Rochdale 1 (Ramsden 21)
Chester City 2 (Grant 58, Ellison 90)
Dale team: Spencer, Ramsden, McArdle, Crooks, Kennedy, Muirhead (Thompson), Jones, Perkins, Rundle (Prendergast), le Fondre, Murray (Dagnall)
In stark contrast to Tuesday night’s match, I wandered home from Spotland today with my head down, arms folded and with a constant look of “shut up, you” on my face. This match was miles more disappointing than the Peterborough match, not because we played particularly badly, just because we somehow ended up losing against a poor Chester side.
Yeah okay, if that disallowed goal wasn’t disallowed we would have won, but the fact is that today we just didn’t close out the game, a game in which we controlled our Welsh friends for large periods of the game.
I was sat right in front of some Chester fans too, which didn’t exactly help my mood. Why they were in the Main Stand god only knows!
We started off 4-4-2 with only two changes from the side that played Stoke, with Lee Crooks coming in for the injured D’Laryea and Dagnall being dropped for le Fondre. In the first ten minutes or so we looked quite good, Rundle and Muirhead looked to have the beating of their two full-backs and Chester were causing us no problems at the back (Crooks especially did well today, excepting one play which led to a goal). We were looking to get crosses in the box, from corners and open play alike, as they looked quite unsure when balls were pumped into the box. I thought we were going to win comfortably today. How wrong I was.
It did look that way though, at least for the first half. The opener came on 21 minutes, from a corner. Their keeper Danby flapped at the ball, Jones shot was blocked before Simon Ramsden bundled it home from about a yard. Yay etc. 20 minutes gone, Chester looking bad, Dale looking comfortable – what more could you ask? We were dominating the match, without looking particularly threatening, but we were good value for our lead come half-time.
Their closest effort from the first period came from Simon Yeo, the ex-Lincoln striker swivelled and shot, but his effort was weak and bobbled into Spencer’s grateful arms. That was it really for them. At the other end, McArdle and Murray were creating problems on set-pieces, but I cannot pin-point any specific chances, which was part of our problem today. All I can say is that we played better than Chester in the first half, but not amazingly. Kind of a tepid performance all-round.
Half-time reflections were that Kevin Ellison, the experienced bald winger, was their most dangerous player. I’d heard of a few of Chester players before; Yeo, Butler, Lowndes, but it was Ellison who stood out as their most “prestige” player. I use the word “prestige” in the most loose of senses, you understand. On our own side, I thought Crooks and McArdle were solid and neither missed a header I can recall. Ramsden looked shaky and twice sliced the ball into the air on defensive clearances. Our weakest player on the day was facing their best – this is something which would later punish us.
Second half started not unlike the first, Murray had our best effort with a long-ranger well saved by Danby. But as time wore on our one goal lead was looking more and more tenuous and the tension grew and grew in the home sections of Spotland. Chester’s second half tactics went as follows:
– Give the ball to Ellison
– Get men in the box
All credit to Chester City though, it bloody well worked! Ramsden was slow and couldn’t get to grips with the baldy man in the second half, and it told on 58 minutes when the winger was allowed to get to the byline before sliding one into the box – Tony Grant got on the end of it and Chester had their first goal of the campaign. Damn.
Keith Hill then decided to make some interesting (read bad) substitutions. Rundle, who had just skinned their right-back excellently, was swapped for Prendergast, and for some reason Muirhead was taken off for Joe Thompson. A straight swap both times. Granted Prendergast won the match for us against Stoke, but their seemed no reason to put him on as Rundle was doing just fine. I’d rather Hill do something about Gary Jones, who stuck out as our joint-worst player today alongside Ramsden. Doolan left on the bench for this guy? I shudder.
These tactical masterstrokes didn’t exactly work out as planned. Our right flank with Thompson on made even more of a fool of Ramsden who was dangerously exposed, and Prendergast did nothing of note (although he was by no means awful). But the midfield is where we lost it in the second half. Perkins tried in vain to make up for Jones’ woeful passing, but although the man is good, he is no Superman – he can’t be in two places at once.
The rest of the match was played out like a proper League Two affair – ie shite long-ball stuff, so uncharacteristic of Hilly and Flickers. Daggers came on for Murray, who probably isn’t fully fit yet, and did well in the 88th minute to cross for Alfie to slot home. 2-1 Dale. Woohoo! Let’s all ‘ave a disco!…
But wait, why are Chester playing on? Tom Hark is playing, ref, it has to be a goal!? Unfortunately not. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but the linesman had judged Alfie offside. I can’t say I was in a perfect position to see, but there seemed no reason to even think the goal offside. I thought Daggers had played the ball square and Alfie ran onto it… that would make it onside on two counts!
It’s all on a knife-edge this sport business. Minutes later, Kevin Ellison, playing the last five minutes of the game as striker, ran onto a long-pass and left Crooks trailing in his wake. Needless to say he slotted home and some Chester people got very excited. Dale fans got distinctly pissed off, so they all pissed off home.
Today was a match we could have won, but didn’t. If anything, we showed our naivety whilst playing with a lead. Usually under Hill we would have scored three more, but we didn’t. And we didn’t know how to protect our lead, and instead let an average Chester exploit our one weakness. Maybe we have to learn that sometimes you just cannot afford to swap two wingers for two other wingers despite them being okay in the first place? Mr Hill, that was your first major error as a manager. Now lets regroup and show some grit against Hereford.
Or maybe we should just drop Jonah?
Player by player roundup:
– Spencer: Nothing to do for large periods of the match. Came for crosses well.
– Ramsden: Ran ragged by their only good player. Has looked shaky for three matches running.
– McArdle: Won almost everything in the air, good effort.
– Crooks: See McArdle.
– Kennedy: Decent. His pace will make up for the large majority of errors he’ll make – he is rapid.
– Muirhead: Okay, nothing special.
– Jones: Poor, needs to be dropped.
– Perkins: Ran around like a headless chicken as usual, but couldn’t make up for the woeful Jones.
– Rundle: Beat his man once or twice, some good crosses.
– Murray: Better in the first half than the second, looked tired as the match wore on.
– le Fondre: Did nothing to suggest he is better than Dagnall, although by no means a bad performance.
– Prendergast: Alright, same as Rundle really.
– Thompson: Will not make it in the League, shouldn’t be brought on in a match like this.
– Dagnall: Set-up our disallowed goal, decent cameo.