Another bloody Tuesday and sweet FA, another match as the fixtures fly in thick and fast meaning that there’s barely been time to digest Saturday’s shenanigans before the Lads were kicking off at Rochdale. The Lads were pegged back twice in a generally disjointed display, allowing the opposition far too much time on the ball in their own half, and conceding possession at crucial times when simply maintaining it would have been far more effective – and actually looked quite easy to do, given the time on the ball in our own half that Rochdale’s set-up allowed us. Result? 2-2.
Rochdale – who we’d played a mere five times in our history, with all of those games coming in the last four years (how did that happen?) and us managing to win all the “real” ones and draw the Checkatrade game, losing out on penalties but still getting to Wembley – remember Wembley? Anyway, a midweek trip to Lancashire would have been a great antidote to the malaise the country currently finds itself if, but pre-coach snifter in Spenny, there was to be no sightings of Irlam’s tripe or of Ron Chalker the potato man, no visits to those immaculate establishments The Flying Horse or The Baum, no flying of SAFC flags outside the town hall before the cheapest taxi ride in the UK out to the Willbutts Lane stand, and no chance to spill onto the pitch to celebrate whatever the Lads came up with that was worth celebrating. It was again the new normal of the TV in the front room, which is, quite frankly, getting more than a bit tedious. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t realise tonight’s game was on until it was mentioned in Saturday’s commentary, and I’ve no idea who we play at the weekend. Desperate times, and not even Monday’s FA Cup draw could bring much joy, as we were paired with Mansfield – nothing against them, but it’s hardly an interesting tie, even though we’d almost certainly have been unable to attend an interesting one at a ground we’d not visited before. Still, there’s the second round for that sort of thing. Or not, more than likely.
Of course, there’d be at least one change to our line-up, seeing as O’Nien got himself sent off as Pompey repeated the trick they pulled at their place in the dying weeks of last season by simply being bigger and stronger than us. McLaughlin as a straight swap seemed the most likely option, but there was also the chance for Flan to step in – and then Parky blew all this out of the water with four changes. The inclusion of new boy Sanderson as well as Flanagan, Wright, and McLaughlin had us wondering who would get the role bombing down the right. McLaughlin is the most recent to have played that wide game, but Flan’s done it before and I’ve no idea if Sanderson has or not. The absence of Leadbitter meant a slight change of shape in midfield – probably with our George sitting deep and allowing Power to stay higher, with Gooch joining Maguire in support of Wyke (and let’s face it, he needs it).
Sanderson Wright Flanagan
McLaughlin Dobson Power Hume
…and with McLaughlin’s kid brother Ryan turning out for Rochdale, but at right back, just to keep him as far away from Big Brother as possible. It looked a chilly evening, with the players’ breath coming, like John McPhail, in hot pants. With us facing to the right as the camera looked, Rochdale started things, with us in our stripes and red shorts. Most of the opening four minutes was Rochdale as we sat back and let them play their game, which is to play it out form the back before turning around and starting again. We conceded a corner when Sanderson did well to tackle on the line, but it was knocked over at the front post, and we at last built an attack, with Wright finding McLaughlin, who played it back to Maguire. The cross would perhaps have brought more reward had it been Wyke on the end of it, but Gooch couldn’t jump high enough and the chance was gone. Burge was called to to make a comfy save on 8 minutes, and then we actually started to get forward a bit. Hume had a couple of runs and crosses, but the keeper got them both, then a loose pass by Lund, straight to Maguire, had us expecting good things as Chris galloped through the middle, but instead of taking it close, he had a go from outside the box and was nowhere near scoring. Should have done better with that chance. Not to worry, as on 14 minutes Gooch twisted and turned out on the left and fired in a cross that was perfect for Wyke, who out-jumped the defence to head down and in from a few yards.
That seemed to perk us up a bit and we produced a little spell of passing, setting Sanderson away down the right a la Willis, as Rochdale persisted with one up front which gave us time on the ball in our own half. On 20 minutes, their McLaughlin was booked for taking too long over a throw – there’s nowt stranger than referees. Rochdale continued to go back to come forward, which should gave us the opportunity to harry them into mistakes – which we steadfastly refused to take.
Flan did well to get a head to a cross from our right, but when it came back in Lund had nobody near him and the free header replicated Wyke’s – in from a few yards. Bugger. A few minutes later, after several attempts, the live stream gave up and refused to restart for a couple of minutes, which meant that I didn’t know if I was watching highlights or live football. Very frustrating, but it sprung back to life as Power tried to twist his way through in the inside right channel, only to be illegally halted 25 yards out. With a wall of midgets and the keeper virtually leaning on his right-hand post, Chris decided not to go for glory, and the ball to the back post was punched out. Only to Gooch, who cut inside and fired a right-footer off a defensive boot and up into the air, where Wright got his header in and the keeper flapped ineffectually as it bounced into the back of the net. Nice one, Bailey, now let’s see the last five minutes out and get sorted at the break.
See the last five minutes out – as if! Rather than use the time and space the home side allowed us in our own half to hold onto the ball, we tried speculative long balls that they picked off, or(Charlie, I’m looking at you) fouled a defender who was running towards his own goal line and thus conceding possession. Therefore it wasn’t a surprise when they won it back again and got down our left, and when the cross came in Dobson and Sanderson couldn’t decide which of them was going to do anything, deciding instead to let the other do it and thus allowing Lund time to pick his spot and place the ball beyond Burge’s right hand. At this point the “live” stream decided to freeze again, and then treated me to five repetitions of the 30 seconds following that second Rochdale goal. Consequently I’ve no idea if there was any added time, though I expect there was a minute.
No changes for the second half, in which it took us five minutes to get going, but when we did we looked a bit more interested and energetic in the opposition’s half. Hume got a cross to Maguire at the back post, but the shot was blocked and the follow-up, from the same player, evaded everybody as it flew across the goal area. Oh, for a fox in the box, or anybody who’d just take a chance of that sort of follow-up and hoy themselves where they think the ball might go. There was a bit of a worry when Sanderson needed treatment after a foul, but he eventually came back on as Maguire put the free to the edge of the box and saw it cleared. McLaughlin then ran onto a chip forward and put in a cross that their kid headed away, getting himself splattered by a team-mate in the process.
A second Rochdale yellow arrived for a foul on Dobson in the centre circle, but quite why they felt it necessary to foul the Lad is a bit of a mystery as he’d generally not done anything with the ball anyway. Gooch got a shot away, but it was straight at the keeper, then Maguire was replaced by Scowen - I’d have thought O’Brien would have been a more suitable option, as it left us a bit light up top. Sanderson was booked after bringing down the pesky Rathbone as he tried to break down the right, but the free-kick was to the near post and we got bodies in the way. After Wyke had a header saved at the front post, our next attack saw his flick go just too far for Gooch, but Lynden turned it back from the by-line to Hume. The shot that followed was about as weak as you could imagine, but it somehow took a deflection as it trundled across the box and off target to go for a corner. That was Charlie’s time up, as he made way for Graham with ten to go – at least I think there were ten to go, as the stream had all but given up the ghost by then, and when it did make an appearance I was treated to something that looked like a Jimi Hendrix album cover – or one of those melty screensavers that used to scare the life out of computer users back in the day.
Swapping one hold-up forward for another didn’t seem like a very positive move to me. I know Grigg hasn’t exactly been a problem collectors of goal-scoring statistics in his time with us, but he’s not had much of a sniff this season and he might have been the positive change that we needed. Anyway, as we ploughed through the final ten minutes, Sanderson and McLaughlin exchanged passes for young Dion to swing in a cross which was cleared, then McLaughin fed Gooch on the edge of the area, but there was no room to turn, never mind shoot. Another Hume cross looked to have found Scowen, but he completely miscued his effort in the box and it ran across to safety. Right on 90 we were almost rewarded for our increased positivity when Scowen chested a cross into Power’s path on the edge of the box, and Max hit a perfect volley. Well, obviously not quite perfect, as it thumped the underside of the bar and bounced out, with Graham winning the header but being unable to direct it past the keeper. Aw, shucks. Five added minutes were added, none of which I saw, and the referee (I assume it was the referee) blew for time.
A point’s a point, I suppose, but Rochdale will be far happier with it than I am.
Man of the Match? Other than the aberration that allowed their second equaliser, Sanderson had a good debut. Hume again provided an attacking threat down the left, but our central midfield was generally ineffective – which begs the question “why mess with the formation that’s generally worked this season?” (let’s not talk about last Saturday, though). I know Rochdale only had one up top, but that would have allowed Leadbitter (or whoever the holding midfielder was) to move ten yards up the field, allowing the other central midlfielders to join in the harrying of the opposition in their own half. I’ll probably give it to Bailey Wright, who didn’t do much wrong. Unlike the providers of the “live” stream, so I’m off to write a letter of complaint about the quality of the that and demand my money back. So there.