Everything was going to plan for the first 25 minutes on Tuesday night. We were expected to beat a demoralised Scunthorpe side with ease and with an incisive move featuring a weighted through-ball from Simeon Jackson to Frank Nouble to open the scoring, it seemed we were set to cruise to victory. However Reda Johnson’s red mist descended, he butted his head toward Lyle Taylor and the referee was left with little choice but to send him off.
Whilst we could have perhaps still have taken a point at the very least from Glanford Park, any analysis of the game has to be heavily caveated with Reda Johnson’s red card. Scunthorpe may or may not have come back into the game 11 vs 11 but we will never know that because of a stupid red card. Overall it feels like a massive missed opportunity not only to move into third and look like bona fide promotion contenders but to put together arguably our first 90 minute-long convincing display this season.
If Steven Pressley has got his recruitment right this season though, Saturday’s trip to Rochdale should see the team brush aside Tuesday night’s loss and beat a team which many view as one of the weakest in the division. Last season this would have been a situation in which we may have capitulated as confidence seemed to be quite brittle in that team. By bringing hard-working and experienced players, we may be able to forget and move on from Scunthorpe.
With Reda Johnson now suspended for the next three games, Seb Hines is presented with a chance to stake a claim for a first-team spot. The Middlesbrough loanee was said to have looked quite composed and assured on Tuesday but we will seemingly lose a physical presence for set-pieces which may be crucial if the next two league games are quite tight. However Johnson does have limitations as a defender, particularly against pace, so despite being captain, he could potentially be kept out of the team if Hines impresses.
Elsewhere there should be little change, if any at all, Nouble and Jackson looked like forging a dangerous strike partnership and should now be given the chance to play 90 minutes together against Rochdale.
Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Allsop; Clarke, Willis, Webster, Hines, Haynes; Thomas, Fleck, O’Brien; Nouble, Jackson.
Last Time We Met
Considering that Coventry City and Rochdale have been several divisions apart since we last met in the league in 1926, it’s not surprising that this is a rare fixture in Football League history. Coventry City have only beaten Rochdale once, in the League Cup in 1991 and never at Rochdale’s home ground of Spotland.
The last meeting between the two sides was at Spotland in the FA Cup in 2003. Gary McAllister’s Coventry City were dumped out of the cup thanks to goals from Paul Connor and Gareth Griffiths.
How Are They Doing?
After selling last season’s top-scorer Scott Hogan to Brentford this summer and replacing him with Calvin Andrew (scorer of 14 league goals in 10 seasons) Rochdale were looking to be almost certain candidates for relegation. However the managerial expertise of the returning Keith Hill has seen Dale sit comfortably in 11th place in the league whilst playing some exciting and attractive football on a minuscule budget.
The additions of Stephen Dawson, who was part of Keith Hill’s Barnsley side, and Jack O’Connell, returning after a loan spell from Blackburn last year, have provided a real shot in the arm for Rochdale’s hopes this season. Dawson, who impressed at Championship level with Barnsley and probably should be still playing in the second-tier, has played a box-to-box midfield role which allows Rochdale to win the ball high up the pitch and enforce their passing style of play. O’Connell is another in the category of ‘should be probably be playing Championship football’ and is a fairly classy presence in the centre of defence.
The star player of last season, Ian Henderson, remains at the club also. The former Norwich, Colchester and Ankaragucu forward joined Rochdale 18 months ago when his girlfriend found a job in the Manchester area. This quirk of fate has allowed Dale to secure a supremely talented footballer for the level of football that they play at despite their limited resources. Henderson can really pull the strings at the tip of a midfield diamond or roaming from one of the wings.
A surprise stand-out performer this season has been Matty Done. Previously a fairly innocuous left-winger who could only get into the team as an emergency left-back last year, Done has found his true calling this year as a striker. He currently tops their scoring charts with five goals and his work-rate and off-the-ball movement have beguiled several opposing defences thus far.
As well, Rochdale have started producing a few products from their academy who have become mainstays of their team this season. Jamie Allen is dynamic and versatile midfielder who can operate out wide or through the middle. Scott Tanser has nailed down the left-back position at Rochdale despite not playing too big of a role in their recent promotion from League Two. Tanser offers good delivery from set-pieces, a reason why we might miss Reda Johnson for this fixture.
Possible Line-Up: (4-3-3) Logan; Rafferty, Eastham, O’Connell, Tanser; Hery, Dawson, Allen; Henderson, Done, Vincenti.
This game could be much tougher than many would assume against a hard-working Rochdale side who can really choke sides with their ball retention and off-the-ball movement. Last season they thoroughly outplayed a Championship side in Leeds in the FA Cup and their form this season shows that they aren’t to be taken lightly. The midfield battle will be key as we should be looking to cut off the supply to Rochdale’s forwards who will be making awkward runs for a three-man defence to defend.
On the other side though, Steven Pressley will be hoping that the understanding in attack between Frank Nouble and Simeon Jackson can continue from before they were rudely interrupted by Reda Johnson’s sending-off. Those two should possess a quality that is too much for League One defences to contain and if we can keep them together we have a genuine shot at at least the play-offs if not automatic promotion.
I really think that this will be a tough game and one that a few other teams at the top of League One will also struggle with. I’m going to stick with my prediction from this week’s Nii Lamptey show and say it will finish 1-1.