“I’M BACK” roared the scoreboard after more than six years of inactivity. I’m sorry to say the Dale could not grace his appearance with a brilliant performance, but oh well, at least he’s back and over that awkward “Remember me?” moment. Well we do remember you Mr. Scoreboard. We remember your little dancing men and the way you used to put “MBE” after Tony Ford’s name. Oh Mr. Scoreboard you’ve seen some shite down the years, but the stuff you’ve missed since 2002’s playoff semi has been mostly good. You’ll probably enjoy this season Mr. Scoreboard, it’s good to have you back with your LED digits. Shame you’ve lost your little dancing men though.
Another integral figure to grace Spotland after an absence (though a much shorter one) was big Lee McEvilly. He started up front with small-ish le Fondre, with thin Buckley and short Rundle down the wings, barrel-chested Toner and medium-built Keltie in the centre of the park, averagely-sized Ramsden and svelte Kennedy at full back and big-arsed Stanton and big-arsed Holness at centre back. Tall Sammy Russell stood behind them with gloves on. James Spencer, Raph Evans, Mark Jones, Chris Dagnall and Jon Shaw all sat on the bench, of their heights and weights I will mention nothing. Thick fog rolled over the distantly green-grey Pennine hills that sit some miles behind Spotland. McEvilly looks a bit thinner than last time he was here. Holness has a beard these days. Keltie doesn’t know what to do with his hair.
My mam recognised the ref. “We’ve had him before”, she says, “He were crap”. He, indeed, were crap. So crap that next time we get him my mam will turn to me and say “We’ve had him before” and “He were crap” in that same tone of voice. He were outstandingly crap. So crap that other crap referees pale into insignificance compared to him (with the exception of Jarnail Singh). Not very good at all then.
Bournemouth wore white and weren’t brilliant. Their number 6, Marvin Bartley, central midfielder, had shins that were at least six inches too long. I saw Bournemouth lose last year against a poor Huddersfield Town outfit at the Galpharm and they haven’t improved since then, which is understandable given the financial plight they’ve found themselves in. Having to fill out their squad with loanees and 18 year olds, they will struggle to save themselves from relegation this season (although they aren’t in as much danger as the doomed Luton Town). Which is a shame in some respects; they were by no means the worst side to have played at Spotland this season, that honour, of course, falls to Chester City.
Two minutes gone and Alfie drove one towards the bar of the TDS goal, but Shwan Jalal comfortably palmed it over for a corner. Nowt came of it. Fifteen minutes gone and Lee McEvilly fired one into the side of a Bournemouth defender when it seemed the area had opened up for him. I started a sentence with the words “When McEvilly scores today…” – such was my belief that Evil would bag one on his third Dale debut. Will Buckley, our most potent threat by far in the first half, mazed through the entire Bournemouth defence before scooping his shot laughably wide with his weaker left foot.
Thirty-odd minutes gone and Bournemouth should have had a penalty, Simon Ramsden hacking down a Cherries striker in the area without getting a touch on the ball. Got away with that one. Suspicions about the referee turning out to be spot on, Mr Laws (Tyne & Wear) made up for this error by giving Bournemouth a penalty fifteen minutes later against Marcus Holness, the foul being presumably awarded for “letting an opponent fall over near you”. Crowd were naturally apoplectic, and quite rightly booed Mr Laws at the end of the first half, the start of the next and at the end of the game too. Lee Bradbury smashed the penalty confidently into the left side of the net, Sammy Russell unable to see justice be done. Half time, 1-0 to the away side.
The first half was generally football; Rochdale passed it around neatly, made little triangles all over the pitch but all the wrong shape. We had shots, yes, but not many troubled the Iraqi in the TDS goal. Bournemouth struggled to hold onto possession, but through the shakiness of Simon Ramsden and Marcus Holness (both playing their second matches in ages), they had opportunities, none of them really that good apart from the penalty, obviously that was a good opportunity seen as they scored from it and all.
The start of the second half, if anything, was worse for the Dale – exactly zero shots rained down on keeper Jalal’s net for the first fifteen minutes of it. Bournemouth were clearly content to sit back, soak up the pressure, then try to nab a second on the break. Lee McEvilly, still unfit, went off on 60 minutes and Jon Shaw came on, minutes later Adam Rundle (disappointing) was replaced by Chris Dagnall and the game then seemed to spring to life for fifteen minutes of hot goalmouth action.
Daggers curled one a foot wide after characteristically cutting in onto his right foot after jinking past a couple of stout Bournemouth men. Jon Shaw headed miles wide when really he should have headed only a foot wide at most. Then; Clark Keltie waking up, received the ball from le Fondre and popped it forward for Alfie to blast it high, high, up into the roof of the net. All the moisture clinging to the netting bounced off in sync and created a pleasing firework effect, in celebration of a brilliant finish.
Bournemouth were clearly clinging on now. Alfie did what Daggers had done only a paragraph ago, then Ciaran Toner belted one towards the top corner, alas slightly too close to the goalie. Buckley skipped into the penalty area, then skipped out of it again, afraid of repeating his earlier mishit shot. Bournemouth’s manager made a weird sheep noise when a touchline decision went against him. Shaw headed one over.
But it didn’t go in. Fifteen or so minutes of continual pressure resulted in just the one Rochdale goal and the Cherries defence held out. Still time for some controversy though, Mark Molesley went in stupidly, red-cardingly late on Tom Kennedy and Clark Keltie waded in like a white John Doolan. The referee, having to sort out the resulting fracas, changed his mind about the red card his right hand went for initially, and brought out the yellow card with his left hand instead. Keltie got nothing more than a talking to.
The paltry crowd of 2,285 saw nothing much of excitement, the frenzied middle of the second half apart. Rochdale could have scored two or three if things had gone their way, Bournemouth never looked like adding to their one. Quality was displayed on occasion, but it wasn’t exactly flowing football. Too much heading. All in all it was typical mediocre Division Four football with a shite referee who would look unqualified refereeing on Springy Park. Wouldn’t swap it for the world.