I'm expecting us to win tonight and that's a bit worrying of course as things never seem to come easy. Rochdale are close to the drop zone and have conceded forty-eight goals already this season so it would look like a banker home win. If we manage an early goal, then I think we'll win comfortably but if they have a load of giant defenders who rough us up and frustrate us, then it could be a long slow grind. I hope we can stick with the starting line-up that eventually did so well against Ipswich as I don't know of any injury issues at this early hour but maybe it's worth giving Lafferty a start and bringing Wyke on later. Coventry are playing Portsmouth so something clearly has to give there and I reckon a draw would be best for us. I'll not be at the game so I'll be tuning in to Benno and Barnesy. Match prediction: 3-1 to us.
When I got the team-news about an hour before kick-off, there were no changes, not even on the bench as far as I could see. I agreed with a correspondent on the ALS Facebook page that we needed to use the subs earlier to save those tired legs for the next match. I tuned into SAFSEE in time to hear Elvis blasting out and soon Rochdale were kicking off. It was windy and the temperature was freezing so no surprises there.
We won a corner after a couple of minutes and Wright got his head on it but it went over the bar. He's certainly made it clear that he'll have a go from corners and he should get a goal soon if he keeps it up. Nick Barnes said Hume had seen more of the ball in the first five minutes than he had in the whole first-half on Saturday. Gooch had a great chance to put us ahead but he put his shot a foot wide of the post and then he created another scoring possibility for O'Nien but the ball spun away from him. Rochdale hadn't had a sniff so far so it was no surprise when Gooch put us ahead in the eleventh minute, hitting home a great cross from the right. That was a fine start but we needed to keep at them and get a second soon. We didn't have to wait long as five minutes later Matheson went up to challenge Wyke but only succeeded in looping the ball over Sanchez in goal. That was surely the points in the bag but I was greedy for more. Henderson and Wright got into a scuffle near the half-way line that resulted in a yellow for the former and a stern word for the latter. Anyway, it gave McLaughlin something to do as he took the resultant free-kick. Flanagan made a good tackle at the edge of our box in Rochdale's first real attack. O'Nien and Maguire
combined beautifully to set up Gooch for his second in the thirty-second minute so we had an hour to bang a couple more in as goal-difference may well be crucial in the final run-in. Rochdale were forced into a change five minutes or so before the break when Norrington-Davies was replaced by Keohane due to injury. The stadium was very quiet – maybe a lot of fans had gone below to get warmed up. Rochdale still hadn't made any serious threat on our goal when the half-time whistle went. I noticed on the BBC site that the own-goal had been given to O'Connell; I don't think 'awarded' would be an appropriate word.
Many times we've seen games where one side was three or four ahead at the break and nothing much happened in the second-half but I hoped we'd go for 6-0, though surely we could afford to make those early changes. Rochdale had a bit more of a go in the opening stages but we were soon back winning our fifth corner. Sanchez dropped the ball under challenge from Wyke and proceeded to writhe around on the deck for a while before finally taking the free-kick. The hour-mark was approaching and I was hoping The Rat (Scowen) would make an appearance. Rochdale actually mustered a shot that McLaughlin had to parry away but he managed to stop it going for a corner. We had a penalty shout for a nudge on Hume but ref Graham Salisbury wasn't having it. Power was hitting a few great long-distance passes around, which was good news as he hasn't seemed to have made much of a mark of late. Twenty-five to go and still no changes (“Freshening things up” as Benno said). We were certainly allowing Rochdale to press more so I was hoping some eager beaver would come on for us and lam one in. Semenyo came on five minutes later to replace Maguire, who'd been limping a bit. Watmore came on for Gooch shortly afterwards and then the crowd, 27,401, was announced which wasn't half bad for the second home match in three days on a bollock-freeezing night. I thought Rochdale had got one back when Henderson ran onto a header from Wilbraham and hit it goalwards but it went over the bar. We made a rare threat ourselves when an O'Nien effort was turned out for a corner by Sanchez. Lafferty replaced Wyke with five minutes on the clock. Elsewhere Coventry went 1-0 up against Portsmouth while Peterborough were winning 4-0. It had been a dull second-half really but there was still time for a stoppage-time fourth of our own. It ended 3-0 to a good ripple from the crowd.
This was very comfortable in the end and with another clean sheet and a jump up the league it's been a fine evening for us. Oxford will present a different kettle of fish on Saturday, though – see you there.