Rochdale 4 (Jones 30, Dagnall 81, 86, 90)
Rotherham Utd 1 (Joseph 7)
Dale team: Lee, Ramsden, McArdle, Stanton, Kennedy, Muirhead (Basham), Jones, Perkins, Rundle, Howe (Thorpe), le Fondre (Dagnall)
On Sunday I may have said we weren’t strong enough to go up. I may have said we didn’t have people on the bench to come on and change things. I may have said we were unable to adapt to situations quickly enough to gain promotion.
Well, a lot of people say things in anger.
The promotion hunt is firmly back on track, and what’s more, today reminded me of why people like me go to watch Rochdale. Maybe it’s the improbable romance of a player who hasn’t played a match in five months scoring a hattrick in ten minutes. Maybe it’s the hope of a playoff place that refuses to die. Maybe it’s the sight of assistant manager Dave Flitcroft diving head-first into the snow. It’s most likely all these things and more. We don’t come for the glory, we come for the rare moments in which you can say, “I am a Dale fan, and I’m bloody proud!”.
Admittedly, our prospects of a four-one win looked slim after seven minutes, when Joseph scored a scrappy goal from a Rotherham corner. I think most Dale fans weren’t exactly filled with optimism at that point, I certainly wasn’t. However, we were not playing badly, and we did look dangerous on the counter-attack, Rotherham being one of those rare sides that looked to attack away from home. Adam le Fondre looked to have a good chance from about 2 yards about, but somehow managed to miss – I personally thought it’d been blocked by the defence, but the referee signalled a goal-kick so Alfie must have just cocked it up on his own.
After thirty minutes, we scored an equaliser, Rene Howe put Gary Jones through with a nice ball and the record apperance holder finished coolly past ex-bury keeper Andy Warrington. You could see what the goal meant to Jonah as he ran to the touchline, saliva spraying everywhere like a raging bulldog. If anyone questions the desire and commitment of the players, they only need look at any of Gary Jones performances this season. A little rough round the edges is Jonah, not exactly the classiest of players, but he absolutely loves the club and would never dream of giving anything less of 100%. I hope we get promotion, just to see the look on his face.
Now we’d scored, we looked a little more settled, and we nearly got a second when Rene Howe was put clean through by Ben Muirhead. Unfortunately Howe neither had the cool to finish himself or the vision to see the teammates running in support, and ended up hitting it straight at Warrington. He was gutted, so was I.
A satisfactory first half then – we’d not played especially good football, but we didn’t let our heads drop after Rotherham’s goal, and eventually broke through with Jonah’s goal. Some of the same problems as Saturday were evident, a lack of precision in the final third, too much possession given away with long balls to nobody, but we at least threatened the opposition goal, and we were good value to go in at 1-1.
The second half itself could be split up into two halves today, before Dagnall and after Dagnall. Before Dagnall was pretty much how the first half ended, Rochdale enjoying much of the possession, occasionally making half chances, but not many clear-cut ones. Muirhead was taken off after 54 minutes to be replaced by Basham – I was surprised to see this because I thought Muirhead’s width and pace had caused holes to appear in the Rotherham defence, something we lacked on Monday. He didn’t play badly Muirhead, although I got the feeling he was perhaps trying too hard to impress, opting to skin the defender when a simple pass inside was needed.
After about 60 minutes, Rotherham had their best chance of the half, a goalmouth scramble in which the ball bobbled every way except goalward. 8 minutes later, Thorpe and Dagnall were on, and the match entered its final, surreal phase.
When he came on, Dagnall that is, I remember thinking that a substitute had never got a bigger cheer before at Spotland. Even Paddy McCourt never got that kind of welcome. And the Spotland faithful were right to cheer, Dagnall may well be the difference between 7th and 8th come the end of the season. It’s a lot of pressure to put on one man, but if ever a player showed his ability to change a match, Chris Dagnall showed it today.
The first of Daggers’ goals came in the 81st minute, good work by Rundle down the left gave him space to pass to Thorpe, who calmly squared it to Dagnall for a tap-in. You couldn’t have written it, a player who hasn’t kicked a ball competitively (not even in the reserves) in five months scores our winner. If that wasn’t enough, while we were jumping around and shouting like kids with ADHD, Flitcroft decides to dive into the heap of snow next to the dugout. I turn around, and Flitcroft’s head has disappeared and there’s just some legs sticking out of the snow. And that’s what image will remain with me from today, the sheer absurdity. At no other club does things like this happen, and for that I am truly proud.
The second on Dagnall‘s three came only five minutes later, the ex-Tranmere player wriggled free of the defence and struck the ball into the net from around 12 yards – Warrington got a hand to it, but could not save it. As we were singing, Flitcroft again decides to jump into the snow, the madhead, and the stands are laughing and braying and cheering like idiots. Don’t you just love the occasions like this – forget play-offs and promotions, this is what being a Dale fan is about.
And as if the day couldn’t get any better, Dagnall got a third, his best of the game. He turned a weary Rotherham defence and tucked the ball into the far corner, an incisive finish, something we’ve been lacking since January. This time, Jack the Kitman was the one to jump into the snow, although he couldn’t quite get the dive right and just sort of fell into it. We all laughed anyway. Then it was all over, 4-1, and one point from 7th place.
A mention today of Lee Thorpe. I’ve been critical of him so far in his short Dale career, but he impressed me today. He might not score many, but he could still be foil for Dagnall, and was miles better than a poor Howe today. Also, a nod of appreciation must go to the physio at Rochdale, Andy Thorpe. He’s managed to bring us back our Dagnall, and with it, our play-off hopes. Well done Andy.