Swindon Town 0
Dale team: Gilks, Ramsden, Stanton, McArdle, Goodall, Muirhead, Perkins, Crooks, Rundle, Dodds, Dagnall
Walking down past the Main Stand last night, at around 20 minutes before kick-off, I caught a glimpse of Lee Crooks and Mark Jackson sprinting from their cars towards the players entrance. Surely they can’t have just got here?
But they had. Crashes and mishaps on the motorway had caused quite a few of the Dale team to arrive only just in time for the match. Hardly the best preparation for a match against one of the best teams in this league, Swindon, who currently occupy third place in League Two. Compound that with the fact that two of our in-form players (Murray and Doolan) were injured pre-match, and unable to play, meant that veteran midfielder and assistant manager Dave Flitcroft was given a place on the bench. That’s some unfortunate turn of events that when your assistant manager, who’s last outing was for non-league Hyde Utd, gets a substitute spot.
But it didn’t show at all, which is credit to the lads who almost turned up late for the match and still put in a good performance against a strong and speedy Swindon side (try saying that after five pints of Guinness).
The tactics employed were what we’ve become used to with Dale recently, a mixture of balls over the top and wing play. The former didn’t really work today, Swindon were tall and basically marked Dodds and Dagnall out of the game. It may have been a different matter with the excellent Murray in there, but he was injured, remember? It looked like Rundle and Muirhead were going to be our main outlets today, as they have been so many times recently. It amazes me how simple this game can sometimes be – give it to the fast guys and they’ll run with it. And they did, although Rundle was by far the better of the two. Muirhead’s last two performances have been under-par, perhaps due to opposition defenders rather than the guy himself, although he does tend to try and play his way out of trouble when a simple ball to Crooks or Perkins would be the wiser choice.
Swindon were very fast up front. Zaaboub and Roberts looked the pick of their players in the first forty-five minutes, with Ramsden and Goodall respectively having their hands full. They managed them quite well though, especially Roberts, who, even with all his pace, only got past Goodall twice during the whole match. The other day I was thinking of footballers with beards, and all I got was Socrates and Genaro Gattuso – now I can add Roberts and Zaaboub to my list. Ifil in the Swindon defence looked good too, mirroring the performance of Stanton in our back-line.
Gilks had to make precisely one save in the first half – Zaaboub (I think) belted the ball from about 8 yards and Matty pulled of a fine reaction save, parrying the ball for a corner. Matt Gilks has been an ever-present this year – and it’s a good job too. Lewis Edge, our on-loan reserve goalie, has been recalled by Blackpool yet again, and we’d have to make do with YTS lad Lloyd Rigby in net if anything ever happened to Gilks, touch wood. I’m not saying Rigby’s a bad player, but he has never played in anything other than reserve and youth matches, so to just throw him in at the deep end would be a risk. But you never know, look what happened with Gilks after Neil Edwards got injured – he played well and is now our undisputed number one.
It was freezing cold, I thought, as the fifteen minutes between halves. We’d had one real chance so far, Dagnall (if memory serves) hit the post after a lot of fumbling in the box. Decent performance in my opinion, but still some cretins from the crowd shouted, “crap this, Dale” and “let’s get back to playin’ football”. Jesus, 0-0 down at half-time to a top-three team and still people feel the need to barrack the players. Have these people got selective Tourette’s or something? or are they just stupid? I hate the negativity that some of the Dale crowd feel the need to air, positivity and optimism are the corner-stones of Hill’s success so far, can’t these guys see that?
The second half was very much the same as the first. I thought Swindon looked happy with a point personally, and sat back, allowing Dale to play in their half. It made for a good clean-sheet, but not good entertainment. This attitude surprised me – Swindon could have gone level with Walsall on points, but they didn’t really want to. This was echoed by Paul Sturrock’s post-match interview on the BBC site.
“Both teams created chances but importantly from our point of view we kept a clean sheet.” he said. I’m glad our manager isn’t content with nil-nil like Mr. Sturrock is.
The game kind of petered out after around 65 minutes. Dodds was taken off and replaced by Reet, who ran around and did nothing from 25 minutes. Reet has yet to make his mark on Dale yet, but perhaps it is unfair to judge someone on the odd fifteen minutes here and there. Swindon’s striker Lucas Jutkiewicz was subbed off in favour of defensive midfielder Michael Timlin, which kind of set the tone for the last part of the game, and Dale’s Glenn Poole came on for Muirhead, who was successfully marginalised by Swindon’s left-back. Poole, on loan from Grays, was making his debut for us, and didn’t look too bad – his best moment was breaking up a promising Swindon attack and playing the ball simply to our midfield.
Adam Rundle, a man on fire at the moment, looked our best prospect for a goal even on the right wing. His low cross beat the away side’s defender, but keeper Phil Smith saved well before a striker got there.
Swindon’s best chance fell to Mr. Roberts, who freed himself from Goodall finally only to lash the ball over the bar from the edge of the area. If he’d have hit the ball any harder it would have broken the sound barrier. Or something.
Disappointingly, Dave Flitcroft didn’t make an appearance from the subs bench either before the final whistle went. Neither did Town’s ex-Dale player Blair Sturrock, who would have been applauded by myself and I’m sure others too in he did come on.
Overall, a good point for Dale, once again showing that we can hold our own against the top teams of the bottom division.