28/3/09; Rochdale v Exeter City, Spotland, Rochdale :: Lg 2
The weather was being petulant. It was wind and it was rain and sometimes it was hail. And then sometimes it didn’t rain at all and the wind died down. Up and down, never the same, inconsistent. Petulance.
Neither side wanted to play today. It would have been better to just rearrange the game for a calm, sunny day in May on a nice flat pitch but alas pies had already been ordered. The conditions, although not awful, did neither side any favours; teams like Rochdale and Exeter City don’t want to boot it up in the air for an hour and a half, they want to draw their pretty geometric patterns all over the pitch. And that’s probably why a draw is fair enough in the end.
Rochdale lined up in a 4-4-2. Or is that 4-3-3? 4-5-1? 9-9-9? Hawaii 5-0? Fielding stood in his net with his shaven head behind Wiseman, McArdle, Stanton and Kennedy. Cíárán Töner marshalled the midfield, generally to great effect, while in front of him Mark Jones, Rundle, Buckley and Dagnall all orbited around Lee Thorpe‘s head like some kind of footballing moons. Only the referee didn’t like Lee Thorpe so he wasn’t allowed to touch the ball; a bit of a disadvantage that. The referee’s irrational hatred of Thorpedo would be a constant annoyance to the Dale fans and the bald striker himself. At one point Lee gave up and twatted him. Oh no wait, that didn’t happen.
It began. Sort of. Dale had all of the possession but didn’t do anything, so Adam Stansfield ran past Nathan Stanton and crufted one down past the post, just inches away from the upright. Or centimetres if you’re a metric. Then, Exeter’s Alex Russell went off injured and the one’s who remembered him gave him some applause. I didn’t remember him but he apparently played for us – I didn’t want to seem ignorant so I clapped him too. “He was brilliant Russell, played for Bristol or someone in Division One before it was the Championship”. I’ll have to take your word for it.
Then Dale’s first chance of note – a Lee Thorpe header which was kept out by a combination of keeper and defender. I was surprised the referee allowed him near the ball; by this point Mr Bates’ eagerness to combine whistle with mouth when a man in red and white fell over was getting annoying. From one particularly debatable free-kick Dean Moxey rattled the bar with an awesome shot, probably about 27 yards out. He’s scored from the halfway line once him you know?
And the ref wasn’t blowing when a man in blue and black fell – apart from once. And that’s why it stuck in my mind this one time. Mark Jones fired in the rare free kick and forced Paul Jones to palm it over the bar, and from the corner Rory McArdle rose at the back-post to nod the ball back towards the meleé and Lee Thorpe just put his head on it. 1-0 Dale.
And after this it was footballing equilibrium until half-time. Rochdale had the ball, not near enough to the Exeter goal mind, whilst the away side tried to counter, unsuccessfully. Still 1-0 Dale then at the interval. Time for the Crossbar Challenge… or not as the case increasingly turns out to be. Another two unclaimed tickets. Is it just the populace of Rochdale that have this particular aversion to jocular half-time prize games, or is it like this all over the country?
Exeter came out early for the second half. They were cold. Rochdale came out late. They were warmer. Nathan Stanton bombed down the pitch, unstopped, unstoppable, before laying a clever ball off to Lee Thorpe, who couldn’t finish because he can’t finish. An unusual start to the half. Then, Controversy with a capital C. Oh no! Not controversy! Airy Adam Stansfield found space on the left flank to cross for Marcus Stewart’s hand. Marcus Stewart’s hand then guided the ball into Marcus Stewart’s foot and subsequently into Frank Fielding’s net via Rory McArdle’s arse. “HAM-BARL!” The man from Staffordshire looked bemused and ignored the pleas. “Ham ball reff, surely!?” The cries of a thousand men were carried off on the Lancastrian wind and went unanswered. The “goal” stood. One bloody one.
Now; my favourite game at football is to pick a member of the opposition team who looks a little bit unsure of himself and shout to no-one in particular just how bad this player is, even if I’d never seen them before. “Oh he’s awful”, I will say. “Complete donkey”. On Saturday I chose Troy Archibald-Henville, who should really be playing polo or something with that name. Anyway, amazingly, sometimes this tactic works, and on Saturday just as I’d said “Oh he’s dodgy this one” he clumsily fouled Adam le Fondre (on as sub) in the box down near the advertising hoards of the Sandy Lane end. Alfie hit the spot-kick down the centre – it was saved – but still le Fondre scored on the rebound. 2-1 to Dale.
But no sooner had we scored then we gave one up. City’s Stuart Fleetwood, who’s been borrowed from Charlton Athletic, received a pass inside the area and Nathan Stanton skidded in at him at full stretch. Does he know why? I don’t know why. Do you know why? Stanton’s tackle was bizarre, reckless and frustrating. It earned him the yellow card which will see him miss the next two games, and it earnt Exeter a penalty which Marcus Stewart stuttered into the goal. 2-2 now.
The final few minutes were played with abandon, but abandon without precision. It ended two-all, and given the league positions, form and performance of both teams it was a good 2-2 if you’re a Dale fan. Exeter were strong, pacy and neat, if a little soft at the back. Is 2-2 good? Yeh it’s all good.
On the way home it got really cold. A man in front of me started his post-match analysis. “He’s got the tactics all wrong. Playin’ players out of position, makin’ wrong subs.” And there’s me thinking we were third in the league.
Written by Matt Boothman on 29th/30th March 2009.