Date: 7 May 2011
Well what a damp squib this game turned out to be. When I bought my ticket it looked like it could be absolutely crucial for both sides, but by the time the day came we were already in the play-offs and Rochdale were not. So the number of tickets available for Rochdale supporters was pared down, and they sat at the open end (fortunately with favourable weather - the rain not coming until after the final whistle). We took over the entire East stand (which meant I got to see a tea bar and toilet I’d never seen before!) . But the fair-weather supporters who helped us achieve a gate of over 9000 will have been disappointed with our result, and were it not for the magic of the play-offs I can’t imagine we’d be seeing them again any time soon.
It’s not that our performance was all bad; indeed early in the second half there was some brilliant play to be seen and we clearly dominated the game. But we made two fundamental errors that have almost become our trademarks. First we played with only one player up front (at home!) until we were chasing the game - in fact we probably wouldn’t have switched then if McDermott hadn’t picked up a knock. And second we failed to defend a lead, and in any case failed to keep up the pressure beyond the 80th minute mark - once again.
Before the match, Player of the Season awards were handed out. Unlike last year, when Jalal and Pitman made a clean sweep of awards between them, the prizes were shared out more evenly this time - between Robinson, Hollands, Pearce and Ings. And the sight of Ings in a suit (last year it had been Jalal!) was the first clue he’d not be taking part in today’s match - hopefully being rested so that he can play a large part in the play-offs. (Unusually, Bradbury was in a suit too - but then he did have the important task of presenting the players’ Player of the Year award to Jason Pearce!) Ings’ absence meant that Pugh could return onto the wing (re-establishing his partnership with Wiggins), and McDermott could take up a position just behind Lovell as lone striker, which to be honest was pretty disastrous - Lovell only really getting going in the second half when he had Williamson to partner him. We kicked off; and Bournemouth players didn’t seem to be exactly running their socks off (maybe they were saving themselves for next week). But they played well enough, and indeed in the twenty-seventh minute took the lead when a Pearce header, off a corner kick, headed goalwards - possibly helped by a slight deflection off a `Dale player.
Within minutes, though, Rochdale had equalised, on the break, against the run of play. A player with the unlikely surname “Done” picked up the ball in the midfield, ran with it almost unchallenged, and drove a low shot from distance into the bottom corner of the netting, giving Jalal no chance. The only other significant event in the first half was an injury to McDermott which at first just looked like an excuse for a water break. But it turned out that he was unable to play on, so Williamson took over and we switched from 4-4-1-1 to 4-4-2. Only a couple of minutes of the half remained, plus 120 seconds added on (McDermott’s injury pretty well accounted for all of them). Half time: 1-1.
As already stated, the best period for Bournemouth came next. Both sets of winger and corresponding full back worked hard, overlapping well, and getting crosses in. Feeney was particularly electric during this period, taking on Rochdale defenders just in front of the Steve Fletcher stand again and again. Too many crosses were being wasted though, and Williamson - while showing a lot of energy - didn’t get in as many shots as you’d expect from a striker. Lovell upped his game and started running with confidence at defenders, as well as having a half decent effort on goal. But our best shot of the half was almost certainly a long one from Robinson, at 75 minutes, that the `Dale keeper had to go full stretch to keep out. And then at 80 minutes (isn’t it always?): disaster! Purches and Fletcher were already on the touchline waiting to come on as subs, when a diminutive Rochdale player somehow won a header and easily nodded it into the goal at the open end. This brought rapturous response from the motley group of `Dale fans immediately behind that goal, who started singing “This is the best trip we’ve ever been on” (to the tune of Sloop John ‘B’) and at one stage were actually spotted doing a conga! Our supporters, meanwhile, became more muted than ever, and didn’t even cheer their team at the final whistle, reserving their attentions for the Cherries ‘fans’ who stupidly and pointlessly ran onto the pitch, preventing the Bournemouth team from going into its usual ‘huddle’. When the stewards had managed to clear the pitch, the Rochdale team re-emerged from the tunnel to parade in front of their supporters. But ours didn’t.
This means we go into the play-offs at the end of a run of very poor results, and therefore surely lacking confidence? Meanwhile, Huddersfield’s reward for so nearly getting automatic promotion is to ‘only’ have to play ourselves, who in the end merely beat Exeter and Orient into the play-offs by a single point.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):