The opening day of the season is rarely a reflection of what eventually transpires at the end of it. How many more games this season are going to be played on a perfect pitch, in the sun and with almost little pressure on the team to get the result? An away trip on a Tuesday night to Rochdale, albeit in competition few care how well we do in, may be a better indication of what we should expect from this team over the course of the rest of the season.
Just about every player on the pitch on Saturday put in an excellent shift, executing Tony Mowbray’s game plan expertly. Adam Armstrong’s pace, incisive running and self-confidence in front of goal gave the team a purpose in the final third that they rallied around with Maddison, Lameiras and O’Brien all looking to slip him through at the earliest opportunity. The decision to play Armstrong on the right paid dividends as he attacked the space in the channel between left-sided centre-back and left wing-back that Wigan left. Tony Mowbray set the team up perfectly to beat Wigan, the challenge now is to alter that approach for more street-wide opposition in Rochdale.
Armstrong through will be ineligible for this ties, which rather worryingly suggests that his parent club may have their finger hovering above the ‘recall’ button. The alternative options in Marcus Tudgay and George Thomas suggest that a change in formation is all but assured with Tudgay likely to lead the attack with Thomas tucked in somewhere behind him. Jordan Willis is out injured too which means Aaron Phillips has an early season opportunity to finally nail down that right-back spot.
Tony Mowbray has alluded to the fact that he will experiment with his team for this fixture. Reice Charles-Cook is reportedly set to start his first competitive game for the club which should help push Burge to show that there is competition for the goalkeeper’s jersey. With Reda Johnson’s fitness always doubtful, it seems unlikely that he will be risked for what could be seen as a glorified pre-season friendly. That leaves Aaron Martin to fill in at centre-back alongside captain Sam Ricketts who put in a gloriously composed and assured performance on his league debut for the club. Loanee Bryn Morris too is seemingly set for a full debut having looked solid coming off the bench against Wigan.
Last Time We Met
Perhaps there is parallel universe that exists where Coventry City won their last encounter with Rochdale back in January. Steven Pressley’s had added Dominic Samuel and Sanmi Odelusi to the squad prior to that meeting at the Ricoh Arena and both provided a much-needed injection of pace and urgency in the final third. Dominic Samuel opened the scoring after confidently tucking away a rebounded Jim O’Brien effort, Rochdale equalised. Sanmi Odelusi curled a beautiful effort into the top corner from the edge of the area, Rochdale equalised. Had we been able to hold onto either lead, maybe it would have boosted the confidence of the team enough to get them through a difficult set of fixtures afterwards and maybe it would have saved Steven Pressley his job.
The other salient point to make when writing about Coventry City’s head-to-head record with Rochdale is that we have only ever beaten Rochdale once in the ten meetings between the two sides and never at Spotland. The law of averages dictates that that wn eventually has to happen at some point, right?
How Are They Doing?
Following a previous season where Rochdale shattered pre-season expectations of a relegation struggle to finish 8th, Keith Hill’s side began this campaign with a confident 2-0 win over Peterborough. For those wondering whether Rochdale were perhaps a ‘one season wonder’ it demonstrated that under Keith Hill, they will continue to punch above their weight.
The main concern heading into this season was the loss of last season’s key central midfielder Stephen Dawson to Scunthorpe. Just how big a difference the loss of Dawson’s tigerish energy will be remains to be seen but in Peter Vincenti and Ian Henderson, Rochdale still have on-the-pitch leaders that an otherwise youthful team can turn to for inspiration. Vincenti is an awkward physical customer to contend with, standing at six foot two in an attacking midfield position. Henderson is an inventive forward who scored an impressive 22 goals last season and assisted Rochdale’s second goal on Saturday with a wonderful through ball demonstrating his ability as a creative force.
Impressively, Keith Hill has also been able to develop some of the club’s academy talent over the past few seasons by giving them a framework and simple tasks on the field to focus on to improve their games. The best of the current crop are the creative midfield duo of Jamie Allen and Callum Camps who provide a metronomic tempo to Rochdale’s midfield play. Full-backs Scott Tanser and Joe Rafferty have rapidly developed into first-choice picks with each supplying the width on their respective flanks, as well as high quality crosses into the box.
The first round of the League Cup always arrives as the game that nobody really wants to play. Saturday was the fun part of the start of the season, this fixture is the start of a grinding four games in ten days which always tests both the physical and mental fitness of the side. With the squad so small at the moment, Tony Mowbray will be forgiven for placing less importance on this early season cup-tie than he otherwise might have, especially as it’s away from home against a team in the same division as us.
It’s just about getting through this game and moving on from it as soon as possible. With Rochdale having home advantage, I’m predicting a forgettable 2-0 defeat.