By Gerry PrewettHaving completed just four League games this season, Bristol Rovers meet one of only two teams that sit below them in the League One table when they entertain Rochdale. With just two points to show from their six games Dale sit sadly at the bottom of the pile.
Boss Keith Hill is not too dispirited by his team as he sees their performances are much better than their League position would indicate and statistics would back him up. The Greater Manchester team’s negative goal difference of 4 means that they have lost each of those games by one goal.
“I believe in the squad of players that we’ve got. We’re going through a terrible sequence of results but we have to remain strong. It’s the first time I’ve found myself in this situation at Rochdale in all of the time that I’ve been at this football club. We’ve got 40 games to make sure we get enough points on the board to retain our League 1 status. That’s what we’ve always been thinking about, regardless of the results that we’ve had.”
The latest defeat came on Saturday at the Kassam Stadium in very cruel circumstances. Liam Sercombe scored the winner for Oxford in the 88th minute. Moments earlier Peter Vincenti, making his first appearance of the season, after an ankle injury, shot wide for Dale from a great position.
The visitors had a great chance to open the scoring after just four minutes. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing's left-wing cross picked out Andy Cannon, but he fired over from six yards. Oxford duo Kane Hemmings and Wes Thomas were both denied by goalkeeper Conrad Logan, and at half-time deadline-day signing Johnson replaced Hemmings.
Johnson was unlucky not to score with a back-header, and Thomas also went close for the hosts. It proved to be a frustrating afternoon for Rochdale as Oxford goalkeeper Simon Eastwood parried a fierce Mendez-Laing strike and Niall Canavan flicked an effort against the crossbar from a corner.
Substitute Vincenti was brought into the action in the 75th minute and after the game said, “You’re always happy to be back playing. The lay-off was longer than first expected so it has been really frustrating for me. It was great to be back involved today, and although I might have been a bit lucky to get on the bench due to suspensions and injuries elsewhere in the squad, I was ready when needed, like we all are.”
Vincenti was denied a penalty just two minutes after his introduction, after being brought to ground by former Dale defender Phil Edwards. “I think it’s a stone wall penalty. I know Phil [Edwards] and he had a wry smile on his face but the referee sees things differently and he has made his decision, so there are no excuses, we’re not making excuses about losing the game on that decision. At 0-0 it would have changed the course of the game at least but we didn’t get it and we need to be stronger in other areas of the pitch and not let it affect us.”
“It’s very disappointing to lose, especially so late in the game. It’s a real kick in the teeth and it’s disappointing because we’re trying our best to get to where we know we can be. “
“I thought we controlled large parts of the game and that’s the frustrating thing because we shouldn’t be coming away from here without a point or even three.”
“It’s very small margins to getting it very, very right. We’re a good squad and we know we’re a good squad. That’s why it’s so frustrating that we’re not in a better position but we’ll get there.”
Looking back at previous clashes between the teams it is remarkable that the games often result in draws, with 14 of the 30 games played finishing level. In Bristol, Dale has proved to be a real bogey team for the Gas with Rovers recording just 3 wins from 15 games whereas the Lancashire team has 4 victories to its name.
The very first game between the two teams took place on 27th September 1969 at Eastville. Both teams had got off to a bright start to the season and newly promoted Rochdale were happy to play an expansive brand of attacking football to thrill the 8,653 crowd.
Harold Jarman opened the scoring with a penalty after Robin Stubbs was brought down. Great work by Butler created a deserved equaliser for Dale and in the second half they took the lead with a headed goal.
Stubbs brought the game back to parity with a weak shot past Harkin into the corner of the net. Bobby Jones put Rovers in front again as he took a high up field ball and struck it past an advancing Harkin. Dale stunned the Eastville faithful with a deserved last minute equaliser. So 3-3 for the first ever game between the clubs.
In 2002-03 season goals from Paul Simpson and Clive Platt gave Dale a 2-1 victory in Bristol, whilst Lee McEvilly scored in the 1-1 draw at Spotland in March. The following season both games finished 0-0 although the game at Spotland in December ended in high drama, as late in the game Gary Jones blazed a controversially awarded penalty over the bar.
In October 2010 Rovers just squeezed out all the points with a 2-1 win. A Jeff Hughes penalty on half time gave Rovers the lead. Chris Lines appeared to make the game safe on 82 minutes before Byron Anthony put one past his own keeper four minutes later to ensure a nervous finish.
In 2012-13 both games finished 2-1 to the home team. The game at the Mem was a very dull affair until Ellis Harrison ran half the length of the pitch and let fly with a powerful shot into the top corner that the keeper had no chance of saving.
Dale were level on 75 minutes when defender Michael Rose hit a left foot shot from 25 yards into the top left hand corner.
Nine minutes later Eliot Richards sent a corner into the box, which Brunt failed to knock home from close range, but the ball fell sweetly to Harrison who slotted home the rebound to secure all 3 points for the Gas.
In 2013-14 Dale won both games. The game in Bristol was Rovers penultimate game of that relegation season. Rovers took the lead through Kaid Mohamed who squeezed the ball under Josh Lillis after 17 minutes. The Rovers wide man showed great strength to get past two Dale defenders before nudging the ball under the rushing keeper. The ball travelled goalwards before hitting the right hand post and dribbled along the goal line before the linesman gave the goal.
Dale came out all guns blazing in the second half and with less than a minute played were level through a stunning left footed curling shot from Bunney. The substitute advanced down the right hand side before receiving a pinpoint pass in the Rovers area, which Mark McChrystal attempted to intercept. Bunney composed himself and slotted his left footed effort in the far corner of the goal.
The visitors took the lead just past the hour mark as former Gas man Matthew Lund fired in from close range. Michael Rose whipped a low cross into the Rovers penalty area, which seemed to evade everyone before Lund popped up at the far post.
Before the transfer window closed Dale signed midfielder Keith Keane on loan from Cambridge United until January. The 29-year-old joined the U's on a free in May 2015 but has made only six appearances for the League Two side.
He spent part of last season on loan at Stevenage and has also spent time with Luton and Preston. He commented, "I'm very excited to be here. I've worked hard throughout pre-season and I'm desperate to get back playing football.”
After a 4-2 penalty shoot-out victory over a young Sunderland team in mid-week, Hill commented, "I was really pleased because we’re in a predicament at the minute. No matter what team I pick we seem to be losing games. At Rochdale over seven seasons, I’ve generally worked it out when we’ve been losing. Not only that, the players who have been selected have also worked out, so it’s important we stay united as a team.”