With our promotion campaign gathering impetus, second-bottom Rochdale were sent away from the SoL with nothing but the clarts between their studs as headed first-half goals from Sanderson – his first for us – and Wyke (who else?) saw us 2-0 winners. Another shut-out from the makeshift back line, who alternated between three and four as required, and some nice passing further up the field resulted in an efficient afternoon’s work, and with results for Pompey and elsewhere going our way, a nice afternoon all round.
Having played Rochdale a mere six times, and won the five league meetings, our only slip-up was in the EFL Trophy in September 2016 when a 1-1 draw saw Dale claim a bonus point by winning the penalty shoot-out. To make things worse, we didn’t understand the competition rules, assuming we were out, and I collected a speeding ticket on the way back to our holidays in Keswick. “Just down the road to Rochdale” said John. With Rochdale not in the best of form (two draws and three defeats in their last five games – actually, that’s awful form) and us putting a decent run together, the sensible money would/should have been on a home win – but since when did the words “Sunderland” and “sensible” actually fit together in a sentence? Anyway, I’d been sensible when getting my first Covid jab, insisting that they injected the goodies into my Sunderland tat, thus immunising the entire squad. That’s the theory, at least.
With no fresh injuries to consider, apart from Gooch, but with Grant willing to play through the pain barrier to help our cause – not today, and probably not Tuesday, as that’s Pompey, and they’ll do a number on his shoulder – there shouldn’t have been any selection headaches for Johnson. All of the round holes in our side (defence) should continue to be plugged by square pegs, and with Sanderson growing in stature with every passing game, I’d was hoping for another shut-out and another Wyke strike.
Younger Sanderson O’Nien McFadzean
Jones O’Brien Wyke McGeady
I’ve put four at the back, but once we’d got started, defending the North Stand as usual, it became apparent that it was usually three, with McFadz playing higher up the field. Most of our early play was down the left, with the occasional burst from Jones on the right, as we pushed Rochdale south. We were only five minutes in when Geads took a pass from McFadz and showed a turn of pace that David Bellion would have been proud of to get to the line – but was fouled as he tried to cross. He curled the free-kick to the back post, where Sanderson was stronger than his marker and thumped home a header. Marvellous – the perfect way to impose ourselves on the game.
We continued down the left, winning a fair few free kicks, despite the ref appearing to favour Rochdale on many occasions, but it was us, and McFadz, who saw the first yellow. McShane (aye, that one) looked genuinely bemused when he simply ran over Wyke near halfway while the watching world just shook their heads and wondered what exactly he though the outcome would be other than a free kick. Rochdale did mount an attack, and we needed O’9 to produce one of those diving blocks that had been a feature of McShane’s time on Wearside – except that he actually got in the way of the shot. Well played, Luke, and he was at the heart of the defence as we dropped back in numbers to deny Rochdale space as they tried to pay into our box. Just after the half hour, they got to the line on our left (sound familiar?) and put in a cross that they somehow slashed over the bar from a couple of yards out. Let’s just say Grigg would have at least hit the target.
Straight after this, Geads found Jones with a lovely pass, and he knocked it past his man to ping in a cross that Wyke met with a thunderous downward header in at the near post from close to the spot for 2-0 on 34 minutes. Another great header, another great goal.
We got the ball up the field, and Jones looked to have been fouled, but the ref thought otherwise, so Jordan sought his own retribution and was booked after chasing his assailant back to halfway and basically kicking him. Yellow card, silly boy.
Younger did very well to head away from under the bar for the game’s first corner. It created a bit of havoc as O’9 wrestled with his man at the back post and there was a bit of pinball at the near, but Burge eventually claimed the bouncing ball, and two added minutes were added in which not a great deal happened.
Two goals to the good, dominating the game, and never really looking in trouble. That’ll do nicely for me.
No changes for the second half, but Winchester took an early knock and looked to be struggling before he eventually sat down four minutes in, and Scowen warmed up. Rochdale pressed forward and we had Younger to thank for clearing header, but we had a little spell of carelessness, conceding possession several times and thus allowing Rochdale to move towards our box. Scowen did come on for Winchester, as did Maguire for Younger – the latter a bit of a surprise, and Power reverted to right back. The ref continued his strange afternoon, giving a free to Rochdale when O’9’s challenge looked perfectly fair. The took it quickly, sliding it into the box, and Burge saved smartly down to his right, palming away for a corner. Thankfully, Maguire, who was doing some good work when dropping deep, headed the dead-ball clear, then Baah was booked as the Rochdale man got a bit too enthusiastic in closing O’9 down.
Geads fired a long pass across the field to Jones, but McShane got in ahead of Wyke and they got it away, but we won the ball back and produced some nice passing, particularly on our left from where McFadz put in a decent cross. The ball dropped onto the spot, and we were up out of our comfy chairs when McShane fell over, but he somehow managed to clear the ball. A few minutes later, Rochdale replaced Osah (or was it Asoh?) with Newby, but the next action was with twenty to go when the linesman on the far side went down – hit by a missile from the East Stand? Nah, a touch of cramp. He was eventually replaced, and we won a free thirty yards out when Geads was fouled coming through the inside left channel. With everyone lining up for yet another pinpoint cross from Maguire, he instead whipped in a shot that flew a foot over the bar with the keeper taken by surprise.
Jones made way for Diamond, which seemed sensible with the yellow card in mind, and young Jack’s direct running kept the pressure on the visiting defence. A teasing cross from Maguire won us a corner on our left, with Geads slinging it in but Wyke’s header flying just over the bar. When Rochdale got the ball down to the Roker End, O’9 did very well to put it out for a throw near the corner flag on our left, and when it came in long, McFadz got it away. He was then clearly fouled, but again the ref favoured the visitors and awarded a corner, which Maguire, at the near post, put out for another. We defended this successfully, and the next one (which the ref originally gave as a goal kick) and broke up-field. The keeper couldn’t hold the eventual cross, allowing O’Brien to cut it back to the edge of the box, but Rochdale got in the way and forced us a little way back. We took the hint, and relaxed into a period of crisp passing to draw the energy out of the visiting defence and midfield. There was another corner on the right, which Geads took short to Diamond – and Rochdale were happy to concede another. This one, with five minutes left, went into the box and eventually to the keeper, and when they got the ball up the field, McFadz was deceived by the bounce near our box and their man fired into a shot which Burge saved at the second attempt.
Eight (yes, 8) added minutes were announced, and we had Sanderson to thank for another headed clearance and tried to put our collective foot on the ball to see the time out, but the linesman then joined the ref’s We Love Rochdale club by giving them a throw when their man had clearly kicked the ball out. There was time for a Rochdale yellow – a foul on Maguire – in added added time, then the whistle went and it was job well done.
A wholly satisfactory result and a generally satisfactory performance, with Sanderson continuing his growth in stature and us generally managing the game well. Another assist from Geads, then another goal from Wyke, and, most importantly, another three points for Sunderland.
Man of the Match? Again, no stand-out performances, another impressive cameo from Maguire, another goal from the main striker, and another clean sheet by our makeshift defence. Let’s give it to Sanderson, while acknowledging that we were never really threatened for any sustained period, for another impressive display capped by a fine goal.