After the luxury of a week’s gap between fixtures, this upcoming game against Rochdale presents an opportunity to get further points on the board ahead of a crucial run of games ahead against promotion contenders Rotherham United, Sunderland and Ipswich.
Every game is important right now. The games against the teams at the top are important in taking points away from promotion rivals, the games against the rest are in important to avoid losing ground to those same promotion rivals. Standards cannot slip, momentum must be maintained.
Whether Mark Robins deploys what he considers to be his strongest line-up here, or tries to a few players fresh for the Rotherham and Sunderland games coming up next week is likely to be the key team selection consideration heading into this game.
Just what actually is our strongest line-up is something of an enigma at this moment in time, particularly in the attacking positions. However, with almost every player who has been rotated in and out of the side capable of making an impact, the lack of an identifiable strongest XI has been more of a benefit than a weakness.
The indication from the past two games is that Matt Godden is considered the first-choice choice striker and is likely to continue here despite Maxime Biamou and Amadou Bakayoko looking to be in better recent form. Behind the striker could be any combination of Jordan Shipley, Zain Westbrooke, Callum O’Hare and Jamie Allen, my inkling is that Shipley and Westbrooke are likely to start this game with O’Hare and Allen saved for the games ahead.
Elsewhere, there are unlikely to be any other changes.
Last Time We Met
As is the Coventry City way this season, Rochdale taking the lead at St Andrew’s in November did not hinder our ability to the win the game. Instead, the Sky Blues steadily moved up through the gears, with Jordan Shipley scoring an important goal just before half-time to set-up a second-half of largely one-way traffic towards the Rochdale goal.
The breakthrough didn’t look to be coming, until Liam Walsh picked up the ball around the half-way line and surged towards the penalty area like a boulder rolling down a hill, breaking past defender after defender and rolling a cool finish past the keeper. A goal worthy of winning any game of football.
Manager – Brian Barry-Murphy
In his first full season as a manager, Brian Barry-Murphy has done a reasonable job in keeping Rochdale away from danger with one of the division’s smallest budgets. More impressive perhaps has been his adherence to an attractive, short-passing style of football that has reportedly caught the eye of bigger clubs with managerial vacancies.
While the team’s recent form hasn’t been too impressive, a 10-point buffer from the relegation zone means Rochdale are just about already safe. Having time between now and the end of the campaign to focus on performances is unlikely to see Brian Barry-Murphy deviate from his short-passing philosophy, looking to refine things ahead of next year.
Who To Look Out For?
As ever with Rochdale, the chief answer to this question is Ian Henderson.
Pushed further forward this season to play as an out-and-out striker, Henderson has secured his seventh successive double-figure scoring season, although he has been less of a creative presence. Leading his side’s pressing game, Henderson is the kind of forward who can punish any loose play around the penalty area.
The likely unavailability of midfielder Callum Camps for this game means Rochdale have fewer goalscoring options in support of Henderson, although there is plenty of pace to call upon from forwards Tyler Smith, Stephen Dooley, Fabio Tavares and Kwadwo Baah which could catch us out. Given the problems Chris O’Grady caused for us in the recent Bolton game, the aerial and physical threat that Calvin Andrew poses is another area to be wary of.
A key feature of Rochdale’s attacking play this season has been the surging runs of full-backs Luke Matheson and Rhys Norrington-Davies. Matheson, playing on the right, made a name for himself by virtue of making his debut at 15 years-old and has since earned a move to Wolves through some devastating attacking moments despite still looking physically raw for senior football. On the left, Norrington-Davies is further ahead in his development, picking his moments to attack and providing consistently telling deliveries.
Where The Game Will Be Won or Lost
Rochdale’s adherence to playing out from the back, especially at home, should be the signal for us to press them high up the pitch to force errors. While goalkeeper Robert Sanchez is quite a promising young keeper, he has a tendency to land his team-mates in hot water with overly-ambitious distribution and would be someone in particular to target when on the ball.
This is another game we’re expected to win with a minimum of fuss but could become tricky if we don’t get an early goal. A level of patience may be required to avoid frustration seeping into our game. As we don’t have a reliable goalscorer, we’ll again be awaiting someone to step up with a telling contribution from somewhere to make the breakthrough here.