27/01/09; Rochdale v Notts County, Spotland Stadium, Rochdale :: Lg 2
The night; foggy, drizzly, cold. Three days after throwing three points away against Dagenham, Rochdale returned home with the usual messages of enthusiasm, despite a clearly disappointing performance down in that London. The task tonight was clear – win and keep up with the leading pack, lose and be at risk of heading towards mid-table. “Keith’s Boys Need You” shouted the Official RAFC site, but still only 2,200 turned up to watch.
Dale lined-up in a 4-4-2; Frank Fielding stood in goal behind Wiseman, McArdle, Stanton and Kennedy in defence. Joey Thompson and the fresh-faced Nicky Adams started as right- and left-wing respectively whilst the double act of Toner and Jonah was reinstated in midfield. Buckley and Dagnall started up front; Ramsden, Keltie, le Fondre, Rundle and McEvilly had to make do with trying to chat-up the pretty girl that had inexplicably taken a seat in the dugout next to them. A Channel M feature I suspect, Manchester’s most-watched (and only) satellite TV station.
Notts County wore a very Burnley-esque claret and blue number, with one half claret and one half blue. Up front, Delroy Facey, (surely on the list of top ten humorously-named footballers) was immediately recognisable as “that fat one”. Beside him, Jamie Forrester could be seen, flickering between markers without care or reason.
For twenty or so minutes, the game was as even as it was ungraceful, both sides struggling to control the ball on the slippery Spotland surface. Attempted traps went five yards in the opposite direction or were missed completely, simple passes appeared to gain strange new momentums and headers skidded off heads like skimming stones off a pond. Even throw-ins were tricky with the glistening frictionless ball. Yes, it was wet.
Nicky Adams won a corner down by the broken scoreboard which for some reason made Dave Flitcroft grab his testicles and shout “NICKY! GET EM OUT!” – a bizarre message which seemed to puzzle both the crowd and Adams himself. The corner was good but uncontested and keeper Lillis caught it. Not long after, Buckley was released by Jonah, but when he got into the box he realised he was on his wrong foot and promptly gave Notts County the ball back.
Mike Edwards, Notts County’s most impressive defender, hobbled off on 24 minutes to be replaced by the frankly dodgy Nathaniel Wedderburn. It did County no favours, as you’d imagine, and they had to rearrange the midfield to cover for the loss. From this point onwards, County looked weaker defensively. Whether it cost them a result or not is anyone’s guess.
The Nottingham men looked to attack on the break, usually via the pace of Weston who looked a good player in a sea of turds. Weston broke down the left, but Wiseman kept up time after time, helped by the tenacity of Joey Thompson. Facey saw little of the ball, Forrester even less.
County should have scored though after around half an hour when Ciáran Toner’s comedic clearance was pounced upon by Weston, who crossed the ball straight onto Facey’s head, who had an entire goal to aim at. Instead of putting the Nottingham team in front though, Facey headed weakly down into a prone McArdle (who had slid on the grass for no reason) and the ball popped up apologetically into Fielding’s arms. A lucky escape.
And so inevitably, Dale punished this wastefulness minutes before half-time by scoring. Gary Jones’s cross from the right bobbled around in the box for a bit before deciding to fall for Will Buckley, who slid the ball home via a Notts County leg. 1-0 Dale, and too late for Notts to reply before the whistle went.
Understandably, given the dreary weather, nobody volunteered to take part in the half-time Kick for Cash, a competition so hard in normal weather that even Cristiano Ronaldo would struggle. Tannoy Man played Franz Ferdinand’s new single and some Oasis, but it didn’t cheer Pete on the Pitch up, the man strangely pale tonight despite his usual orange pigmentation. Desmond the Dragon is 27 we were told – and at this point Tannoy Man destroyed everyone’s suspension of belief by telling us that Desmond’s real name is Andy Higginbotham. And I don’t think Andy the Dragon sounds as catchy, do you?
The second half saw the emergence of Joey Thompson as the world’s best winger. Well maybe not quite the best, but you get the gist. Joey T was everything Will Buckley wasn’t tonight – tidy, decisive and, well, everywhere. For those of you who thought those words would never appear together with regards to JT must quite simply feel a bit silly. I know I do. But I couldn’t be happier for it. With Thompson and Wiseman’s free running down the right flank, Rochdale began to dominate Notts County completely and entirely. Indeed some of the most intricate, if not most clinical, football we’ve seen from the Dale was played down this side, with Toner and Jonah notable contributors. Notts County, already running out of pace, seemed to give up the game and were now making daft, and fatal, mistakes.
After 60 odd minutes, Nicky Adams went off to be replaced by Adam Rundle in a clearly premeditated change (Adams was taken off injured against Dagenham, and was a doubt to play at all). Buckley also came off for le Fondre and these two added some more pacey salt to rub into Notts County’s tired wounds. Alfie in particular was allowed almost free-reign against County’s defence and it was he who set-up Dale’s second. Joey Thompson, terrier-like in tracking back, stole the ball from the County left-back and Scott Wiseman scampered forward with abandon, finding le Fondre who sidefooted into the oncoming Dagnall, who couldn’t miss. 2-0 Dale, with room for more.
County really were dire now, neither defensively solid nor attackingly potent. Substitute Ben Fairclough (“Len Fairclough?!”) had one effort screwed wide of Fielding’s left-hand post, but without doubt the half belonged to the Dale. 50-50’s became 70-30’s in Dale’s favour, a common symptom of confidence. Indeed Dale finished the job to put a pleasing glint on the final scoreline when le Fondre steamed in towards goal from the right flank and shot beneath Josh Lillis. It was a shame the scoreboard couldn’t display this result – he was still injured from the Lincoln match. But 3-0 it was and 3-0 was it, clean-sheeted, fleet-footed Rochdale.
A new found optimism festered itself in Dale minds on the winding way back home. Let’s hope, unlike after the Shrewsbury game, this doesn’t prove to be a false dawn.
Attendance: A few less than normal
Clean sheets: One, beautifully so
Years of the Dragon: 27
Wonderlands walked in: Two (Thompson, Wiseman)
Written by Matt Boothman on 28th Jan 09.