Rochdale’s Championship dream ‘still alive’ thanks to recruitment strategy, says Hill

New signings and contract extensions mean Rochdale AFC are in a strong position to challenge for promotion ahead of their League One meeting with Crawley Town this Saturday.

Manager Keith Hill has had a productive week, penning deals with Reuben Noble-Lazarus and Febian Brandy having already secured the services of defender Ashley Eastham.

With Rochdale currently sat eighth in the division, the possibility of playing Championship football is not as implausible as it seemed at the start of the campaign.

Speaking to the official club website, Hill said: “We’re pleased with the recruitment strategy that we’ve got. I feel as though we’ve got players of the right age who are signing contracts.

“They’ve got a bigger ambition to play, not just in League One, but maybe the Championship, and while they know that dream is alive for Rochdale, equally so they have individual ambitions as well.

“It might be that we lose one or two of them like we have done in the past to Championship or Premier League sides, which is a pat on the back to the club.

“But I do believe that there’s a real appetite for these players to improve, and to improve Rochdale Football Club.”

Dale’s pursuit of promotion continues as they welcome Crawley Town to Spotland Stadium this weekend, having already defeated them 4-0 in September.

The visitors are mired in the relegation zone, but are unbeaten in their last two fixtures.

New manager Dean Saunders is set to have midfielder Anthony Wordsworth available after signing on loan from Ipswich.

Former Wales striker Saunders has a selection headache with goalkeeper Brian Jensen doubtful (dislocated thumb), along with Conor Henderson (ankle), Dean Leacock (groin), Josh Simpson (hamstring) and Ryan Dickson (hernia). 

Rochdale will be without Matty Lund, who is still absent due to a dislocated shoulder, while Tomasz Cywka has returned to parent club Blackpool.

However they have been strengthened by several acquisitions as players pledge their allegiance to Hill and his footballing philosophy.

Eastham, 23, became the 15th player from last season’s promotion winning squad to commit his future to Dale when he signed a contract extension last weekend.

The central defender has made 28 appearances this campaign, and will remain with the club until the summer of 2016.

Hill has also made promising youngster Noble-Lazarus’ loan spell from Barnsley permanent, with the 21-year-old signing an 18-month deal.

Noble-Lazarus joined Dale in October and has scored twice in six appearances.

The forward holds the accolade of being the youngest ever player in the Football League, making his debut for Barnsley in 2008 against Ipswich Town at 15 years, 45 days old.

Former Manchester United youth product Brandy has also been snapped up by Rochdale, signing until the end of the season having been released by Rotherham United.

The ex-England under-20 international had spells at Swansea City, Hereford United, Gillingham, Notts County, Sheffield United, Walsall and Crewe Alexandra before arriving at Spotland.

The Dale manager is pleased with the progress that has been made in building a competitive squad, without putting a financial strain on the club.

“We’re trying to get in front of ourselves on recruitment,” Hill said.

“We’re protecting the club’s interest and we’re making sure that we’re getting the right value for money. We’re not paying over the odds, which is good news for the football club.

“Stability and continuity don’t breed contempt and they don’t breed laziness, especially when you know the players have so much ambition and they’re not stagnating. They’re stimulated with progress and they want to improve.”

Main image courtesy of Official Rochdale AFC via YouTube, with thanks.

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