hit 2019/20 campaign given that they were 10 points from safety when the season was brought to an early close.

Last season there was something of a recovery under Alex Revell to secure a 14th placed finish, which is why it came as something of a shock when the club recently severed ties with the 38 year old, leaving academy boss Robbie O'Keefe to take interim charge.

Revell had only managed three victories in 16 games in the league this term before his sacking however, while O'Keefe did manage to lead the team to an FA Cup replay win over League One Milton Keynes Dons before securing a much-needed three points from a victory over Colchester United on Saturday afternoon.

As a result of those three points, the Hertfordshire outfit are now in 21st place, with four points separating them from the relegation zone, and looking to surge up the table following the removal of Revell from the dugout.

There are some recognisable names for lower league supporters within this Stevenage outfit with Jake Taylor, Jake Reeves and Jamie Reid arriving at Broadhall over the summer to add yet more experience to this squad.

In the defensive areas of the squad, the experienced trio of Ben Coker, Luke Prosser and Scott Cuthbert boast almost 900 EFL appearances between them and will hope to use that lower league nouse to help their side pull away from the bottom three this term.

With those back-to-back wins over Milton Keynes and Colchester United in the bank, Stevenage will travel north on Tuesday night with a renewed energy and confidence, so may prove tough opposition for a Dale side that are still looking to improve that home form. ________________________________________________________________________

2nd November - EFL Trophy - Rochdale 0-3 Bolton Wanderers
7th November - FA Cup - Rochdale 1-1 Notts County
13th November - League Two - Rochdale 2-2 Leyton Orient
16th November - FA Cup - Notts County 1-2 Rochdale
20th November - League Two - Walsall 0-0 Rochdale

6th November - FA Cup - MK Dons 2-2 Stevenage
9th November - EFL Trophy - Stevenage 1-0 Cambridge United
13th November - League Two - Stevenage 1-2 Mansfield Town
16th November - FA Cup - Stevenage 2-1 MK Dons (AET)
20th November - League Two - Stevenage 2-0 Colchester United

04 Dec 2004 - Stevenage Borough 0-2 Rochdale - FA Cup
03 Sep 2011 - Stevenage 4-2 Rochdale - League One
14 Jan 2012 - Rochdale 1-5 Stevenage - League One

Photo: Action Images

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