Wycombe Wanderers 1 (Zebroski 31)
Dale team: Russell, Ramsden, McArdle, Stanton, Kennedy, Buckley (Thorpe), G. Jones, Toner (Lambert), Rundle, Dagnall (Higginbotham), le Fondre
Wycombe did as Wycombe do almost every time we meet them, read my article about last time we played them for an perfectly accurate description of today’s fixture, last February’s fixture and probably the fixture before that. It really is uncanny.
Wycombe negative tactics, our unfunny ability to gift the opposition the first goal and our subsequent failure to break down a solid defence afterwards all made for an awful match in which neither side threatened for large parts of the game. Dagnall went close before Wycombe scored, his toepoke trundling narrowly wide after a great touch brought him the chance to score, indicative of Dagnall’s season so far. Apart from that there was little else.
Although early (ish), the goal on 31 minutes effectively ended the match. One of the many corners Wycombe won was headed down by Wycombe’s Williamson, cleared all of two yards by a combination of Ciaran Toner and Simon Ramsden and then easily swept in the net by Chris Zebroski from inside the six yard area. Cue depression all round. Up until that point we’d looked marginally the better team, although that wasn’t saying much.
Today, unlike many previous matches at Spotland, even Orange Pete’s Golden Gamble could not wake Dale from their slumber. Time and time again, a good-looking opportunity to whip in a cross was wasted, passed backwards, passed forwards again, passed backwards, back and forth, back and forth until Simon Ramsden got frustrated and lobbed a high cross over everyone’s heads and out for a goal kick or occasionally a throw-in.
So are we getting “found out” by the teams at this level? We know by now our natural game is expansive, pacey, attractive – what pundits would call “good football”. But our opponents are increasingly favouring negative tactics, hoping for an early goal, putting eleven behind the ball and then inviting Dale to mount attack after attack of toothless football. My concern is that we don’t have a Plan B. Can we rely on bits of individual skill to score us the odd goal after getting behind in a match? At the moment we are pretty much asking our back-four to get a clean sheet every week because we are simply not scoring any goals.
Okay, okay, Clark Keltie may have made a difference if fit today, Jon Shaw might have added something up front, and Mark Jones may be the key to breaking down these stubborn negative teams. I just hope to God that these are the answers to our problems at the moment.
Lee Thorpe was thrown on for the last half hour, in place of Will Buckley. We lost our most productive attacking player of the day, but gained some leverage up front which we were so desperately lacking. We went 4-3-3, but neither Dagnall or Le Fondre seemed to be able to get to Thorpe’s knock-downs and both Toner and Jones looked to be carrying knocks. Higgy and debutant Kyle Lambert came on for a bit at the end, but neither had time to do anything decent.
When the whistle went, the overwhelming feeling was of frustration and disappointment. Whilst Wycombe may wonder quite how they won three points today, our play was undeserving of a win. Is it too early to say how the season will pan out? Probably, but in the short term something, even if it’s a small thing, must change.
Fast forward to next Saturday’s game against Rotherham away, another tough match on paper. Does Hill have enough in his arsenal to offer a real threat up front? And will Mark Jones make an appearance in a Dale shirt for the first time? And does anyone fancy writing a report for it? I can’t go. Is it bad that I’m not that bothered?