Morecambe 1 (Taylor 48)
Rochdale 1 (Dagnall 19)
Dale team: Russell, Wiseman, McArdle, Stanton (Holness), Kennedy, Thompson, Jones, Toner, Rundle (Buckley), Dagnall (le Fondre), Thorpe
Saturday’s match against Morecambe was another prime example of a winnable match which we made heavy work of. The home side were nothing special, in fact I’d say they were relegation fodder but for the three sides who received points deductions (and even Rotherham look set to overtake the Grimsbys, Chesters and Morecambes of the division). The better sides of League Two (yes, that means us!) should be able to brush aside teams like Morecambe, but through a combined lack of confidence and lack of spark we never looked capable of doing so.
That’s not to say Morecambe were worthy of a point from the weekend’s game; they were fortunate not to concede on three or four occasions. But (and here’s the point I’m trying to make), how often have we said that this season? Gary Jones’ missed sitter against Lincoln, Lee Thorpe’s daftness and subsequent team collapse against Rotherham, and on Saturday, the entire defence’s sleepiness to let Morecambe in for the equaliser; our downfalls are of our own making.
The opening passages of Saturday’s game started well for us, in that we had most of the attacking possession, and scored the first goal of the game. A deep cross from the right by Scott Wiseman found its way to Adam Rundle, who lobbed it back again for Joe Thompson to tap home. Well, he would have done if Chris Dagnall hadn’t have bashed it in from all of two centimetres.
Before and after the goal, we looked, you know, alright. (There’s something about this current Dale side which makes you want to praise them for being neat and tidy and chastise them for being just that). Morecambe were bobbins, their midfield almost as non-existent as the stand to the right of us. Ex-Dale loanee Rene Howe was decent in that bustling young way of his; if he wasn’t a footballer he’d be a bouncer. Wayne Curtis looked Morecambe’s most likely threat, but found it hard to get on the ball, Wainwright tried and tried but ultimately could only win the occasional corner off the Dale. The second goal, it seemed, would only be a matter of time.
Lee Thorpe had our best chance of the game to score our second, so did Gary Jones actually, and Adam Rundle too – Barry Roche’s terrific triple-save was as amazing as it was disheartening. Our season summed up in those thirty seconds of “How did that not go in?” madness.
“How did that not go in?” turned into “How did we let them score that?” in the first few minutes of the second half. Rene Howe kept a ball in on the far touchline which many thought was out (including, it would seem, our entire back four), pinged the ball in at the front post and Aaron Taylor nipped in before Rory McArdle to score the equaliser. A goal borne as much from good skill as lack of concentration. One clean sheet in eleven matches is a statistic that paints its own picture. Individually our defenders are some of the best in the league, able to play in League One quite comfortably. Yet collectively, they are conceding goals which are correctly described as ‘sloppy’ at the moment. Keith Hill, a centre-back himself in his playing days, must be furious at the situation. It’s a problem which must be solved if we are to kick on and start winning matches; something which we’ll have to do sooner rather than later, after all we cannot simply rely on brilliant form throughout winter as we did last season.
We never recovered from this early second half goal, and Morecambe were let more and more into our half. We still had most of the possession, but neither the wingers or central midfielders offered any penetration and we were reduced to either playing the ball endlessly sideways between Toner, Jones, Rundle and Thompson, or playing the ball directly to Lee Thorpe (offside) or Chris Dagnall (onside, but alone). A criticism I would levy at the moment in our current play is the lack of fluidity, a lack of dynamism. Dagnall’s consistent tracking back aside, when do you find any of the forward six players swapping positions, dragging defenders and creating gaps? It seems clear to me that a lack of adventure (and of succesful adventure) going forward has bred this current poor run of results.
Looking on the bright side however, we may not be far from regaining our form from last season. The silver lining might come in the shape of Mark Jones, who simply must be included in the starting eleven tonight. If we start scoring two, three times in matches, the defence will be under less pressure and may start to relax a little. It could all soon be rectified.
Going back to Saturday’s match, the game itself was encapsulated in a single gut-wrenching moment late on, when Joe Thompson’s low near-post cross flew only a foot or so from Gary Jones’s left knee; if he’d have stuck his leg out properly it would have gone in. I sincerely hope Jones’s failure to take the opportunity doesn’t foreshadow the club’s failure to take opportunities come May.