It’s mid-January. The evenings are starting to get lighter, the air warmer, and the football thicker. The rush for last year’s promotion challenge started here, the rush for safety the year before – this is where the real season starts boys.
Keith Hill made some changes in today’s lineup for the “message board managers” to ponder over. Frank Fielding, on loan from Blackburn Rovers, started in net behind a defence of Tom Kennedy, Rory McArdle, Nathan Stanton and Simon Ramsden, the latter a late change due to Scotty Wiseman’s injury during warm-up. Gary Jones made a comeback to the first XI alongside Ciáran Toner in central midfield whilst Adam Rundle and Joey Thompson took up position on the wings. Will Buckley suprisingly started up front with newly-haircutted Adam le Fondre. Spencer, Evans, Keltie, McEvilface and Dagnall watched the match from the dugout.
Hang on – Lincoln have Geoff Horsfield? Surely there must be some rule against this?…
Lincoln City, as a general rule, were offside. Big and offside, in fact, another one of these teams that (probably justifiably) believe that height and strength is all you need to succeed in this league. Their front pairing of Anthony Elding and Geoff Horsfield didn’t scream “sophisticated interplay” at you, although there’s no reason why it should in all honesty. They were decent enough in spells, dangerous for ten minutes here and there, a kind of Shrewsbury in red and white. They also had Frank Sinclair, more for comedy value than anything else I suppose. Still, I’m no snob, Lincoln will probably sneak a playoff place and who should begrudge them that? Just because they aren’t Inter Milan doesn’t mean they aren’t good. We are, after all, in the fourth tier…
Rochdale started much the brighter of the two teams, Jonah making a welcome comeback to the team and providing the forward thrust in midfield we’ve been lacking since early December. Early on, Buckley was played through with a delicious pass by Rundle, but he scuttered it two or three inches wide. Hilly turned and smiled at the floor. By the way, have you ever caught one of Hilly’s mysterious smiles? Every now and then he will turn away from the action, hands in pockets and smile ruefully to himself, as if he knows something nobody else does. Then he will look up and raise his eyebrows crowd-wards before turning around the watch the match again. I am still yet to decipher this managerial body language, but I’ll let you know when I do.
Joey Thompson was having a good game – off the ball at least. He hustled and harried Lincoln’s wingers with childlike enthusiasm, I’m tempted to say “headless chicken” but that would do him a disservice. When on the ball, however, JT returned briefly to his seventeen year old self. Ah the inconsistency of a winger, displayed perfectly on fifteen minutes when the pitch opened up for Thompson; he dribbled, dribbled (shoot Joe!), dribbled (pass Joe!), dribbled, and then lost the ball, inevitably.
Lincoln weren’t doing much, mostly due to their offsidedness. Horsfield and Elding looked like they could hold up the ball well, but never got their timing right with the defensive line, an understandable lack of teamwork you feel (both are recent signings). Dany N’Guessan, dangerous on his day, was anonymous, Frank Sinclair was Frank Spencer. It was no surprise then that Dale took the lead, when Adam Rundle’s long ranger was parried by Rob Burch into the path of Adam le Fondre, who smashed it high into the roof of the TDS net. “There’s only one F in Alfie!” screamed the scoreboard, a bit risque if you ask me. 1-0 Dale.
The rest of the half was Dale flavoured, but without clear-cut efforts – Jonah and Toner had a couple blocked and Rundle almost found a Dale players with a low cross, but that was it. Lincoln, in contrast, created little. The Red Imps biggest cheer of the half? Tom Kennedy put a throw-in straight out for a goal-kick. Tells you it all.
Half-time, and the Kick for Cash today went well again, RAFC’s own Iain Johnstone got up and scooped the ball up like a sand wedge, hitting the bar once and coming within inches twice. Next week someone will win, I can feel it in my bones.
Lincoln came out early for the second half, whilst the pitch was still a smorgasbord of plastic cones, small children and 5-a-side goalposts. Dale left it late to appear, and started the second period half-asleep. Only 47 minutes had gone when Anthony Elding’s low cross from the left was smashed wonderfully into the net by Dale’s own Tom Kennedy – it felt that 45 minutes of endeavour had been undone in just 120 seconds. Then it got worse. Lincoln, like a shark sniffing the blood of an injured seal, sensed weakness in their pray and attacked. They were no longer offside. They were big, tall, fast, strong and onside now, the Dale defence too scared to commit to defending a higher line.
Dany N’Guessan, who had switched flanks at half-time, awoke from his slumber. He has a shot like a torpedo you know. On 62 minutes, Rory McArdle’s customary mistake (one per match) allowed N’Guessan room for a shot from the edge of the area and he belted it past Frank Fielding into the top corner and ran around all happy. Stunned would be the word which summed up the Dale support. Five minutes later, he smacked another belter against the post. Who is this geezer, and what have they been giving him?
Hilly was no longer mysteriously smiling. Action was called for. He brought on McEvilly and Dagnall for Thompson and Alfie, and Dale slowly began to get their game together. Buckley, playing on the wing now, darted through three Lincoln defenders before laughably toepoking into the side-netting. Still, an attack is an attack. Later, Buckley did it again, swerving this way and that before firing it goalwards, but Burch was on hand to palm it away. Dale had a corner headed over by McArdle, and McEvilly scuffered one wide when one-on-one. All Dale now, bar the odd counter-attack by the Lincolnites. But still it remained 2-1.
On 85 minutes though, the pressure finally told, Dagnall’s good work and low cross being the straw that finally broke the Lincoln camel’s back. Lee McEvilly was there to tap home and give the Dale a point; the least they’d deserved. Minutes later, the scoreboard was almost called up to turn Dale’s 2 into 3, but Adam Rundle broke it somehow whilst winning a corner, and besides, McEvilly’s header was held by Burch.
On the whole, a satisfactory result. Jonah made 90 minutes and provided a forward threat from midfield. Buckley proved again that the only person that can tackle him is himself. Stanton and McArdle (mostly) kept a cunning Horsfield at bay. And Lincoln? Fit, strong, leggy – but they’re no Rochdale are they?
Attendance: About right
Welcome returns: One, G. Jones
Referee: Excellent (M. Oliver, 9/10)
Scoreboards broken: One
Written by Matt Boothman on 17th Jan 09.