Oldham win 4-1 on pens a.e.t.
Dale team: Russell, Ramsden, McArdle, Stanton, Kennedy, Higginbotham (Toner), Jones, Keltie, Rundle (Thorpe), Dagnall, Shaw (le Fondre)
I decided to watch the game from a different perspective last night; I actually turned up at the ground!
I kid. I actually went and watched the game from the unfamiliar surroundings of the WMG; partly to savour the experience in a different stand of the ground, and partly to save two quid. It was worth it on both counts.
The match was always going to be an occasion, if not for the novelty of rivalry, then for the coincidence that both these teams have a special place in their collective hearts for Ernie Cooksey. I’m not a believer in fate, but a more fitting match-up than last night’s could not have been arranged for the first home match of the season. Last night was Ernie’s night. And I hope young Isabella Cooksey, just a few weeks old, will one day look back on the game, and realise that the father she never saw was regarded as a true legend and a true gentleman by everyone at both Rochdale and Oldham. Rest in peace Ernie.
The game kicked off in spirited fashion, Oldham looking slightly more dangerous on the break via the speed of the wingers, in particular Dean Smalley, the nimble right-winger who was a constant threat to Tom Kennedy. As Dale broke forward, Mark Crossley (the Oldham keeper) invariably tried to find Smalley with a quick throw. Indeed, it was this move which created the first major talking point of the game. An attack in the Oldham half broke down, and Crossley threw accurately to Smalley, who punctured Dale’s defence, and eventually was tripped by Rory McArdle in the penalty area. Nailed on for me.
So up stepped Lee Hughes, everyone’s favourite centre-forward, and the big man fired it straight at Sammy Russell to ensure the chants of “England’s Number One” would ring out throughout the match. He then gobbled up the next shot from Oldham, and the chants got that slight bit louder. Are you watching Fabio?
The rest of the first half was played out with neither side having many definite chances; Tom Kennedy had our best effort, a curled free kick which was saved excellently by a surprisingly agile Crossley. Dagnall had a chance when he sneaked behind the Oldham defence chasing a long ball to nowhere, but ultimately he was deceived by the bounce and it fed through to the keeper. Oldham looked a decent side, and were utilising the wingers to great effect – Hughes also looked a good player at League One level, as he should.
A note on Jon Shaw; the bad news is that Shaw played poorly last night. He was beaten in the air, and his first touch sometimes lacked. The good news is that he won’t play against a centre-back pair as experienced as Hazell and Gregan very often. He needs games, and he needs the support of both fans and management. I still have high hoped for Shaw.
Just before half-time, Oldham had a man sent-off, and I still don’t have a clue why two days later. Hughes and McArdle seemed to be having a bit of a staring contest, when suddenly the ref pulled out a red card and directed it to Craaaaaig Davies. The Dale tried to take advantage of this immediately, but the half-time whistle curtailed their efforts.
The second half was even, really. Both sides had “nearlies”, “almosts” and “if only’s” but neither team converted these into “waheys”. Shaw was taken off for le Fondre, and the pace of Alfie was a much bigger threat to the old legs of Gregan and Hazell (Stefan Stam too). We looked good, but never punctured the defence; ditto Oldham. Stanton and McArdle were having a quite brilliant night, and it’s no coincidence that in four matches against League Two-or-higher opponents this season, we’ve had four clean sheets. We’ve not scored any either, but that’s a different matter. I’m beginning to think that Russell, Stanton, McArdle, Ramsden and Kennedy may very well be the best defensive unit in League Two.
Both teams puffed and panted, but real chances were at a premium. Lee Hughes managed to upset the Dale support even more than he already had done (just by being there) by tugging Adam Rundle up off the floor after a dangerous tackle from an Oldham player. Even I found myself up on my feet, shouting “Get off him you scum”, but refraining from the obvious “murderer” taunts. (I preferred the more subtle “fat head” jibe. Calling Hughes a murderer is like water off a duck’s back by now; but fathead – oh he’d be crying into his pillow that night, checking the shape of his cranium in the mirror, asking his wife “Honestly, love, do you really think my head looks big in this?”. That’s how you upset the opposition, childish taunts about their looks). And then the full-time whistle went.
The extra time periods were similar fractious yet entertaining. No team could break the deadlock. It would have to be penalties.
And we lost. Daggers spooned his effort miles over and le Fondre’s penalty was saved by Crossley.
It was a shame.
But we played quite well.