County suffered a narrow defeat last night against Keith Hill’s Rochdale side, in what proved to be a very competitive game at Edgeley Park.
The necessary incremental increase in the quality of the opposition provided for County, ensured that the League 1 side were always going to represent a stern test for the blues, and that is ( satisfactorily) just how it turned out. Dale enjoyed a lot of possession for much of the game, but for large parts of same seldom looked likely to score – even scorning Referee Matt Donohue’s joke penalty in the first half to underline this prognosis.
To be fair ……with both defences largely in control of matters…..neither side really had the look of likely winners.
As an attacking force therefore, County had their least effective outing of what has been an interesting close season so far, but whilst this was so ,it was also true that defensively they were tested and not found to be wanting by the visitors who happily respected the tie by fielding a side that. although changed about a lot twixt halves was heavily leavened with senior players.
For County I made Palmer, Minihan, Duxbury and Hinchliffe the top performers and, when he came on Dan Cowan showed he had lost none of last season’s propensity for a heady mix of steely defensive work allied to tenacious attacking play. And…..for Rochdale Joe Thompson showed he had the zip and energy that saved his side from the relegation plunge last season capping a lively showing with a fine goal.
County did enjoy a 10 minute period in the first and late on in the second half where they might just have nicked one, but it was not to be, and Joe Thompson’s goal almost on the hour was enough to win the encounter for the Lancastrians.
It was good to see former Hatters Aaron Wilbraham , Jim McNulty, and Dave Perkins again, albeit they were all bedecked in Rochdale white, and good to see Chris Smalley back aboard after injury for County. Wilbraham was the only one of the aforementioned Dale trio starting as they lined up facing the empty Cheadle End.
The first thrust came from the blues, and Rochdale may just have opined that Thomas’s run was a tad too close for comfort.
It missed out though, and Rochdale pushed on in response, Oliver Rathbone pinging a decent cross over, with 4 minutes gone, only to see Alby head over from close in.
It was tit for tat for a while with both attacks held firmly in check by well-marshalled defences.
On 14 minutes, Dale felt they had worked a decent opening for themselves, and I was tempted to agree, but when Henderson found Callum Camps with a neat through ball, he could only find the side-netting with his shot with Hinchliffe exposed.
With Minihan and Mulhern to the fore, County came back at Dale – keeper Brad Wade doing well to save from Darren Stephenson from a County corner.
Duxbury followed this up with a typically lacerating run down the left that had the visitors stretched, but his cross did not meet with the required response in the middle as Thomas sent his shot well wide.
All very so/so then…….17 minutes gone…..end to end stuff with some tight defensive work to point to….but no alarms to speak of…until the Referee enlivened matters by awarding the harshest of penalties to Keith Hill’s side. It looked nothing of the kind, as Hinchliffe, came to Thomas’s aid by smothering the ball at the feet of the advancing Dunne. Dunne went down, but as I readied myself to applaud Hinchliffe’s fine work, Mr Donohue pointed to the spot.
I do not know whether embarrassment played any part in what followed, but anyway, Henderson( possibly Dale’s top man up until this point) stepped up sending the kick wide to much laughter from under the Danny Stand roof.
Henderson was undeterred however and exasperated no doubt to see Hinchliffe pull out a really athletic save to somehow keep his follow up effort out just a couple of minutes later.
It was not all Rochdale, indeed keeper Wade had to make a decent save to keep another effort by Stephenson out, 27 minutes in.
A foul by Keane then put County under pressure, but it was the mix as before as the free kick was wasted.
That was good from County’s standpoint, what wasn’t was that Keane had sustained a knock and had to be replaced by Cowan.
Meanwhile…Stephenson continued to probe for an opening, as did Thomas and Minihan down the right, but there was no one in position to apply a finish when the corner the County number eleven had won came over.
A couple more corners followed for County thanks to good work from a Minihan/ Mulhern combo, but whilst County went close with the first of these, again ultimately there was nothing down for them it being delivered with too much oomph!
A routine hold by Hinchliffe from a late/ late Dale free kick and it was halftime and still 0-0.
Rochdale upped the pace of their attacks after the break and County did really well to ensure it stayed at 0-0.
Mr Donohue again did County no favours with the cheapest of Dale free kicks from a decent position. The pressure was on again then……and then it wasn’t as Jordan Williams sent the kick straight down Hinchliffe’s throat.
Seven minutes had gone by when County made some personnel changes, swapping Bell for Mulhern and Kirby for Stephenson, but within another 6 Rochdale had the lead.
It was a good move finished off well – ending neatly with Thompson sliding in to apply a finish to Joe Rafferty’s cross.
After the hour, County hit back via Bully who sent Minihan marauding towards the by-line at pace. It looked a chance maybe to get level, but when the cross came over their were no takers in blue to do the biz and it stayed 0-1.
There was still much pressure for County to absorb with Dale definitely not content with one goal. Smalley sorted a Ryan Delaney cross to the back post…..Hinchliffe doing likewise( and impressively) as the increasingly lively Thompson ran onto Dan Adshead’s through ball.
It went on as Kgosi Ntike pinged the most dangerous cross in only for Thompson to head over when well placed.
There were just 20 minutes remaining to play when JG refreshed the blue line up replacing Thomas and Smalley with Czubik and Downing.
County revived at this point- Bell heading just wide from Sam Walker’s free kick, but being less accurate a minute or so later sending a hurried effort high and wide after stealing possession in fine style.
Czubik almost found a way through as cracks started to appear in what had previously been a solid Dale defensive wall.
This growing uncertainty was underlined when it took a poor foul to stop Cowan’s determined charge down the right flank, with just over 10 minutes to go. The free kick brought with it potential for an equaliser, but this vanished as the ball flew inches over the bar from Kirby as County piled into the box to force it home.
It was not going to happen was it? This thought began to sink in as the keeper just managed to beat Bell to the ball with the goal gaping invitingly.
Adam Etches came on for Kirby with 5 minutes left, but County’s valiant bid to get back to parity was more or less spent, and Hinchliffe did well to tip a Thompson effort over the bar.
Dale did get the ball in the net in the follow up to Hinchliffe’s save from the subsequent corner, but this was rightly ruled out for offside, and what had been a decent game, played in the right spirit, ended with Dale 1-0 winners.
Credit to both teams for that, we could not really have expected any better result from a tough assignment, and County will have benefitted from the experience for sure.
More of the same upcoming on Saturday against Everton Under 23, so be sure not to miss that one!
[ See the pics here! ]
Stockport County line up:
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Keane ( Cowan 34), Palmer, Smalley( Downing 70), Duxbury, Thomas( Czubik 70), Turnbull, Mulhern( Bell 52), Walker, Stephenson( Kirby 52/ Etches 85).
Sub not used : Ormson.
Rochdale line up:
Wade, Delaney, McGahey, MJ Williams, Camps, Rathbone, Done, Wilbraham, Inman, Morley, Henderson.
First Half : Cannon, Gillam, Neild, Moore, Tavares, Barry- Murphy.
Second Half : Rafferty, Ntike, McNulty, Andrew, J Williams , Thompson, Perkins, Adshead.