We take a look at our upcoming opposition...
The was a collective sigh of relief all around BS7 last Saturday afternoon as Ross McCorbie’s knee sent Liam Sercombe’s firmly struck ball onto the cross bar, down onto keeper Craig MacGillivray’s head and into the net for a late, late equaliser. Bristol Rovers 2 Portsmouth 2. If you supported the home team it was deserved, if you supported the away team, it was a fluke. Whichever way you view it the goal preserved Graham Coughlin’s managerial record of having not lost three games in a row.
After breaking that sequence, Rovers head up to Greater Manchester to face a Rochdale team that has often caused them problems in the past. Late last season Dale dispensed with the services of long-serving and popular Keith Hill as things were looking desperate as late on as 4th March. His replacement Brian Barry-Murphy proved to be the messiah and Dale finished level on points with the Gas albeit with a goal difference that was 30 goals worse! Any team not challenging for a promotion spot knew that there was no ‘mid-table safety’ last season as both Plymouth and Scunthorpe discovered to their cost as they were sucked into a late-season loss of form and ultimate relegation.
Eleven games into the season Dale were struggling but three successive victories saw them zoom up the table and they currently sit in 14th place, seven points away from a relegation spot and only six off a Play-Off place.
The winning run was ended in emphatic fashion at Oxford last week where the away team found themselves two goals down in 27 minutes. Josh Ruffels prodded home from four yards after Alex Gorrin headed Cameron Brannagan's corner back into the box after 20 minutes.
Seven minutes later Tariqe Fosu followed up with a fine finish after Brannagan's effort came back off the crossbar. Aaron Wilbraham was sent off six minutes before the break for an over-the-top challenge on Fosu.
The second half stayed one-way traffic with Mark Sykes, Shandon Baptiste and Mackie all firing wide before Sam Long made it 3-0 four minutes from time when Lynch could only parry Henry's drive.
Rochdale Boss Barry-Murphy commented, “The circumstances of the day didn’t materialise in the way we had hoped. Aaron’s sending off had a huge impact on the way we wanted the game to evolve.”
“I haven’t had a chance to see it back yet but my initial reaction is that it was never a sending off. I have full sympathy for the referee. There is a full sense of panic for officials where I feel, they judge a player to be out of control and they have to act. I fully understand the position he is put in and I have no qualms about the decision.”
“To concede two goals from set-pieces, which hasn’t been like us, was a disappointment to us. The lads gave absolutely everything against a team who run up huge scores.”
“We were conscious of the fact we wanted to stay in the game as long as we could and try and provide a counter-attacking threat, which we didn’t in terms of actual chance produced.
Looking back at previous clashes between the teams it is remarkable that the games often result in draws, with 17 of the 36 games played finishing level. In fact the first four games between the clubs were all draws! It’s Dale that has the upper hand with 13 victories to Rovers 6.
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 upfield 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 traveled 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 player 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.
On 10 September 2016, the visitors went in front after 17 minutes when Callum Camps ran on to an Ian Henderson pass and rounded goalkeeper Kelle Roos before shooting into an empty net. The lead lasted only four minutes before Peter Hartley headed a Chris Lines corner across goal for Taylor to get the final touch inside the six-yard box.
Before the celebrations of GasHeads had died down, Rochdale struck again. The dangerous Joe Bunney collected a long ball from the left and crossed for Henderson to net a simple tap-in.
Taylor levelled again with a scissor-kick from Hartley's header soon after the break and Rochdale's task was made tougher when centre-back Niall Canavan was dismissed for a second yellow card in the 72nd minute but they held on.
Last season’s game ended in a thrilling 0-0 draw. Rovers striker Stefan Payne had the best effort of the first half, smashing a 20-yard drive against the underside of keeper Magnus Norman's crossbar.
Liam Sercombe teed-up a gilt-edged chance for Ollie Clarke when he skipped past Jim McNulty and allowed the ball to run to his captain. Clarke had a clear view of goal but was denied by a fine save from Norman.
However, the goalkeeper, on-loan from Fulham, turned from hero to villain when he was dismissed in first-half stoppage-time after bringing down Payne as the striker bore down on goal.
After the break, substitute goalkeeper Josh Lillis pulled off fine saves to twice deny Sercombe, one a point-blank effort from a tight angle, the other a rising 25-yard drive. At the other end, Jack Bonham denied Ollie Rathbone and Brad Inman.
The injury news from Spotlands is that Ryan McLaughlin remains on the sidelines, along with McNulty, Magloire, Sanchez and Dooley. Aaron Wilbraham will also be confined to the sidelines given his suspension for his red card. Ian Henderson’s fitness has a question mark next to it as well as he was unable to start the game against Oxford due to having picked up a knock against MK Dons but he may be fit to start the game. Better news on the injury front is that Rekeil Pyke returned to the squad having been out for a few weeks.