Rochdale 3 (Rundle 39, Dagnall 45, Shaw 72)
Barnet 1 (Birchall 3)
Dale team: Russell, Ramsden, McArdle, Stanton, Kennedy, Higginbotham (Toner), Keltie, Jones, Rundle, Dagnall (le Fondre), Shaw (Thorpe)
“…Barnet have let seven goals in already this season”. I said, “…and we’ve not even let one in yet”. In the gap between those two sentences, Adam Birchall had stuck one in the Sandy Lane net from a tight angle; not a case of “spoke too soon”, more a case of “didn’t even get chance to speak too soon”.
We were shoddy in the first twenty minutes or so. After the goal, (which came from a poorly defended long-ball to nowhere), there were missed passes galore, miscontrols that went out for throw-ins, and a curious incident when Tom Kennedy tapped the ball three inches when he wanted to pass 20 yards. I sometimes wonder about Rochdale; if we were a person then we’d be the one who turns up to work half an hour late, spills coffee all over his PC, but still smugly manages to exceed his sales targets with room to spare, wandering home half an hour early to catch the 6.00 episode of the Simpsons. Sometimes we make it hard for ourselves when it really shouldn’t be.
Barnet were what they usually are – fast, skilful, but never in control. Birchall stood out as their biggest threat, not just for his goal, but his Dagnall-like knack of holding onto the ball in tight situations. At the back, well you could see why they’d let in seven in two before this match. They never got a grip on the movement of Chris Dagnall, and couldn’t pick up Gary Jones either (who seems more willing to run past the strikers this season, probably the effect of playing with Keltie).
That said, we couldn’t make anything stick for most of the first half. Jon Shaw was frustratingly inefficient (although he improved later on) and Kallum Higginbotham couldn’t find any space to cross, which was mostly his own fault. Gary Jones huffed and puffed as usual, never any question about that, and he looked our most prominent player on and off the ball.
It stayed this way for 40 disappointing minutes, until Adam Rundle found the ball at his feet in what John Motson would call the inside-left position, whatever that means. He shot once, twice, before his effort finally went in to the total relief of all inside Spotland. And then the match decisively, predictably swung our way. It needs half an hour or so for this Rochdale motor to get running, but once it does there’s no stopping it. The second goal came only 5 minutes later, Chris Dagnall clinically finished a Jonah pass from a fairly tight angle. Watch it tomorrow on the highlights, it was a good goal, a great goal in fact. And we went into the break in the lead, our five minutes of good play obviously outweighing forty minutes of crap.
There was very little doubt of the result in the second half, we looked a class apart from Barnet. They threatened very occasionally, but did little to hamper the Dale machine’s progress. Keltie sprayed the ball about like a young John Doolan, Adam Rundle stole away time and time again from the Barnet right-back, and Ciaran Toner (Higgy’s replacement) connived a way through the Barnet defence only for him to overhit the pass to Jonah at the last minute. Barnet, for all their effort, let their head’s drop, and began to falter with simple passes, simple tackles and simple dribbles.
The midfield two of Gary Jones and Clark Keltie, on whom so much rests this season, made a big impression in the second half. Keltie is your classic playmaker, easy on the ball, quick to pick out a pass and even quicker to play the ball out of a tight spot. Jonah is typically Jonah, all effort and shinpads, the heart of the team, the talisman, to put it in tabloid terms. If these two continue to work together as they did in the second half, I foresee no trouble breaking down the majority of League Two teams.
The third and final goal however came from an attacking force that may seem unlikely, but actually is instrumental to our team. Sammy Russell quickly took a goal kick long, plop, right into Jon Shaw‘s path and the new striker volleyed it Hasselbainkly into the top of the net. Relieved? I bet he was. Shaw played poorly for the first half, following on from the Oldham game, but the second half for him was a big improvement. The decisive point for me was when he battled Barnet’s left back Joe Devera off the ball in the far corner, and for that minute it seemed the crowd were starting to like this fella. A couple more goals like that and they will really be on his side. For the moment, I’m still indecisive, but then again my opinions mean nothing to Jon Shaw so I guess it doesn’t matter. By now the match was well and truly won.
Adam le Fondre had come on for Chris Dagnall some five minutes before Shaw’s goal, and immediately reminded us that he was last season’s top scorer by having a definite penalty shout turned down. Minutes later he shot straight at Barnet keeper Beckwith from three yards out, but to give the keeper some credit he closed down very well. Jonah and Keltie had some spectacular long-range efforts, both blocked. Jones then shot one two inches over the bar, before Keltie did the same. The fourth goal never came, and so the match ended just 3-1 when it could have been 5 or 6.
Judging by this match alone, I think Barnet will do okay this year. Adam Birchall has real class, and there are some speedy wingers just needing match experience to improve. With the relegation spots already taken, Barnet may well build a squad ready to challenge for the playoffs next season, depending on whether their established players are willing to take that chance. To finish 17th this year may not be necessarily be a bad thing. One area they must improve on is their confidence, as a team. Taking Rochdale as an example, Barnet need to emulate our response to conceding goals. If we’d have scored that goal in the first two minutes, I doubt whether Barnet would have been able to come back from that.
As for ourselves, I’m optimistic. With Mark Jones’s signing on Friday we now have real midfield competition which was lacking last year. Our defence is still as solid as last season and our strikers are good enough to put their chances away. Now all we have to do is hope. Hope that we play to our potential, and hope that injuries or player departures don’t spoil a promising looking season.
And on that cheery note, I remind you that we are 4 points ahead of last season’s progress. Up the Dale!