With quarter of the season gone D3D4 takes a look at how Dale have started the 2017/18 League One campaign…
Some decisions in football are just common sense, no brainers if you prefer and Rochdale’s decision to offer Keith Hill a five year contract during the summer falls into this category. Before Hill took charge of Rochdale they were a club that had always been a fourth division side and not one that many people feared playing. Fast forward 10 years and Dale are a hardened League One side that never give any side an easy game or rarely and gone are the days when teams looked forward to playing them.
This season came off the back of another solid Dale season in which the Great Manchester club finished 9th, just 4 point off the play-offs so many could be forgiven for expecting more of the same.
August PL 4, D 2, L 2
Rochdale started the season at Fratton Park to take on last seasons League Two title winners Portsmouth. It was to be a tough first assignment for Keith Hill’s men as they were taking on a side playing in front of a capacity crowd full of confidence and belief from last season. It wasn’t made any easier when Keith Keane saw red after only 21 minutes and although they got to half time at 0-0, two second half goals from new Pompey captain, Brett Pitman, were enough to give the South coast side the points.
The first game at Spotland saw the Dale take on Scunthorpe United, a team that finished 3rd in League One in 2016-17. It was an even match and when Steven Davies gave Rochdale the lead in the second half it appeared that Dale would grab the points but Scunthorpe hit back through Duane Holmes as the points were shared.
Another away trip, this time to Shrewsbury again yielded no points but it was a good performance. Dale caused the Shrews a number of problems but ended up losing 3-2 in a game of three penalties, two of which were for Rochdale and were duly converted by Steven Davies.
The big game of the month was the derby against local rivals Bury but it did not live up to expectations as the 0-0 scoreline suggests. Bury were down to 10 men for most of the second half but clung on to leave the Dale without a win in August.
September PL 7, W 2, D 3, L 2
As the busy month of September rolled in, Keith Hill’s men took on Southend at Roots Hall and came away with an excellent point in a 0-0 draw, especially considering the harsh red card for Ian Henderson. A really poor display at home to Blackburn followed and another game without scoring as Rover won comfortably 3-0. The lack of goals was more worrying because Rochdale weren’t creating chances and appeared to miss the attacking verve of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing who had joined Cardiff in the summer.
Rochdale’s first win came at Spotland on the Tuesday night in a game that looked like it was slipping away from Keith Hill’s men. John Marquis had given Doncaster the lead with 16 minutes left, this after Steven Davies had missed a penalty for Dale. It all changed in the second minute of stoppage time as Mark Kitching equalised with a stunning dipping volley and just two minutes later Steven Davies grabbed an unlikely winner to send the home fans crazy. It will be a game that all those watching will never forget and more importantly, got Dale their first 3 points of the season.
They couldn’t carry the momentum forward though and lost away at Milton Keynes in the next game 3-2 but at least they were finding the net now. Matt Done grabbed his first of the season at Stadium MK which Hill would have welcomed as the usually reliable Ian Henderson was yet to fire.
The Rochdale strike didn’t have to wait long and his first of the season was a real gift from Gillingham keeper Tomas Holy. The Gills were no match for Rochdale and were beaten 3-0 at Spotland as Matt Done grabbed his second in as many games. Rochdale saw September out with a pair of decent draws on the road both 0-0 first at Blackpool and then at AFC Wimbledon.
Dale started October as they ended the previous month by failing to score at home against Rotherham but unfortunately for Dale Richard Woods grabbed the only goal of the game as the Millers edge it 1-0. With an away trip to Fleetwood this weekend it could be a tricky start to the month for Keith Hill but he will be looking at the home matches against Northampton and Bristol Rovers as games he will want points out of as well as the away trip to Plymouth Argyle on the 28th.
So far Steven Davies has been the stand out player for Rochdale. He has bagged himself some goals but has also looked dangerous and has that wonderful ability to create something out of nothing. Will be a key player in making sure that Rochdale stay clear of any relegation trouble this season.
Most surprising player?
This is a tough one but I have been impressed with goal keeper Josh Lillis who has already kept several clean sheets and was excellent in the draw at Blackpool. Matt Done has not performed as well as many expected but if he can find his scoring touch then Dale may not need to worry so much about where their next goal is coming from.
Performance against expectation?
This is an interesting one for me because I think if you are a new generation Dale fan then you may expect more from this side but some of the older generation who remember what waiting 41 years for a promotion feels like, maybe a bit more pragmatic about the start Keith Hill’s side has made. I think they have the potential to finish in the top half but if they can continue to stay safely in mid-table then it will be a decent season for the Dale, in what is one of the toughest League One Divisions for some time.
words James Richards