Rochdale 3 (Rundle 27, Thompson 81, Buckley 90)
Aldershot Town 1 (Morgan 66)
Dale team: Russell, Wiseman, McArdle, Stanton (Holness), Kennedy, Thompson, Toner, G. Jones, Rundle (Buckley), Dagnall (le Fondre), Thorpe
Turning up to the match with only two minutes to spare (thanks to the incompetence of Northern Rail), I found a Dale team unchanged from Tuesday night barring Adam Rundle, who had replaced Will Buckley in the starting lineup. The only Aldershot player I recognised was Chris Blackburn, the straggly haired centre-back I remembered seeing once in his Morecambe days. I’d heard of Scott Donnelly too, but only via Football Manager. If you play that game, buy him, he’s class. Thank god the scouts who work on that game weren’t right in their assessment of him.
But enough about computer games. Dale’s win today was, apart from a spirited second-half showing by the Shots, convincing, and I’d say the most pleasing victory of the season so far. Why? Because Aldershot weren’t rubbish, and we had to play “good passing football” to beat them. And “good passing football” is what we all like to see isn’t it?
Rochdale dominated the first period of the game, Aldershot had neither the pace nor the foresight to get close to the Dale players. Lee Thorpe once again showed what he can do if he’s given a massive amount of space, like against Chester, his flick-ons and lay-offs being a vital part of our build-up play. Whenever Aldershot did get the ball they found the imperious Stanton on top form. If Rory McArdle’s our wall, then surely Nathan Stanton is our hoover.
The wingers in particular caused Aldershot problems, full backs Soares and Charles had poor games, in particular the former who found all three wide men (Rundle, Buckley and Thompson) too much for him. In the middle of the park they were more solid, stifling the Rochdale attacking threat through the centre; though this tactic seemed to leave a single Shots striker isolated up front, making it too easy for McArdle and Stanton to deal with.
Rochdale’s first came in the 28th minute, when Adam Rundle found an opportunity to shoot when Aldershot failed to clear, not unlike his goal against Lincoln. The actual finish was nothing like that though, his low shot deflected off an Aldershot leg and nestled sweetly in the bottom left corner of Bull’s goal. Victory dances all round.
We had more chances in the first half, Chris Dagnall had one blocked on the line and then some others I can’t remember. I should really start taking notes. I’m sure we had some though because I distinctly remember thinking that this game should be over by now. “This game should be over by now” I said. I even remember saying it.
Ahem, poor match reporting there.
The second half I remember more of. Dagnall produced the most quality bit of play in the whole match not long after the restart when he picked up the ball in the centre circle and just ran with it, holding back the desperate clamouring of Chris Blackburn and Rhys Day. When he finally got into the penalty area his chipped finish rose over the keeper, but defiantly rebounded off the crossbar. I was still clapping as Aldershot produced their own counter-attack, which came to nothing of note.
Ten minutes into the half, in a clearly pre-arranged substitution, Donnelly and Chalmers came off and were replaced by Davies and Morgan. The latter had a definite impact on the game, for his sheer size and awkwardness alone (imagine a slightly shorter version of Morike Sako). When Dagnall hit the crossbar again via Nikki Bull’s outstretched hand, it was enough to push Aldershot forward. You could see their self-confidence rising.
More Chris Dagnall bad fortune (tricky cross missed from three yards) and some woeful Lee Thorpery; it had all the hallmarks of a 1-1 draw. When Marvin Morgan stooped to head home a rebound from a brilliant Sammy Russell save it surprised nobody. Aldershot were looking the better side, if a little naive in defence, so their equaliser was probably deserved.
This might have been the final result had this game taken place three weeks ago. But, after our glorious result against Chester, we did not resort to panicky directness like we could have done; instead we stuck to our game, carried on trying to play as instructed, and were ultimately rewarded with two late goals. And that is the single reason why today’s victory was the most pleasing of the season so far. A potential draw was turned into a win, the opposite of what we were doing not 20 days ago.
Dale’s second goal, the killer, came on 81 minutes. Adam Rundle’s shot was saved, so too Gary Jones’s before it came to Joey Thompson who stuck it in the left hand side of the Sandy Lane net past keeper Bull. A deserved goal for JT, who has responded to long-held criticism from fans (me included) in the most astonishing, brilliant way – by playing bloody well. I once said that Joe Thompson would never make it as a professional footballer. It shows you just what I know, doesn’t it?
Aldershot pressed on in the final ten minutes, conceding a scary amount of space at the back in pursuit of another equaliser. It almost came when Grant’s close range effort went it, but alas it was offside. To make things final, Will Buckley received a pass from fellow sub le Fondre and pressed L1 and square to finish (that means he dinked it over the keeper for you non-Pro Evo players).
Three goals from three young wingers, and three points gained. Can’t really ask for much more than that!