The Lads went down to Lancashire for the second evening in a week and produced another victory. Hard fought but deserved, they put in a lot of work against a spirited Rochdale side who threatened to spoil things on several occasions, but goals from McGeady and Wyke, one in each half and either side of Dale’s equaliser, were enough.
It seems no time since we were in Rochdale last, as it was towards the end of last season when we produced a late, late winner to send the visiting fans spilling onto the grass on a sunny afternoon. It wasn’t quite so bright this time, although the pink lavvy on our bus did its best to outshine the sun. Heavy traffic through Harrogate made for a bit of a slow journey, but there was still plenty of time to meet up with folks in the Flying Horse (nowhere near as busy as last time), where we held a Mackem Parliament in the back room to select the team, and make the most of a visit to Lancashire, as we may well be denied the opportunity of trips to Bury and Bolton. Team selected, thirsts slaked, it was another cheap as chips taxi ride to Spotland aka the Oil Company Arena for the main event.
Turns out most of us got the team selection correct, with Ross electing to start with Wyke in place of the injured McNulty and leave the other ten as they were.
O’Nien Ozturk Willis McLaughlin
Gooch Power Leadbitter McGeady
With our fans in the Willbutts Lane stand along the side opposite the dugouts, we kicked off towards our right. With Power and Leadbitter trying to pull the strings from the centre, we saw quite a bit of the ball, but it was the home side who looked dangerous, particularly with their number 14 on their left running at O’Nien and encouraging his team forward. As expected, Maguire was playing behind Wyke, drifting from one side to the other with Gooch and McGeady out wide, but both prepared to bring the ball infield. After a McGeady cross was held and Maguire shot from distance, McGeady was fouled out on the left, but Leadbitter’s effort, after taking a short pass from Maguire, hit a defender. It was then Dale’s turn to attack, with McLaughlin 1 coming off his line to get to the through ball first. There was plenty of effort without much real quality showing, and after a few hefty tackles – one of which earned a yellow card for O’Nien - got the crowd, particularly in the away section, going, Rochdale fired into the side netting.
Once we passed 20 minutes, things seemed to calm down a little bit, but with Rochdale probably having more of the ball. We remained calm, and when Wyke headed down to O’Nien, Luke picked out McGeady at the back of the box with a curling cross that took out the entire defence, and Aiden took it in his stride then slotted it home. A lovely bit of football, and a finish to match just before the half hour.
We’d hardly finished celebrating when the equaliser came. Somehow, Rochdale found the time and space to set up Camps, and with McLaughlin 1 looking to be wrong-footed, he passed it in from a fair distance. Very disappointing, but it seems that a clean sheet is beyond us so far this season. At least it spurred us into getting the ball as far away from our goal as possible, with Maguire almost setting up O’Nien and McGeady aiming for Charlie’s head. The big fella was winning his fair share of the ball, which he’s supposed to as the target up front, but Rochdale got in the way of most of our attacks. A single added minute was played out, and we went in having conceding the majority of possession to Rochdale, but also having put together a few decent attacks ourselves.
We consoled ourselves during the interval with the fact that McGeady’s marker was only born in 2002, so was bound to run out of nerve at some stage – he didn’t, as it turned out, and might well turn out to be a proper player.
The second half started as the first had ended, with the same personnel and their 14 causing problems, but we pressed a bit harder with Maguire acting more like a second striker than drifting behind Wyke, and that looked like paying off. However, it was McLaughlin who produced the first save of the half, getting in the way of a fierce shot. Ten minutes in, Ross went for broke by replacing Gooch with Grigg. Maguire duly shifted out wide and we had two out and out strikers pushing at the home defence. It only took a few minutes for the change to have an effect, and it was another O’Nien cross that did the damage, this time finding the head of McGeady, and Wyke was onto the touch on to find the net. Not as pretty as the opening goal, but just as well worked… .and only 32 minutes to hold out.
Grigg was through soon after, but the keeper got there to save the initial effort and watch as the second went wide, and we followed that with some more pushing forward, Maguire having a run down the left right and McLaughlin 2 following some decent defensive work by setting McGeady away down the left. McGeouch came on for Power, who’d faded a bit after the break, and Dinky Dylan did what we hoped he would, being neat and tidy and retaining possession for Leadbitter to spread it wide. For some reason, Rochdale replaced their number 14, who’d been a right pest, then brought on a huge centre forward, just to keep Ozturk and Willis, who he towered over, on their toes. Thankfully, despite his height, he couldn’t jump, and our centre generally held firm against high balls aimed at his head.
After a Leadbitter corner with fifteen to go caused problems in the Rochdale box, McGeady cut in from the left, but his shot wasn’t hit cleanly and smacked into the adverts to the left of the goal. At the other end, McLaughlin 1 took a number of crosses under pressure, and produced a great save, getting down low to his left to pat the ball round the post. With a yellow apiece for Wyke and Leadbitter, we couldn’t be accused of not getting stuck in, and Embleton replaced Maguire with three or four minutes left. We decided the best form of defence was to get the ball as far upfield as possible and keep it there, but, after four added minutes were announced, Rochdale got forward to force a fine save from Big Jon, and we heaved a sigh of relief as he curled around the ball on the ground.
…and then it was all over. Not the prettiest game in the world, but we worked damned hard for those three points and when three points are up for grabs, prettiness is not the most important thing. We defended bravely, and for the most part effectively, with Ozturk and Willis again proving to be an effective duo. As part of a back four, O’Nien created more going forward than anyone had as a wing-back in a three/five, showing his versatility and energy. Grigg changed the shape of the game for us (is "impact sub" to be his forte?), and his presence was vital in creating the space from which Charlie got the winner as he pulled defenders around the box. Big Chas had a good evening, using what we know he’s got (brawn and muscles) to give the home defence a hard time.
Pick of the bunch, though, has to be McGeady. He might not have had much to do with the build-up to his goal, but the touch and the finish were first class, and he augmented that with numerous runs and some good chasing back – even if step-overs and twazzles in our own box as he cleared the ball gave us in the stand palpitations.
On our way? With three wins in eight days, let’s hope so. A battling performance in which we did what was necessary.