Preview: Rochdale

Back-to-back wins, albeit away from the league, have at least demonstrated that the injury situation with the squad right now doesn’t mean that we have to delay any ambitions of building momentum in our play-off bid until we can bring in reinforcements in January.

Comfortably beating Colchester United last week with a team made up of a reserve goalkeeper, five defenders, four central midfielders and just one striker felt especially encouraging and with this upcoming game against Rochdale the only home game against a current bottom-half side until the 11th of January, carrying that confidence into this game is important.

Expected Line-Up

With Kyle McFadzean’s suspension for picking up five yellow cards kicking in for this game, it leaves Mark Robins with an especially threadbare squad for this game – provided there aren’t any surprise returns from injury.

Mark Robins faces a decision for this game over whether to stick with the system that worked last week and promote Declan Drysdale from the under-23 side to take McFadzean’s place in the side, or to change things up to avoid throwing a youngster into the deep end.

It makes the most sense to give Drysdale a go for this game – if he isn’t, it raises a few questions over what exactly is the point of investing in an under-23 side if you’re not going to play them when there is a space available in the starting XI – however, with our creative struggles in the most recent home game in mind, Mark Robins may well be considering sacrificing a centre-back in order to give us more of an attacking presence.

Unless Jordy Hiwula returns to fitness, bringing Callum O’Hare back into the starting line-up is pretty much the only attacking alternative in the squad who Robins seems likely to pick. While a 4-2-3-1 system with Jordan Shipley and Zain Westbrooke as the widest forwards hardly seems ideal, the duo showed last week that they can impact games with the extra creative freedom that playing further forward affords them.

Last Time We Met

Having never beaten Rochdale at their Spotland home, last year saw a piece of history made in possibly the least memorable fashion. With Rochdale struggling for confidence and ourselves struggling for goals, a tepid contest was decided via the narrowest of margins as Jordy Hiwula finished from an Amadou Bakayoko flick-on in the second-half.

The Opposition

Manager – Brian Barry-Murphy

Having steadied the ship last season as initially a caretaker replacement for Rochdale stalwart Keith Hill, Brian Barry-Murphy is using his first full season as a manager to implement a philosophy of attractive, passing football – earning the moniker for his side of Roch-alona.

While the approach led to some impressive early season performances, a chastening 6-0 defeat at Peterborough United – with two of the six goals conceded coming directly from failed attempt to play out of defence – seems to have been a turning point in the season. Results have been inconsistent since that loss at London Road with Rochdale veering between very good and very bad performances.

Possible Line-Up

Who To Look Out For?

On course to reach double figures for goals for his seventh consecutive season, Ian Henderson remains Rochdale’s key threat. A versatile forward who combines intelligence and technique with a physical edge, Henderson is much more than an out-and-out goalscorer and a vital part of how Rochdale play.

Academy product Callum Camps appears to have made a big step up this season in his development, playing slightly further forward than he has before and linking up well with Henderson, which was a key element of Rochdale’s strong early season.

In defence, Rochdale have former Coventry City target Eoghan O’Connell, who is a very adept ball-playing centre-back – possibly a better passer of the ball than he is a defender – which is key in their style of play. The recent signing of the experienced former Premier League defender Paul McShane has helped tighten things up at the back, although he has missed the past few games with injury.

Finally, goalkeeper Robert Sanchez is one to keep an eye on too. As you’d expect from a Spaniard, Sanchez is very adept with the ball at his feet and will take risks in holding onto possession and passing short that most other League One goalkeepers wouldn’t. While he has made some glaring errors in his risk-taking, he remains a key element of Rochdale’s build-up play.

Areas To Exploit

Whether Rochdale change up their approach for a difficult away game at a time of the season where they’re starting to need a win will impact how this game plays out. If they don’t, we can expect to come up against a side looking to play a very patient style of passing football that are willing to leave themselves open in order to attack us. If they revert to a more defensive game-plan, this game will be a similar challenge to the recent Accrington Stanley game.

Additionally, Rochdale could be down to just one out-and-out defender to call upon for this game due to injuries and international call-ups. This is likely to mean that wingers Jimmy Keohane and Matt Done likely to be asked to fill in at full-back and could also see central midfielder Jimmy Ryan slot in at centre-back. Exploiting that lack of positional understanding at the back could be important for us, the doubt is whether we have the available attacking threat to do so.

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