Rochdale 3 (le Fondre 56, 73, 105)
Barnet 2 (O’ Flynn 10, Adomah 19)
Where is Forest Green by the way?*
Keith Hill made only one change from Saturday’s lineup; black baseball cap replacing brown flat cap. But in terms of actual football, Hilly had done quite a bit of rearranging; the unchanging defence of Russell, Wiseman, McArdle, Stanton and Kennedy remained but Keltie, Jones Mk. II, and Will Buckley all came into midfield alongside Jones the Original; le Fondre and Shaw started up front. Barnet had their usual array of leggy black guys and nippy white guys, a team like looks good, has all the right equipment but always lacks that certain something; like Fearne Cotton.
Dale’s lineup might have looked exciting on paper, but on the pitch it was a mess. Mark Jones stood on the right wing for all of two minutes before drifting subconciously inside, where he tried to remain for the rest of the first half. Unfortunately, Scott Wiseman either kept forgetting this or refused to believe it, and punted hopeless long balls down the right flank to the non-existant Kallum Higginbotham to chase. Wiseman got annoyed at Jonesy, Flitcroft told him “Don’t have a go at him, look at where he fucking is”. He was stood in central midfield.
The lack of width on the right made defending easy for the Barnetians. What else cheered up their London hearts no end was the opening goal, a huge hoof down the centre of the pitch was completely misjudged by Rory McArdle and John O’Flynn stole in to side foot it past Sam Russell. I laughed, because if I didn’t I would have cried.
Another thing which made the Barnet defenders happy was the ineffective Jon Shaw, who Dale continually tried to find with aerial balls from forty, fifty, sixty, three hundred yards out. It’s not that he can’t head, and it’s not that he can’t challenge a man in the air; it’s just that he can’t do these things simultaneously.
More comedy from the Dale after twenty minutes, Gary Jones this time the gift-bearer as his tamely hit backpass allowed Albert Adomah to nip in and steer it around Russell in the Sandy Lane net. I say nip, he could have sauntered in and made himself a cup of tea while he was at it, such was the perfection of Jones’s inadvertant through-ball.
And so the comedy show continued. My mate next to me says “Oh, I went and saw that Lee Evans on Sunday” as if the two events, a performance by one of Britain’s funniest stand-up comedians, and this current Dale showing were somehow related. Gary Jones passed the ball once, twice into the path of Barnet’s right winger; Mark Jones cut a forlorn figure on the turf, every misplaced through-ball and bad first touch greeted first with howls of derision which turned to howls of laughter before his eventual substitution on half-time. Poor lad. I wanted him to score a forty yard screamer like I’ve heard he does, shut them up, but he never had time. “Hilly, get this Mark Jones off”, Big Shouty Man shouted, bigly, “He’s crap”. And Hilly could do nothing but agree.
Mind you, none of the others were much better. Barnet attacked with pace and directness as they always do, and threatened to score more, but Dale survived somehow until the forty-five minute mark, to the dressing room, to safety and to a fair few boos from the home crowd.
Half time never looked so promising.
Still, there’s always a comeback around the corner with this Dale side. Watch a load of crap from Rochdale? Just wait fifteen minutes and something exciting will come along. I don’t think anyone is actually surprised by a second-half comeback, so much so that come to expect them. Is it perverse that we still looked favourites despite a two-goal disadvantage at half-time?
Little over thirty seconds had gone before Barnet were well and truly pinned in their own half. At one point, I noticed that every single visiting player was encamped in the end to my left, as if defending a one goal lead with thirty seconds to go. It should never have been that desperate. Thorpe had replaced the debutant Mark Jones and now the ball seemed to stick in Barnet’s half. They simply had no answer to the Thorpedo.
Adam le Fondre got the ball inevitably in the net on 53 minutes when he got on the end of a stunning low cross from Tom Kennedy. TK’s ball was inch perfect, just a foot or so too far for the keeper to come for it, yet in front of the back-tracking Bees defence. Even if Alfie had not tucked it in, Lee Thorpe was stalking just behind.
Chances flew by after that, the post-match stats (nineteen shots, ten on target) for once telling the story succinctly. Le Fondre struck one straight at Harrison, Lee Thorpe drilled one similarly into the keeper’s midriff, Will Buckley scooped one wide, Gary Jones had a couple blocked for corners. At no point did the equaliser look unachievable.
It was received on 73 minutes, Adam le Fondre scoring again with a decent side-footed finish to Harrison’s bottom right-hand corner, Gary Jones playing him in from an advanced midfield position. “Seventy three minutes gone, second goal for the Dale, his second goal,Time to Believe, – Adam le Fondre!”. Even Tannoy Man got a little carried away.
He really shouldn’t have been, Dale weren’t dominating Barnet they were demolishing them. It could have been 5-2 come the ninety minute whistle. Lee Thorpe somehow had his shot deflected over the bar after hitting the underside of Townsend’s leg, Alfie’s top-corner bound shot hit sub Joey Thompson on the back.
It did get a little better for Barnet towards the end, Adam Birchall came on for Nicky Deverdics and again produced a quality performance at Spotland. Evening out, the match became a game of table football, ping pong, up the other end, oh no it’s back again, what’s he doing there?, who’s marking him?, oh god thank god they’ve missed that. Then it was extra time.
Breath regained, the match continued in similar vein to how it had ended. Tactics visibly ignored, the result became a question of stamina, desire and luck.
Adam le Fondre scored the eventual winner, still clearly injured from an earlier tackle he lobbed the ball nonchalently into the penalty area, aiming for an oncoming Rochdale head and instead cleared everyone including keeper Harrison. Either that or he’d scored the lob of the century, who knows? And who cares? During the massive ensuing celebrations he was subbed off for Adam Rundle, receiving two massive cheers, “Completing his hattrick; Adam le Fondre!”, seconds later, “Coming off number ten, Adam le Fondre!”.
Still the Dale attacked, Will Buckley hitting the post after being released by Gary Jones on the counter. Barnet had efforts, not clear cut ones, but they were in and about, trying to create something yet never having the required cutting edge to do so. Birchall looked the most likely, but every which way he turned Stanton and McArdle were there to boot the ball as high and as far as fate would allow. Carew jinked, Nicolau dodged, Birchall turned but none of them could penetrate the double-headed defensive barrier.
“How long left Hilly?”,
“Three minutes, plus two probably”,
These five minutes passed by easily enough, and it was over, finito. The worst first half display you’ll see all season followed by the best second-half imaginable. Truly remarkable! Or is it? I don’t know about you but I’m getting blasé with these kind of matches. I had half a mind to boo at the full time whistle…
*Forest Green is in Gloucestershire. No, me neither.