A frustrating Saturday afternoon against Blackpool following all that excitement after the signing of Joe Cole the night before. Lethargy, a lack of ideas and naivety cost us an excellent opportunity to move into second place and be able to claim first place with a win in our game in hand. If fatigue was an issue in our last outing, it will only get tougher with two difficult looking away trips this week to test our mettle. By 5 on Saturday afternoon, we’ll have a much clearer idea of our promotion prospects.
It’s easy to criticise Blackpool’s supposed ‘anti-football’ tactics, but considering our stature, our form this season and the division we’re in, we need a better way of overcoming this type of football rather than complaining about the opposition’s time-wasting. Our decision-making in the final third continues to frustrate and the difference between this game and the recent Chesterfield and Shrewsbury ones was that we didn’t find that one moment of inspiration to break the deadlock.
As much as it was on off day for our young forward players, Blackpool were very street smart in the way they defended the middle of the pitch aggressively which forced the play out wide where we ran into blind alleys. The wide men Jacob Murphy and Ryan Kent were guilty of choosing to beat the extra man rather than pick out a team-mate, which demonstrated their inexperience. It was the kind of attacking display which highlighted why there is an actual need to bring in Joe Cole who can offer more of a presence of mind in that final third.
The focus of this trip to Rochdale has understandably been on the potential debut for Joe Cole. Despite some concerns over his fitness levels, it appears that he is in pretty good shape and may even slot straight into the starting line-up. Cole has also made it clear that he is enthusiastic about the prospect of playing first-team football having been out-of-favour at the Villa, a Tuesday night visit to Rochdale will be a test of that enthusiasm.
The main team selection issues though revolve around how to manage the absences of John Fleck and Reda Johnson. With so few defenders currently available, Tony Mowbray is almost forced to call Aaron Phillips back into the team with Sam Ricketts slotting in alongside Aaron Martin who impressed on Saturday but will have to demonstrate he can put in a more physical showing in Reda’s absence. Bryn Morris seems likeliest to step in for John Fleck, Morris is a neat ball-player but has to show that he has a bigger range of passing and how to use it if he truly wants to challenge Fleck for his starting role.
Tony Mowbray may also experiment with the line-up of his attacking midfielders again after Saturday’s performance. Marc-Antoine Fortuné, Adam Armstrong and Ryan Kent all looked to be fairly fatigued as the game wore on. We could see Jim O’Brien and Marcus Tudgay introduced for their work-rate given that this is a tough-looking Tuesday night game. Given that neither of those two have particularly impressed of late, there is the obvious temptation too to hand Joe Cole his first start right from the off tonight.
Last Time We Met
This game will be a first opportunity to check our progress this season, being as it as the second time we have faced Rochdale this campaign. Back in August we travelled to Spotland in the League Cup and coped admirably against a strong Rochdale side after going a goal down with Marcus Tudgay tapping home from a George Thomas assist to take the game to penalties. Ruben Lameiras missed his spot-kick to hand Rochdale the win but that was after the game ended with Marcus Tudgay seeing a late winner controversially ruled out for offside, seemingly as a result of the confusion over the new interpretation of the offside rules.
How Are They Doing?
Rochdale have always been quietly impressive since winning promotion back to this level under Keith Hill two season ago. The right blend of pragmatic and ambitious in their style of play, they continue to massively over-perform considering their resources and are a tough team to beat, especially at Spotland.
Just three points off the play-offs, Rochdale know that a win tonight could inject some momentum into their league campaign which has started and stalled this season. It’s probably been down to Rochdale’s tight budget more than anything, just lacking that bit of added quality at either end of the pitch that could make a big difference.
The key men for Rochdale are forwards Ian Henderson and Peter Vincenti. Vincenti has been in fine form this season, leading Rochdale’s scoring charts and recently winning League One player of the month. He’s a tall and physically strong attacking midfielder who is a nuisance to deal with for defenders. Henderson is returning to the team after a recent injury but is a real talisman too with his inventive forward play.
There is Donal McDermott to potentially look out for too, the ex-Man City winger is starting to rebuild a once-promising career having fallen out of the professional game over the past few season. The winger scored a memorable dipping effort in our League Cup tie, earning him the accolade of being the only player to beat Reice Charles-Cook this season.
Others to watch out for include Jamie Allen, a metronomic young midfielder, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, a fast and strong winger who has struggled at times to fulfil his potential, and there is also big Calvin Andrew to deal with. Andrew is famously one of the least prolific strikers in the Football League but he is a big, nasty target-man who constantly put Sam Ricketts under big pressure when we last met.
As mentioned at the top of this article, these next two games are going to be a tough examination of our promotion credentials both as individual challenges and in coming in as quick a succession as they are. We have won just once in four midweek games this season, although we are also technically unbeaten. If we can scrape through with a couple of decent performances this week whilst managing the fitness of the squad, there is a good chance we’ll end it in the top two. There’s your motivation for turning it on on a cold Tuesday night.
We seem to struggle to settle into a rhythm for away games at the moment and missing Reda Johnson and John Fleck just make it that little bit more difficult to do so. With Rochdale providing a stern physical threat through Calvin Andrew and Peter Vincenti, I can see us losing this game 2-1.