Preview: Rochdale

This streak of playing well but not winning will come to an end, either results will improve or performances will diminish. An away trip to Rochdale, a club we’ve only beaten twice in 16 competitive meetings and never away from home, hardly seems like the ideal place to begin a reversal of form, but equally, getting a win here could have a galvanising effect upon a side that has lost a sense of identity over the past six months.

Possible Line-Up

Expected Line-Up

A lot rests on the fitness of Tom Bayliss, and Liam Kelly as to whether Mark Robins can make changes to last week’s team. Those two are probably the clearest candidates who can come into the side and improve the team immediately, otherwise Robins is left to shuffle around players of relatively similar quality hoping to stumble upon a winning formula.

The 4-3-3 that we began the Gillingham game with gave us spells of dominance without much attacking threat, the 4-4-1-1 that was used in the second-half gave us attacking threat with fewer spells of dominance. Given the form and fitness of many of our attacking options at the moment, handing a free reign to Bright Enobakhare in the centre of the pitch seems to be our best bet of troubling opponents – Mark Robins has to ensure this time around that he takes Enobakhare off when he starts to flag or it leaves us playing with effectively 10 men.

Having Liam Kelly and David Meyler available in central midfield could help provide the solid platform upon which Enobakhare and our other attacking players can express themselves. Nonetheless, pairing Kelly and Meyler in central midfield leaves Mark Robins with a quandary as to how to fit Bright Enobakhare, Tom Bayliss, Luke Thomas, and a striker, into the same team, someone is going to be shoehorned into a position some would consider to be unnatural.

Last Time We Met

It may be hard to picture this, but our game against Rochdale earlier in the season involved us having a boatload of chances, not scoring, then losing the game. The first-half saw us benefit from the acres of space left out wide by Rochdale’s narrow formation but fail to take advantage of our dominance. It allowed Keith Hill in the Rochdale dugout to correct his error, his side then took an early second-half lead from a set-piece routine, then completely shut the door on us for the remainder of the game.

The Opposition

Manager – Keith Hill

One of the longest-serving managers in the Football League, Keith Hill has found himself pressure a little bit over the past season or so as Rochdale have struggled against the drop in League One. Nonetheless, keeping Rochdale in this division remains a remarkable achievement given the resources Hill has to work with and has perhaps gone underappreciated given previous seasons of vast overachievement at Spotland.

At their best, Rochdale under Hill combine attractive, high-intensity football with a level of cynicism and physicality to choke the life out of opponents. While Hill can sometimes leave his team exposed with constant tactical tweaks, that resourcefulness has seen him get the best out of players other clubs have discarded and helped instill what is very much a unique ‘Rochdale way’ under his management.

Possible Line-Up

Who To Look Out For?

Ian Henderson.

The forward is in his element at Rochdale and has consistently been one of the best players in League One over the past few seasons without anyone really paying much attention to him. He’s hit double figures for goals in six consecutive seasons and is also a key source of creativity, directly involved in 20 of Rochdale’s 38 goals this campaign. A mix between being a physical presence and possessing excellent technique, and somewhere between a winger, attacking-midfielder and centre-forward Henderson is an all-round threat and a real handful to deal with.

The battering ram centre-forward Calvin Andrew is also a key element of Rochdale’s attacking threat. Although far from the most prolific of strikers, Andrew’s sheer physical presence makes him the favourite to win almost all aerial challenges he faces. The key to dealing with him may not be as much about challenging for headers against him but winning second-balls and/or cutting off the supply of crosses and long balls.

Around that Henderson-Andrew axis in attack, Rochdale have a number of energetic midfielders who’ll be looking to get forward around the space that Henderson and Andrew can open up, with winger Stephen Dooley and recent Manchester United loan signing Ethan Hamilton probably the most dangerous of those players based on current form, while in Callum Camps, Rochdale have a ball-playing midfielder who can really control games.

Areas To Exploit

While Keith Hill’s tendency to mix things up tactically makes Rochdale one of the most unpredictable sides at this level, there is always the possibility that he’ll try something so bizarre that it confuses his own players more than it does the opposition. Based on our recent performances, I would imagine that Hill will build a strategy around pressing us high up the pitch to force mistakes as we look to build from the back.

With that strategy comes the opportunity to exploit spaces behind the opposing defence if we can overcome that initial wave of pressure. This could be a particular area of opportunity as Rochdale aren’t a side blessed with pace in central defence, with the possibility of Bright Enobakhare running directly at them likely to cause them big problems.

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