Barnet 2 (Cogan 24, Sinclair 33)
Dale team: Gilks, Ramsden, McArdle, Jackson, Goodall, Muirhead (Reet), Perkins, Doolan, Rundle (Poole), Murray, Dodds (Dagnall)
Before today’s match, Rochdale had the slightest sniff of a chance of a playoff place this season. After it, we had none. Today we were beaten by a superbly organised and committed Barnet side, beaten early and beaten well.
Dale started off with only two changes from the previous match, Jackson in for the injured Crooks and Dodds in for the un-injured Dagnall. It didn’t really matter who played today – we would have lost regardless. Barnet were simply magnificent (as far as League Two is concerned). They had pace (notably Puncheon, Birchall), midfield organisation (notably Bailey) and a solid defence (notably Yakubu). In comparison, we looked lethargic, uninspired and we were always second to the ball. In truth, we were probably a bit tired after all these matches in a comparatively short time, but still, credit to the Bees for a great performance.
The first goal came after 24 minutes. Up until that point, both Dale and Barnet had done not much really, and the match had a sort of “friendly” vibe about it. But soon enough, Barnet scored, and after that they dominated us. Their first was scored by Barry Cogan, who slotted in from Birchall’s cross. The chance resulted from a halfway line freekick, which was misjudged by Mark Jackson (who was awful today), and allowed Birchall to nip down the left flank and slide it in for Cogan to put the Bees one up. Cue silence from the Dale fans. I couldn’t remember last when we went down 1-0 at home – and after a bit of research, it turns out it was on January 13th, against Bristol Rovers (Rickie Lambert, remember?). That feels a long time ago now.
After the opener, Barnet just ripped us apart. With the notable exception of Perkins, all our players were mislaying passes, and getting skinned by the opposition attack (especially Jason Puncheon on left wing). It wasn’t long before Barnet got a second, a fantastic goal which had me and many other home fans applauding in appreciation (an unusual thing indeed!). The move started off in Dale’s defence, as McArdle and co. played about with it – and inevitably gave away possession cheaply to Cogan, who swung an exquisite cross in for Dean Sinclair to head in, diving at full stretch. Great play Barnet. 2-0 down, the match was pretty much finished.
Barnet nearly got a third inside 45, as Mark Jackson let the ball slip underneath his foot, into the oncoming path of a Barnet player. He really should have scored, but fortunately for us, our embarrassment was not worsened.
At half-time, I thought that Keith Hill would really shake his players up, change his formation and maybe we could nick a draw, given “the rub of the green”. But we came out in the second half almost as bad as before. The ineffective (once again) Muirhead was replaced by Danny Reet (without his banana feet), and the equally ineffective Dodds was replaced with Dagnall. 3-5-2? No. 4-3-3? No. We decided to go 3-4-3, a strange, uneven tactic which was last used around 1900. For the first time in his tenure as Dale manager, Keith Hill looked lost. Needless to say, the formation didn’t work.
Man of the match for me today was the referee. I counted his wrong decisions – two, during the whole match. One was for a routine aerial challenge, given to the wrong side, and one was for booking Goodall, when really he should have got red (more on that later). It’s not often people praise the officials, but Mr. M Haywood of West Yorkshire stand up and be counted, you were a real credit to your profession. He let the game flow, used advantage liberally and didn’t fall for any theatrics. And all three disallowed goals that we “scored” were rightly disallowed. I can think of so many refs who would cave-in to home pressure, but Mr. Haywood did not.
The first of our disallowed goals came as Alan Goodall slid in dangerously, and with two feet on keeper Harrison, forcing him to drop the ball. Illogically, some Dale fans protested that the ball was fumbled, and there to be won. Maybe it was, but Goodall was nowhere near the ball, and instead found Harrison’s ribs with his boots. Anyway, Murray (I think) tapped the ball in soon after, with the keeper stricken on the floor. The referee ruled it was a free kick for a foul by Goodall (correct), but only gave a yellow card (incorrect, in my opinion). 1-0 to Haywood.
The second disallowed came when a cross was converted in by Glenn Murray again, if memory serves. Only Murray had pushed (clearly) the opposing defender, meaning the referee ruled for a free kick for a foul against your man Murray. 2-0 Haywood.
The third of the disalloweds came as Danny Reet missed a sitter, hitting the ball past the keeper but hitting the post too. The ball rebounded, and hit Murray on the hand and went in. Referee rules for a free kick for a foul against Murray. 3-0 Haywood!
Indeed, Murray had a whole hattrick disallowed today.
The rest of the second half was made up of Barnet missing easy chances and Dale failing to create many. The substitutions did not play well today – Reet looks two stone overweight and Dagnall didn’t quite have control of the ball.
Final thoughts? Dale looked tired and disinterested, while Barnet were dynamic and incisive (at least in the first half). But if Dale only play like this once in fifteen games, I think we can look forward to a successful season in our centenary.