Notts County 1 (Johnson 28)
Dale team: Lee, Ramsden, McArdle, Stanton, Kennedy, Basham (Thompson), Jones, Perkins, Rundle (Muirhead), le Fondre, Howe
That might be the end of that then, looks like another year in League Two. Pessimism? No, just realism. True, it’s still in our hands, but do we truly deserve it? Yesterday might just have highlighted why, this season at least, we probably won’t achieve anything. I’m still hopeful we can, but I cannot see how.
We lined up 4-4-2 yesterday, the formation which demolished Accrington last Sunday. Yet when this clearly wasn’t working, we had neither personnel to change things, or the sense. We need options, different ways of playing when we can’t break down a team. Unfortunately, our budget doesn’t offer us these options.
Last year, from December until May, we were irresistable. We battered teams, week-in week-out. Flowing, fast, attacking football – devil may care stuff. Now that teams have sussed us out, we can struggle in some matches to score. Whereas the other playoff potentials have people on the bench to liven things up, we didn’t even have a single striker as a sub yesterday.
If you look at our team from last year and compare it to this year, we do not seem to have progressed either. In fact, we are not as strong as last year’s end-of-season team. Doolan is out of favour, and in my eyes is heading for retirement soon; Murray is gone, to be replaced by le Fondre, who has a decent finish but nothing else; the Muirhead of last season has disappeared to be replaced by his ghost. Only Tom Kennedy has added anything to Hill’s team. All this adds up to us not finishing in the top 7 this year, sorry but that’s the way I feel, and I suggest that’s how most Dale fans who took the trip to Nottingham yesterday will feel.
That’s not to say we still don’t have a good team. With Dagnall back, Muirhead on form etc I think we would pose a challenge for any team in the league. But whether we could do that consistently is another matter. I just don’t get the impression that we can achieve promotion with the current staff. I hope to God the lads prove me wrong.
As for the match yesterday, the less said the better. Notts were crap, we were crap, the referee was crap. They scored. We didn’t. The new goalie Tommy Lee didn’t impress, scuffing kicks and generally looking a bit dodgy. Howe and le Fondre did nowt. Overall, a highly depressing match for both the Dale fan and the neutral.
In the stands there was an uneasy atmosphere. “We’re shit and we know we are”, sang some of the Dale support, but I couldn’t help but disagree with them. We aren’t shit, but were not good enough to be promoted either. “We’re mid-table and we know we are” would have been more accurate.
I feel sorry for Hill and Flitcroft. They have struggled in the transfer market this season, perhaps because this is their first managerial jobs. That said, they have had a limited budget to work with. I also feel that fan expectation has overshadowed a lot of progress the club as a whole has made – especially with the youth academy. Maybe this just isn’t our time yet.
Perhaps I’m begin too reactionary, but I cannot lie to myself and say that I believe we are play-off hopefuls when we put in performances like that. We have to improve. It’s up to Hill, Flitcroft and the players now. Do they believe in the sign?