The last four matches have been on the whole very positive. Two difficult away fixtures at Notts County and Brentford have ended up with Rochdale gaining maximum points and placing us firmly in the playoff spots. In the cups we’ve fared less well, but a tight loss at League One leaders Scunthorpe and a draw away in London are by no means bad results. So we’ll batter Macc then?
Not as easy as that though, is it? Keith Hill’s description of Macclesfield’s boss (“Keith Alexander has been a manager in this league for a long, long time and he is very experienced”) is accurate, in that Keith Alexander is almost as perennial as Rochdale AFC in this bottom division. His tactical ploys are effective if unambitious; you can’t imagine Alexander’s brand of hit and hope having any effect in any league higher, which is perhaps why he doesn’t manage there. Having said that though, aren’t Stoke doing quite well this year? Wouldn’t have believed they’d be sitting 12th in the Premier League today, given Stoke’s dire display against Dale in the Carling Cup last year, would you?
The current Macclesfield side is similar in composition to the Lincoln City side of a few seasons ago; Alexander seems to bring all his old players with him, probably in hope of repeating his record four playoff appearances (without actually getting promoted, I might add). Paul Morgan, Francis Green, Simon Yeo, and Martin Gritton have all followed Alexander around the lower league circuit to Macclesfield, and crucially all of them are getting on a bit. Yeo will still score on Saturday, he always seems to.
On the home front, Rochdale’s squad is almost at full strength. Mark Jones has been deemed fit enough to start playing for the Dale, adding an extra midfield option that we could’ve done with earlier this season. The rotating, pulsating trio of wingers (Buckley, Thompson and Rundle) have all made an impact in recent weeks, particularly the first member of that list. Dagnall’s scoring again, Lee Thorpe’s defying his age and the defence aren’t letting that many in (though we haven’t had a clean sheet in yonks). Perhaps the most crucial part of our upturn in form however is in central midfield.
Toner and Jonah works better than Keltie and Jonah, it’s as simple as that. I’d still like to see Keltie and Toner combination, but Keith Hill’s not going to change a winning formula. Ever since Clark Keltie received his one-match suspension for five yellow cards, Toner has come in and crucially gelled with the club captain Gary Jones much quicker than Keltie. Keltie is now sat on the bench, with no easy way back to where he’d like to be, on the pitch. But three good midfielders is better than two, and oh how we would’ve liked Keltie or Toner in our squad when we went to Wembley! Keltie will get other chances.
Jon Shaw is a funny one. He’s been out for what seems like half the season with a routine injury, after a tepid start to the season. Yet there still remains hope. Lee Thorpe won’t last a full season leading the line, so Shaw will have to come in at some point. And when he does, he simply must impress, otherwise he may be out the door. Tough, but necessary.
I see us winning on Saturday. Macclesfield aren’t very good and we are. 2-1, 3-1 maybe? Place your bets now.
Possible Dale lineup: Russell, Wiseman, McArdle, Stanton, Kennedy, Buckley, Toner, G. Jones, Rundle, Thorpe, Dagnall
Subs: Spencer, Holness, M. Jones, Thompson, le Fondre