2020/21 Preview – Rochdale

The new league season is nearly here, Jake Smith host of Express FM’s Football Hour and Pompey Live pundit looks at Rochdale as part of his club-by-club preview.

Intro: Rochdale Association Football Club first came into being in 1907 and moved into their current stadium, Spotland, in 1920. A year later, the Dale were accepted into the Football League and have since remained in the third and fourth-tiers of the English game.

The club’s most notable accomplishment was the 1961/62 League Cup run, which ended in defeat to Norwich City in the Final. The basement division of the professional game, now known as League Two, was once nicknamed as “The Rochdale Division” as a result of the club remaining in the league for 36 consecutive seasons between 1974 and 2010.

Blue and black are the colours associated with the club, who often sport a vertical striped variation of the two on the front of their home shirts – regularly sporting grey or illuminated away strips.

Home Ground: Spotland Stadium (Also known as the Crown Oil Arena for sponsorship purposes), Rochdale (Greater Manchester), 261 miles (by car) from Fratton Park – Capacity: 10,500

2019/20 Table Position: 18th (League One) – 36 points after 34 games with an average of 1.06 points per-game.

Overall Head-To-Head Record: Rochdale Wins: 1 – Draws: 2 – Portsmouth Wins: 10

Previous Meeting With Pompey: Portsmouth 3-0 Rochdale, 28th February 2020, League One

2020/21 Fixture Dates:

Saturday 19th September, 2020 – Spotland Stadium

Friday 2nd April, 2021 – Fratton Park

Manager: Former defensive-midfielder at the club Brian Barry-Murphy remains in charge of Rochdale this season. The 42-year-old Irishman was appointed into his first managerial position on March the 4th, 2019, after the Dale sacked previous boss Keith Hill.

He took over initially on a caretaker basis, penning a permanent contract just a month later. Since being placed at the helm, Barry-Murphy has recorded 23 competitive victories from 59 matches in all competitions – securing a win percentage of 39% up to this stage.

The Cork-born gaffer, who first joined the club as a player in 2010, made just 66 Rochdale appearances in 8 years up until his retirement in 2018, previously running out for the likes of Preston North End, Sheffield Wednesday and Bury.

Barry-Murphy’s father, Jimmy, is currently an Irish hurling manager and former hurler himself, widely regarded as one of the most iconic players in the history of Gaelic games.

One To Watch: Portuguese forward Fabio Tavares, who was born and raised in Porto, has been selected by our featured Rochdale supporter as a player to keep an eye on this season.

The 19-year-old spent three years in the Rochdale academy between 2016 and 2019, signing his first professional contract with the club last June.

Following the departures of experienced strikers Ian Henderson and Aaron Wilbraham, the new campaign could prove to be the chance Tavares has been waiting for to stake his claim as the Dale’s go-to man up-front.

Tavares, who stands at 5’ 11” tall, spent the back-end of 2019/20 on-loan at Curzon Ashton, scoring once in three appearances before the curtailment of sport in England.

He has been handed the No. 17 squad number for the new season.

Signing of the Summer (So Far): With exciting, young full-back Luke Matheson now officially a Wolves player, new signing Ryan McLaughlin has a lot to live up to at Spotland this season.

The 25-year-old Northern Irishman is the younger brother of Sunderland right-back Conor McLaughlin, who incidentally also wears the No. 2 shirt for his club.

Between 2009 and 2014, Ryan was a youth prospect at both Glenavon in Northern Ireland and English giants Liverpool, with whom he signed his first professional contract prior to the 2014/15 campaign. In the two years as an official senior player for the now-Premier League champions, McLaughlin made 0 appearances, though was shipped out on-loan on two separate occasions – Barnsley and Aberdeen providing the defender with lifelines in the professional game.

McLaughlin then signed permanently for Oldham Athletic in 2016, where he made over 50 appearances before departing for Blackpool in 2018. Though he has been at the club since the summer of 2019, McLaughlin ran out his contract at the end of last season, becoming a free-agent for a short while before promptly returning to Spotland on August 17th, therefore technically becoming a “new signing” in the eyes of Dale supporters.

Season Expectation: Since their most recent promotion from League Two in 2014, Rochdale have struggled to assert themselves as contenders to trouble the top-half of the division, finishing in the top-half in each of their first three seasons back in the third-tier, falling to 20th, 16th and 18th-place finishes since then.

Veteran striker Ian Henderson achieved top-scorer status throughout every season the club has spent in the division since returning 6 years ago, though he has now left for pastures new, representing Salford City in 2020/21.

His goals have undoubtedly gone a long way in keeping the Dale up in recent seasons, so the side will need to adapt to life without him and his contribution, as well as the departures of Luke Matheson and Callum Camps.

I see it being a real struggle for Rochdale, who will be lucky not to wind up relegated come the end of May.

My Predicted Finish: 24th (R)

The Tale of Dale – What to Expect of the Team from Spotland

Rochdale-mad Scott, who lives in Harlow, Essex, opens up to how he came to support the club from such a long distance: “I have been a massive Rochdale fan ever since I was 6 or 7 years old and it all came about because of my dad, who supports Swansea. One Saturday he sat me in front of Soccer Saturday and told me to pick a team and whoever they draw in The FA Cup, we will go to watch them.

“I kept saying Gary Jones, who was Rochdale’s captain at the time and he scored twice that day, so we looked out for Rochdale in the draw and, luckily, they got a draw local to us – Barnet away. That was the first ever football game I attended and I’ve supported the club ever since.” – Scott revealed.

Ahead of the start of the new League One campaign, Rochdale’s 7th consecutive season in the division, the supporter highlighted what is to be expected of his club in terms of positioning in the final league standings: “I expect this year is to battle against relegation. When we came into League One in 2014, we had a great all-round team to compete, but didn’t quite have enough to reach the Play-Offs.

“We sold a few players, such as Nathaniel Mendez-Laing to Cardiff City on a free transfer, Scott Hogan to Brentford and Jamie Allen to Burton Albion, which gave is the start of a downward slope where we failed to replace most of these players – we paid for that.”

Last time out, Brian Barry-Murphy’s side finished in 18th-position. Scott explains what needs to change at the Crown Oil Arena in order to see improvements on the pitch: “A few times I watched us last season and thought we lacked confidence in ourselves, good defensively but regularly sitting back to soak up all the pressure. These tactics would always backfire in the end. When we advanced forward we weren’t that bad, we just didn’t do it enough and always ended up losing the ball with no one up front supporting the likes of Ian Henderson or Aaron Wilbraham.”

Scott then proceeded to point out the way in which the Dale manager likes to set his team up for matches: “He likes to play out from the back, which is really risky. Last season, we got smashed at Peterborough away because we tried to play it out from the back too much, we struggled from minute one with it and what I failed to understand was how we continued with the same tactic, as if we had no plan B. Fans, to be honest, are very iffy with the way we play, sitting in the stands you hear a lot of moaning about how we always pass it backward and how we don’t go forward. I say it’s quite frustrating but looks good when it does work.

“What I would like to see change this year”, Scott resumed, “is to see more confidence in how we play, because we currently don’t. I’d also like to see Barry-Murphy have a plan B in times where plan A doesn’t work – I’d also like to see us not contain teams’ pressure because, 9 times out of 10, it won’t work and they eventually break us down to score.”

The salary cap was voted in toward the start of the improvised pre-season and Scott is adamant that it hasn’t affected Rochdale’s transfer approach: “We are taking a massive loss of revenue due to COVID-19 and we don’t have much money anyway, we’re not a club that likes to spend big anyway. I think it has helped us however with the bigger clubs being forced to lower their wage bills, giving Dale more of a chance to compete in the market with the likes of Sunderland, Ipswich, Portsmouth etcetera.

“So far, we have signed Alex Newby from Chorley for an undisclosed fee, Gavin Bazunu on loan from Manchester City and Ryan McLaughlin, who we had lost a year ago on a free. I would assume that, now Luke Matheson has gone to Wolves, McLaughlin is going to be our starting right-back. However in my opinion, Alex Newby just edges it as the best signing made this summer, I don’t watch the National League at all but Chorley fans rated him a lot last season and he was their best player.”

Scott then went on to hype up the 24-year-old midfielder, though also insisting that it may take time for him to find his feet in the Football League: “This is a massive jump for the lad, skipping League Two to play straight into League One. He has looked like our best player in pre-season and appears to have an eye for goal, have the ability to pass the ball efficiently and looked as though Barry-Murphy was using him as a false-9 – a position he did really well in. He seems like an ideal replacement for Callum Camps, having bagged in a few quality free-kicks in recent friendlies, but obviously it is too soon to tell. We’re going to have to see how he handles life in League One.”

When asked who he thinks will go under the radar for Rochdale this season, Scott responded: “This is a tough one to be honest, but I’m going to go with Fabio Tavares. This is mainly because we haven’t got a main, out-and-out striker at the moment and he is our only player in that position. This is a massive chance for him to assert himself in the first-team and to show everyone who he is. Even if we get another striker in before the closure of the window, I think he could still show himself as a valuable rotation player. It wouldn’t shock me if Stephen Dooley came out of his shell this season too – I think that after two years at the club now, and without Ian Henderson, he could really bring out the best of his game and shoe everyone that he is capable of stepping up to the plate.”

The Essex-based fan is concerned going into the new campaign, expecting nothing more than a scrappy fight in the bottom-four: “I’m not very hopeful for this season really because we’ve lost our top goalscorer Ian Henderson to Salford City. Henderson lead us from the top for many seasons and also captained us, so his departure is a massive blow to the club. We have also lost our vice-captain and who I would say was our second-best player in Callum Camps to Fleetwood. With no striker in as of yet, and our only forward option being Tavares from the youth system, I can’t see us scoring too many goals.

“At the moment, I can’t see us finishing any higher than 23rd.”

On January 31st, young prospective right-back Luke Matheson, who made his breakthrough at Spotland last season, signed for Premier League outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers for a fee reported to be around the million-pound mark, only to be loaned back out to Rochdale for the remainder of the season. The 17-year-old, who came up through the youth ranks of his local club, made his Dale debut against Bury in the Group-Stages of the EFL Trophy in September 2018 – Matheson was aged just 15 years and 336 days when he first featured for the senior team, making him the club’s youngest ever debutant. Following the game, the defender was awarded the Man of the Match award for his efforts contributing to the side’s 2-1 victory.

Matheson made his league debut in January 2019 against Fleetwood, replacing Matt Done at half-time, and made national headlines when he scored the equalising goal in a 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Third-Round of the Carabao Cup later that year.

Scott had nothing but high praise for the youngster, who will be difficult to replace this coming season: “Luke was a very good player for us last year and fans loved him, I saw him being linked to the top-six sides in the Premier League and thought he was going to turn out to be a good player for Rochdale for a few more years before moving on, but that wasn’t to be the case. I wasn’t shocked in him leaving, more surprised that it came so soon – I wish it hadn’t.

“I think the key to his success stems from the youth setup we have here. It’s a very good structure with plenty of talented players coming out of it. Jamie Allen, who is now at Coventry, Andy Cannon who now plays for Portsmouth and Callum Camps, now with Fleetwood. I think Keith Hill had a part to play as well, he gave youth a chance and did really well working with youngsters. Tony Ellis and Lee Riley have both worked wonders with the youth side too.”

New signing Ryan McLaughlin looks more than likely to slot in at right-back in Matheson’s place but Scott is aware that, although he is more than capable of fulfilling that role, no one will come close to what Matheson brought to the team: “He’s a lot older than Luke so has much more experience, though he is maybe not as fast but does well going forward. Maybe that bit more experience will be needed at times as Luke did struggle on occasion, making some silly mistakes – he knows that too, but he is young and has a lot to learn.”

For a club of Rochdale’s size and financial structure, it’s difficult to expect much more than League One obscurity without major changes at the top and a big investor. Scott accepts this and is just grateful to have a club to be able to support, with many others going through turmoil off the field as a result of money woes and difficult owners: “To compete is a very big ask I’m going to be honest, clubs obviously have money in this league to a standard well above ours. This pandemic has caused us to lose a lot of income, which the board have come out to reveal the massive deficit the club is facing at the moment due to the absence of fans and no revenue coming in.

“I think we’ve handled our business with so much precaution.” – Scott included, emphasising the importance of keeping the club afloat before considering Dale’s progress on the pitch. “Maybe we do need two or three more signings but we are at a loss of money at the moment, so I’m interested to see what we do because most of our fans will tell you we’re not a club to spend much, if any money at all.

“I think we are in a very decent position to remain stable, especially with the funds we got from players like Adshead and Matheson being sold and players such as Henderson, Wilbraham and Camps, who were on high wages, moving on. Our recent cup success has to help, we had a replay at Tottenham which was at Wembley not too long ago – both ties were on TV, along with games against Manchester United and Newcastle United since then also being televised.

“We should be able to remain stable for a while.”

You can follow Scott on Twitter – @rochdale_afc32

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