Rochdale 2 (Thorpe 2, le Fondre 59 pen)
Luton Town 0
Not quite yet, of course, but my own perspective of the season and this current side has strayed from quietly hopeful to quite openly expectant.
The side Keith Hill had chosen to face the Hatters consisted of Russell in goal, Wiseman, McArdle, Stanton and Kennedy in the defence, Will Buckley on right wing, Rundle down the left, Jonah and Keltie in central midfield and Alfie and the Thorpedo up front. There was no space for Higginbotham, Jon Shaw, D’Laryea, Simon Ramsden or Mark Jones on the bench, our squad depth such that we now have professionals struggling to make it even to the substitutes; instead Spencer, Joey Thompson, Toner, Holness and Daggers filled the available five spots in the dugout.
Luton required the tiniest amount of effort for them to roll over. After only ninety seconds, a quick free kick from ALF released Scotty Wiseman to cross towards the Thorpedo at the front post and the big man stooped in front of the newly renamed TDS Stand; Thorpe Duly Scored,This Delighted Supporters and The Daleys Screamed. What a Magnificent Goal!
After the quick opener, Rochdale dominated play without having many chances. It was a scrappy, dull affair in all honesty; Luton tried to feed the ball to on-loan Kevin Gallen but McArdle kept the ex-QPR legend quiet all game. Chris Martin wandered about up front but his first touch was generally poor. At the other end, Rochdale went for an unashamedly direct system in the first half, whether by judgment or not I’m not sure. Keith Hill wanted the game played quicker, continually shouting at Scott Wiseman to “Tell them to get it going”. Why not just tell them yourself Keith?
It’s true the game was played at generally a slow pace; I thought both sides looked a little jaded after FA Cup ties that both went to extra-time during the week. A friend from university who wanted to visit Spotland for the first time looked like he was about to nod off at some stages. This was fourth division football, but we were winning, so who can complain?
Perhaps a reason for the lack of fluidity was the whistle-happy referee Steve Bratt, whose shorts were at least two sizes too big. On occasion he looked like he physically couldn’t wait to blow his whistle for the tiniest bit of contact. A player backs into a defender PEEEP!, a good, if strong challenge is made PEEEP!, someone falls over PEEEP!, Stanton does anything PEEEP! PEEEP, PEEEP, PEEEP! all bloody game. “This ref isn’t biased” man from crowd says behind me, “he’s just absolute crap”.
Half time came with barely a whimper from anyone. The referee got a few boos, but they weren’t delivered with any real vitriol because the decisions had gone in our favour as much as they did Luton Town’s. They were the kind of boo that questions the decision-making skill of the official in question, without doubting him commitment to impartiality. It’s really quite amazing what you can read from a boo sometimes.
The second-half produced one other goal to make official Dale’s superiority, a questionable penalty was fired down the middle of the Sandy net by Adam le Fondre on 59 minutes. I say questionable, because the question everyone around me was asking was “What were that for?”. As far as I could tell, the foul was on Rory McArdle and the post-match reports tell me the foul was commited by Ian Roper. McArdle fell over, though, and as we saw in the first half, in Steve Bratt’s book that deserves a great big PEEEP!
Nowt else much happened in the remaining half an hour. Luton threatened only once, a close range header from Drew Talbot seemed for definite to have gone in but Sammy Russell somehow beat it away to protect our first clean sheet since sliced bread. Jonah got injured, unusually, and Toner came on and produced an impressive display (again). And to think Grimsby said he was crap! Actually, quite a few of our current squad were said to have been crap by their previous clubs; Lee Thorpe, crap, Scott Wiseman, crap, Keltie, crap, Toner. There’s a recurring theme here; come and play for Rochdale and see your old team’s supporters slag you off, before you make them eat your words. We could use that as a slogan actually, but obviously someone more succinct than me would have to make it a bit shorter.
Dale played some good football in the twilight of the game, drawing a few olés from the Spotland faithful. It was all anaemic in the end however and the game ended scrappily thanks to old Steve Bratt the pernickity prat.
And all this makes me “quite openly expectant” of promotion this season? Well if we can play lethargically, and at the same time look a different class than an opponent supposedly in our league, wouldn’t you say that is a pre-requisite for playing in the league above? If we can score twice without having hatfuls of chances, doesn’t that bode well for the rest of the season? And if we can keep more clean sheets, and restrict our opponents to only one chance, doesn’t that point to success? In short, Dale are League One standard, without a doubt in my mind.