Accrington 1 (Miles 2)
Rochdale 3 (le Fondre pen 38, Buckley 57, Rhodes 90)
Dale team: Russell, Ramsden (Wiseman), McArdle, Stanton, Kennedy, Buckley (Thompson), Jones, Keltie, Rundle, le Fondre (Dagnall), Rhodes
Quite what entitles you to be a “Stanley Ultra” is unclear. In Italy, ultras are usually associated with far-right or -left extremism, violence and a penchant for throwing flares at opposition goalkeepers; in Accrington the ultras culture revolves around lobbing bogroll on the pitch and their strange obsession with the Austrian national flag. How many flags did they have exactly? There seemed to be more red and white striped banners than fans.
Was that Stephen Bywater by the way? Him training with the goalkeepers before the match. The logistics of this don’t even make sense so I’ll put it to the back of my mind.
I last saw Stanley’s Crown Ground three or four years ago, Accrington 3-2 Grays Athletic, Aaron McLean the stand-out performer for the London team. Since then they’ve put a roof over the home terrace behind the goal, and nothing much else to be honest. It’s still a bloody awful ground, but at the same time it’s a genuinely nice place to watch football, especially if the weather is good. They’ve also erected gates in the corners of the ground to stop the exodus of fans at half-time who used to walk around to the other goal to get a better view. In short, Stanley are still tinpot but not as tinpot as a few years ago. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
The game started shockingly yet again for the Dale. Ramsden got out of position in the second minute, Stanley attacked down the left flank, the cross was cleared in fashion by Rory McArdle but fell straight to John Miles who pinged an accurate shot far from Sammy Russell’s reach and straight into the top right corner – something that he would delight in pointing out to the travelling fans from over Owd Bett’s throughout the first half.
The early goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of us – as it usually does – and our play in the first half was all very England-like, long balls from the centre-backs or goalkeeper straight to the welcoming heads of the Stanley defenders, completely ignoring our midfield. Clark Keltie is a very good player, but he’s going to look rubbish if you don’t give him the ball. Gary Jones had a half to forget, his boots seemingly on the wrong feet. Buckley played alright, but then again he was the only one who had the ball passed to him, Russell again playing the ball consistently to the right-winger’s head.
With our far-too-direct tactics, Stanley could easily soak up our attacks and then initiate their own by hoofing it to Paul Mullin, whose big fat head won a fair share of the aerial balls. Accrington looked dangerous, so did we when we actually got the ball down in their half; but our East Lancashire neighbours were the better side, Miles having another pop from twenty yards going wide, Mullins trying to get his bald bonce on Accy’s corners by hook or by crook.
The game bypassed Keltie and Jones in the first forty-five minutes; as it tends to when both sides favoured pass is fully sixty yards.
Before the break – something all Dale fans were looking increasingly forward too – we were handed a lifeline when Will Buckley’s run into the box was curtailed illegally by cocky bastard John Miles, and Adam le Fondre scored the resulting penalty triumphantly into the bottom left corner of the goal in front of those fearsome Stanley ultras. And so we went into the break with an entirely undeserved scoreline at 1-1.
“We’ll batter ’em in t’second half” was the almost universal outlook of your average Dale fan in the fifteen minute interval I’d imagine that most Accrington fans were shitting themselves to be honest. The last minutes of the first half had shown us and them that the Stanley defence wasn’t exactly watertight when we finally managed to start to break them down (Jordan Rhodes missed one-on-one being the most notable attempt). Accrington were what Accrington are; plucky, full of fight, but lacking on the quality front. Some Dale fans were already thinking of “how many?” not “if”.
And to nobody’s suprise Rochdale came out in the second half and dominated the match. Keltie finally got his foot on the ball, Rundle came in to the game as a result, and alaming gaps started to appear in the Stanley defence. After Will Buckley scored our second, a bustling dribble finished with a calmly sidefooted shot, the gates opened up irrepairably and Gary Jones, Jordan Rhodes, Adam Rundle and Jones again all fluffed near one-on-one opportunities.
After a bit of this domination, the match calmed down again and Stanley came somewhat more into it, John Miles just missing wide of the post. In the ninetieth minute Jordan Rhodes scored from a goalmouth scramble and we all went home happy (ish).
To sum up, we were tactically and mentally unprepared for the first half, Keith Hill should have been absolutely bollocking McArdle, Russell and Stanton for their poor distribution. But in the second half we bounced back and eased ourselves past Accrington, who in all honesty are a poor side. So make of it what you will; there are as many questions as answers. Why are we so poor in the first half? Why can’t any of our players trap the ball? Can we rely on coming back from losing positions if we are to achieve promotion this season? And was that Stephen Bywater?…