Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.27 – Rochdale away

Article by Paul Beasley Wednesday, January 27th, 2021  

SEASON 2020/21 No.27: ROCHDALE AWAY

Before Covid I’d guess we’d have had 200 to 300 followers at Spotland even on a cold January night but all we can do now to sustain us in the world as it is in 2021 is look back on how it used to be and with an optimistic head on, hope, nay believe, that one day it will be back to kind of how it was. Probably won’t ever be quite the same though. Will people have changed? Will pubs we’ve visited season in season out survive to serve pints again?

I’ve no idea why this picture came out so large but decided not to attempt any editing.  It is though taunting me.

In my dream world that runs in parallel to reality we’d have parked near the ground at 5 o’clock and 20 minutes later be in the Baum staring at the hand pumps pondering which of the marvellous ales to sample first. The passengers would be licking their lips whilst the designated driver would be muttering why me on this trip.

In most towns and cities I’m itching to get round a few drinking establishments to take in different scenery but I’m happy to stay put once I’m sat in the Baum. It was a pub that years back nearly beat us. You could see it but couldn’t work out how to get to it. The path just stopped. Down some steps and you ended up in a shopping centre. Ask the locals but they didn’t know. One possible way in was to run across the A58 and take your life in your hands. But we’ve cracked it now not that it was any use on this occasion.

Being honest I’d settle for just live football though. Wouldn’t most of us?

Our opponents were not on great form. Of their last 17 games in all competitions they’d only won two, both emphatic away victories – 4-0 at Plymouth and 5-0 at Wigan – but both of those were last year. They had not won any of their last six league games, drawing 4 and losing 2. They’re on a point a game which is not healthy. The name of their game is draws at home. Six in the league and they’ve only won once. Their last two have both ended up 3-3. This suggests that they are a team that trades goals. With sides that keep drawing it will eventually go one of two ways. Either turn them into wins or if they are at maximum output to get those draws, any dropping off will mean slipping to defeats.

ROCHDALE 3 OXFORD UNITED 4

What a welcome win this was and at times during this game a very unlikely looking one. At times even a point was far from being assured.

Any purist who analyses performances for overall quality and highlights mistakes will have plenty of evidence that this was far from Oxford’s best performance of the season. Indeed in certain aspects of our game we were quite poor.

This was a classic game though where it was a good one for the neutral as the saying goes. A very good one and as it turned out at the final knockings a superb one for us.

Rochdale are a team like no other in this division. The Leeds of League One? They played exactly as I had expected. I can’t believe the way they operate that in their second league game of 20/21 they drew 0-0 at Fratton Park.

It only needed a minute or two on the clock to know that we were the better side initially and that it was clear to see why the home side leak loads of goals. The one player that was really on fire though was Dan Agyei. He’d shone even before he put us one up in the 12th minute bringing a good save from keeper Gavin Bazunu when he ran on to a ball headed on by Jordan Obita. Bazunu was soon again called into action keeping out Taylor as he swivelled to get a shot away from a corner. That resulted in another corner which Rochdale couldn’t get away properly. Dan the Man took control just outside the box and hit home a low shot with precision.

That injected an early dose of euphoria but the warning signs were there almost immediately. Sam Long made a mistake, which is now very rare, and it looked like Stephen Humphrys had been fouled right on the margins of our box. Referee Ross Joyce, who was one of the better officials we’ve come across this season, allowed play to continue and the Dale shot just wide.

Soon we were no longer controlling the midfield and blues shirts were finding space. No sooner had I communicated my unease with this to my family than we’d been pegged back. Steven Dooley was left free, as was the colleague he passed to, Matt Done, the scorer.

Now we were a bit all over the place and it reminded me of our start to this campaign when we just weren’t at it. Rochdale were the ones now picking the ball up.

With a third of the game gone we were behind, Humphrys having fancily flicked in a corner. Like them we were not water tight. Not the United of recent times at all.

We did however give notice that we might get further goals before the half was out. Agyei headed straight at Bazunu and almost on the whistle Matty Taylor smuggled the ball across the line but to no avail as he was offside.

For me Rochdale deserved to be leading at the interval. We had no midfield barrier protecting our rear-guard even though the personnel in that area of the pitch were not as attacking minded as we often put out. For all the good Agyei had brought to the party, he could probably have done more to stop the Rochdale no.16 getting forward so effectively. Our passes were often short and we were just not clicking.  It is understandable that changes had to be made for this game but Jordan Obita had hardly been involved, there were a few signs that Cameron Brannagan had been out for a while and also bits from Jamie Hanson that needed improving upon. Regarding the latter that’s probably unfair as he had taken a knock but I noticed that after half winning a header that went to a white shirt he only partially seemed to be taking notice of what was happening and certainly wasn’t immediately thinking and moving into space where he could give a team-mate an option for a pass. Its little things like that which when added up can be the difference between being a winning team and a losing one.

Anyway that’s football. No team plays well in every match. All winning runs come to an end.

But there was another 45 minutes to come and Karl had the option of doing something. That something was the introduction of James Henry for Hanson. Henry has not been at his best recently but he was the key factor in us upping our game. We were back on the front foot, Obita putting one into the side netting.

Our full-backs had not ventured forward much up to now but Long was now doing so. In keeping with our overall dropping of standards he appeared to have over run the ball but won a foul. Henry delivered the free-kick with perfect whip and Elliott Moore’s forehead guided the ball low and close to the post beyond Bazunu. A team that can score from set-pieces as we are now doing will have the digits in the goals for column whizzing round.

Once more it was blatantly obvious how Rochdale let so many in. There was only 49 minutes on the clock and no way was this going to stay at 2-2. It was end to end, but with our passing now improved and Henry’s influence we were the ones closer to re-taking the lead.

And that’s what we did in the 62nd minute. Obita flicked on a throw with his head for Taylor in an instant to both control and move the ball on to Henry not far beyond the centre circle. One step, one skip and one phenomenal shot later and it was 2-3. He absolutely had no right to score from there. That shot was travelling. Henry is now one goal away from joining Matt Murphy as our 10th highest league scorer.

All was looking good again then just over a minute later it was one of those moments when it is deep cursing all round. After a goal like we’d just got to give one away as we did perhaps said this wasn’t going to be our day.  Fair play to Rochdale though. Given the opportunity they’ll just attack and attack and attack.  The balls they’d played into the area had been good ones throughout.

Aaron Morley had lots of time to bend another of those in but our defending was more like the Rochdale’s than what we’ve been coming up with recently as Matty Lund ran the ball in. Long was visibly angry, either at himself or those around him, kicking the post and flinging his arms about. That’s great. That showed hurt and how deeply he cares. On reflection I couldn’t point a finger at one individual for this which might just mean the quality of the ball in was that good.

Robbo now decided it was time to make another move. Agyei, Obita and Taylor left the field and on trotted Olamide Shodipo, Anthony Forde and Sam Winnall.

This was certainly still a “could go either way affair”. Winnall volleyed over not long after his introduction and Rochdale kept showing that they could break at speed and in numbers. Brannagan read one such situation to make a splendid interception. Take a draw now if it was offered? Possibly but that’s hypothetical nonsense.

Incidents were coming thick and fast. Moore gave the ball away and Oliver Rathbone was through on goal. The recovery tackle in the penalty area was out of this world. Joyce recognised it for what it was. Lots of officials we’ve had to put up with probably wouldn’t have done so.

Even though we’d survived this though we were again having a phase of giving the ball away and free-kicks too. Lund nearly got his second when he was very close to getting a touch on a ball played across goal. That would have brought him level with Taylor on 11 in the goal charts.

I had a feeling that something was bound to cost us the way we were playing. However added time was reached with no goals having been scored for nearly half an hour. This was quite remarkable given the way both teams were attacking – or in our case attempting to attack as the changes had not increased our potency – and the dodgy defending.

After a bit of head tennis with each team planting it in turn over the half way line, Aaron Morley attempted an effort from 10 yards inside his own half. Rochdale fans nearly had a goal to talk about for years to come. I thought this is it but Jack Stevens kept his eye on it as he back pedalled, kept his balance as he retreated and was able to pat the ball down.

Moments later he launched a clearance deep into Dale territory. A defender was on hand to take control but seeing Bazunu had recklessly come way out of goal, left it to him. Even then there should have been no problem for the defending team. All Bazunu had to do was get even a half decent contact on the ball. After all he’d showed that he has excellent feet twice in the game having beaten our attackers with one touch. You’d expect little else of a young keeper on loan from Manchester City. This time though he completely cocked up, putting the ball straight to Shodipo. “Hit it,” yelled someone in our living room. It wasn’t me. Hit it is all well and good when a player is within close range and power is enough. Something more was required here, like accuracy. Shodipo’s first touch seemed to point his body across the pitch not facing the goal but he knew exactly what he was doing. Like a penalty taker who approaches the kick from an angle.  He spun onto the ball and launched it. It’s going wide, its going wide was how I interpreted the attempt would end up. No, he really did know what he was doing. With the requisite amount of bend he’d scored an absolute beauty.

Get in 

My son sprinted towards the TV, my wife shot up in the air and I just legged it into the hallway and did a little dance. This just happened without thought. By instinct the joy of the terraces recreated in homesteads.

Then it dawned on us that there was still about 60 seconds left. Absolutely nothing was guaranteed in this topsy turvy madness of a football match but the final whistle blew with nothing extra being tacked on for the winner. Phew!

So where does this leave us with six league wins on the spin? Talk of the play-offs is right and proper just as was discussing the R word after we’d only picked up six points from the first 24. Obviously the more games played the more credence any argument about which end of the table we’re likely to end up in has.

History tells never to get carried away. Even with this run we’re on, the best since the ‘80s apparently, we’re still only eleventh in the table such was our dreadful start. We’ve got games in hand on seven of the ten above us but if the season were to be curtailed now and points per game (PPG) applied we’d only be tenth.

There’s no way we’ll sustain this run. No team does. The key is bouncing back as quickly as possible once it has been broken.

Things can change in a split second. An injury to one of our centre-halves would likely pretty much screw us. We all know Long can play there but he’s our only proper RB.

The transfer window doesn’t close until next week and we can speculate all we like. What happens will happen so I’m not going to waste my time playing that game. What we do know is there are spare spaces in the squad. Joel Cooper and Sean Clare are out on loan and Mous is unlikely to be seen in a competitive first team shirt again.

The manager has thrown out some challenging words. “The key message you get from better managers than me is when things are going well that’s the time when you improve. “Those are things you learn over time, now’s the time to turn the screw and try to find players who can make us better.”

Strange yet interesting times. Times when our football club can still bring us joy.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 at 6:16 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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