Rochdale 3 (Howe 47, 55, 90)
Grimsby 1 (Taylor 85)
Dale team: Lee, Ramsden, McArdle, Stanton, Kennedy, Muirhead (le Fondre), Jones, Perkins (Basham), Rundle, Thorpe (Howe), Higginbotham
It was colder than it looked today in the Rochdale breeze. Wearing suitable clothing is tricky business at this time of year, as my gloveless hands found out. The sun shined on Spotland, but it was that fake sunshine, you know the one that isn’t hot and doesn’t give you a tan; Rochdale sun.
We started off quite rightly with the same team that started against Bradford, the only difference being the black shorts instead of white (why do we do this?). Grimsby had had a few knocks and injuries, and this will probably be used as an excuse for their shocking performance. At times today it looked like a training match with only one possible outcome, but in the end we had to settle for an overly-nervy 3-1 win courtesy of a Rene Howe hattrick (didn’t see that one coming!). Maybe a case of Wembleyitis for Grimsby’s players, obviously they hadn’t adjusted back to the usual perks of League Two like crap pitches and crap referees. Looking back on it, today may have gone down as a chance missed to increase our goal difference by five or six, such was the difference between the two teams.
Today I feel sorry for Lee Thorpe. He hits the post in the first 5 minutes, looking really up for it, then he gets injured and his replacement scores three. Howe wouldn’t have even been on the bench today if it weren’t for Dagnall’s stomach bug. It just shows you football’s ups and downs, a guy not scheduled to play suddenly is called into action and has a stormer.
We had to wait until the second half until we got any goal action, though. We hit the woodwork twice (Thorpe, and a vicious Rundle free kick) and Grimsby had an effort which rebounded off the bar all in the first thirty-five minutes. We were looking the better team though, although that wasn’t asking much. Our impending victory got slightly easier in the 37th minute however, as Nathan Jarman was booked for a second time for a nasty-looking tackle on Perkins. I personally didn’t think it warranted a booking, but today’s referee Danny McDermid obviously thought so and Jarman left the field, distraught. He looked a bit like Gordon Brown the referee today, but I’ve heard the PM knows his football so the likeness must have only been physical.
At half-time there was a feeling of confidence amongst the Dale fans, which believe me is rare indeed. There didn’t look to be any doubt in this team to get a result, as there would have been not 4 weeks ago. In the bag, it seemed. We would step up a gear. Maybe it was something to do with the questionable choice of haltime music. “Karma Chameleon?!” the bloke next to me said, “What’s next? Soft Cell?!”
Our thoughts and suspicions proved correct in the second forty-five (no, they didn’t play Soft Cell), as we stepped up a gear and simply outclassed ten-man Grimsby. Only two minutes of the new half had gone and Rundle found his way past ex-Dale player Jamie Clarke and pinged an absolute peach onto Rene Howe‘s head. One-nil, and knowing smiles all around Spotland. If I’d have been a Grimsby Town fan at this point I would have been dreading the next forty-three minutes.
The goal having settled our players somewhat, they got into their stride and started knocking the ball about a bit. It’s a beautiful site to see when an entire football team has got confidence and skill, and at points our play in the second-half was some of the most inventive I’ve seen from Rochdale. After 55 minutes, Kallum Higginbotham flicked on a long-ball into the path of Rene Howe (you don’t have to be big to win headers), and the big man slotted in the ball in off the post. You could see what it meant to Howe, having been criticised (and rightly) for some less-than-impressive displays. He even did the whole pointing-at-the-name-on-the-back-of-his-shirt thing. We know your name Rene!
At this point a new chant (at least new to me) started up in the Sandy Lane end. “Rene Howe Howe Howe” it goes, to the tune of “Ian Wright Wright Wright”. Well, we aren’t exactly known for the originality of our songs.
It looked like a case of “How many?” from this point onwards, the Grimsby attack doing little of note. Their midfield and defence hardly set the world alight either. We even started to showboat, Simon Ramsden of all people bombing forward, backheeling, pirouetting, and trying to score from forty yards out. Even Nathan Stanton had a shot!
He had a shot?…
I couldn’t believe it either. When le Fondre came on for Ben Muirhead midway through the second half, it looked like it could all be over when he found himself only 3 yards out with the goal at his mercy. Unfortunately he elected to kick it straight into the arms of goalkeeper Barnes. He can be the most frustrating professional footballer ever can Alfie. At least when a player like Paul Tait or Marcus Richardson misses from three yards, you could brace yourself for it. Le Fondre can finish like Michael Owen one week, then like Nicholas Owen the next.
With the game at two-nil we still looked comfortable, yet there were signs of complacency starting to set in. Players like Kennedy and Ramsden were leaving defensive positions randomly, forwards were trying to take on the whole team, and they generally looked like they were having too much of a good time. Grimsby didn’t take advantage of this though until the 85th minute when McArdle slipped, Kennedy forgot where the ball was, somebody cleared inadequately and the resulting cross found the unmarked Andy Taylor nodded in. The confidence of the Dale fans started to disappear. “You can see it happening, can’t you, you can see it!” Unfortunately I could.
Grimsby threw everything they had at us in the last five minutes, even keeper Barnes made an appearance in our area. It amounted to nothing but a couple of awkward volleys from outside the box which threatened us not. All was made better in the 90th minute when Rene Howe Howe Howe (three names for each time he scored) got his hattrick, when he caught the keeper unawares by shooting at his inside post early. I didn’t think it was a goal, and I don’t think anyone else in the Main Stand did, it looked like it’d gone wide and rolled behind the net. But there was Howe, celebrating. And the Sandy, celebrating. And the Grimsby fans, leaving. I guess we did score then!
That was to be the last action of the match, and we now stand sixth in League Two because Wycombe drew against Peterborough.
Whatever you do, don’t book anything for the 26th of May!