Not that we’re in the position right now to be turning down points of any kind, but it was pretty useless to get just the one against Yeovil last Saturday. A missed opportunity in the context of the game itself due to the missed penalty. But also in the context of the fixtures ahead and the relegation battle, this was a chance to put some points between us and the relegation zone ahead of a tough schedule ahead.
Instead, we head into this home fixture against Rochdale more in hope than in expectations. With a team lacking confidence, we are hoping that for some inexplicable reason everything clicks. Without Gary Madine, we are hoping that a youngster with just four games of first-team experience will prove to be a good signing. We are hoping that Rochdale will revert to the level that was expected of them pre-season. We are hoping that we won’t be sucked into a relegation battle. We are hoping that Wasps owning the Ricoh Arena will be a good thing. I could go on.
If we weren’t already in a relegation battle, a loss against a very good Rochdale side will put the matter beyond a shadow of a doubt. Whilst this league is a fairly even one, fixtures in February against the likes of Preston, Sheffield United and MK ‘Dons’ do not bode well. We could very well find ourselves in March, when the ‘easier’ fixtures do indeed present themselves, without a league win in eight games. Were that to happen, it would be tough for Pressley to salvage anything from this situation and it may be better to take a gamble on the new manager ‘bounce’.
Madine’s, possibly permanent, absence does not mean that we are lacking striking options it’s just that those that are here are not very inspiring. The imminent arrival of Sanmi Odelusi could free Frank Nouble up to play as a central striker. Then it would be a case of Pressley deciding whether Nouble is the pace-man or the link-up-man. The big-billing Marcus Tudgay has received over the past month suggests that Tudgay will provide the link-up play in attack and the veteran may be handed the start here against Rochdale.
Aside from that, there are no real selection issues for Pressley to consider. Jamie Jones reportedly impressed despite having little to do against Yeovil, Jordan Willis looks back to his normal, composed self at right-back and Reda Johnson is our lucky charm. The midfield is still a cause for concern but it seems that there is very little that can be done right now other than to hope that O’Brien, Fleck and Thomas raise their respective games.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Jones; Willis, Martin, Webster, Johnson; O’Brien, Thomas, Fleck, Odelusi; Nouble, Tudgay.
Last Time We Met
Our first league meeting with Rochdale in nearly 90 years ended in a 1-0 defeat for the Sky Blues at Spotland. In was in the early part of a winless run which appears to have defined our season, the game was decided by disorganisation in our five-man defence leading to a penalty converted by Dale. There was an onslaught of sorts for most of the rest of the game but it wasn’t convincing enough to put our hosts under any undue pressure and Rochdale ran out fairly comfortable winners.
How Are They Doing?
Rochdale have been the team this season that everyone in this division has been waiting to see drop-off. They shouldn’t be this good. They sold their top-scorer in the summer and chose not to reinvest the money in the team (note to SISU: this usually doesn’t work). Instead, some good management from Keith Hill has seen a team that looked best equipped for mid-table League Two challenge for the play-offs.
The form of top-scorer Matty Done sums up just how brilliant Keith Hill is at man-management and tactical organisation as a football manager. An emergency left-back last season, Done has been converted into a ‘false 9’ style centre-forward that allows others behind him to get involved in the goal-scoring action. Whilst Done has now scored more this season than in the entirety of his career before it, he has also helped the gifted Ian Henderson and Peter Vincenti into double figures too.
Henderson himself deserves a special mention. A player who never really made the grade at Norwich, Henderson made a strange move into Turkish football before putting together a decent spell with Colchester United. It has been at Rochdale, a move that came about because his girlfriend found a job in the Northwest, where Henderson has shown what a supremely talented footballer he is. He possess a delicate touch and intelligent movement that makes him capable of both creating and scoring goals, Henderson makes it happen in attack for Rochdale.
The other key man for Rochdale, is Stephen Dawson in central midfield. A tigerish player who chases down everything in the centre of the park, making himself known to his opponents. Dawson is another player who found his way to Rochdale more by accident than design. Having impressed at Championship level at Barnsley, Dawson was expected to secure a move to a bigger second-tier side in the summer before his reputation was slurred by match-fixing allegations which have now been proven to be false. He will be playing with the fire in his belly that only a man who has been unjustly wronged will have.
Possible Line-Up: (4-1-4-1) Lillis, Rafferty, Eastham, Lancashire, Tanser; Bennett; Vincenti, Dawson, Camps, Henderson; Done.
Something has to improve surely now. The players must be hurting after our recent form and will want to prove a point. Unfortunately, we are up against a team in Rochdale who we will need to be much more than simply hungry to beat. If we lose this game it could be a very nasty atmosphere around the Ricoh Arena and it may make Steven Pressley’s position untenable. There are no excuses for even being near a relegation battle with the squad he has at his disposal and it is starting to look like he is holding this team back.
Will desire and hunger be enough to overcome the organisation and confidence that Rochdale will have? I am going to be the optimist here and say yes it will be, 2-1 Coventry City.