The 2013-2014 season will go down as one of the most memorable in Rochdale’s history.
Keith Hill’s side won only their third ever promotion, dumped Leeds United out of the FA Cup and while the club’s most successful manager in their history looked on from the sidelines in a pair of pink trousers.
While Hill and his players enjoy their holidays and reflect on a job well done, MM looks at back at five key moments from the second half of the season that were pivotal in Dale’s promotion campaign.
Spot the cupset: Rochdale 2-0 Leeds United
Smarting from a New Year’s Day 3-0 humbling at Scunthorpe United, Dale responded in fine fashion with a fearless performance against Championship side Leeds that yielded a 2-0 victory.
More than 8,000 spectators packed in to Spotland to witness a towering header from Scott Hogan and a majestic volley from Ian Henderson as Dale saw off the 1972 winners in style.
The result gave Dale momentum as they followed up their cup triumph with consecutive 3-0 victories in the league against Hartlepool United and Plymouth Argyle respectively.
Their cup run was ended at home to Sheffield Wednesday in round four but Dale’s passage through the rounds which also included the scalps of Torquay United and League One play-off finalists Rotherham United.
Dale’s cup glory helped pay off the debts the club had accumulated the previous season where they finished in an underwhelming 12th spot in League Two.
Comeback at the Proact: Chesterfield 2-2 Rochdale
Dale’s three-match winning streak looked destined to come to an end at Chesterfield’s Proact Stadium.
Goals from PFA League Two player of the season Gary Roberts and Marc Richards looked to have given the Spireites a comfortable victory – until injury time.
Richards deliberately handballed a Jack O’Connell shot on the line and was sent off with Henderson converting the resulting penalty.
But the drama wasn’t finished there as Hill’s men displayed their indomitable spirit to force a corner 30 seconds later, which was delivered by Henderson and nodded in by Peter Vincenti.
It was an equaliser that resulted in Hill declaring himself ‘off the richter scale of happiness’ afterwards.
Hogan ‘hat it again’ with another treble: Rochdale 3-0 Oxford United
With Dale lying in third, the visit of fourth-placed Oxford was billed as a pivotal encounter – as the visitors could leapfrog Hill’s side with a win at Spotland.
In big games, clubs need their most-talented players to come to the fore. Step forward Scott Hogan.
The forward produced an electrifying display of predatory instincts inside the box and individual brilliance that would earn him a nomination for the League Two player of the season award.
Hogan first tapped home Vincenti’s header before swiveling and shooting from close-range to notch the third – but it was his second that day that will live long in the memory of Dale fans.
Picking the ball up 40 yards from goal, Hogan showed searing pace and flawless close control as he beat three visiting defenders before firing past U’s ‘keeper Ryan Clarke at the second attempt.
Hogan completed the demolition with a third to tighten Dale’s grip on an automatic promotion spot.
It was the forward’s second hat-trick in the space of a month contributing towards a debut season total of 19 goals.
Lund us a hand: Rochdale 2-1 Accrington Stanley
Following a shock 2-1 defeat to bottom club Torquay United in mid-week, Dale were far from their best at home to a stubborn Accrington side, who frustrated them for long periods.
To make matters worse, Piero Mingoia volleyed the visitors in front with 20 minutes to go.
But Dale showed their resilience once more with Matty Lund fortuitously equalizing after Dean Winnard’s clearance from a Joe Rafferty cross hit him in the face before flying into the net.
But the midfielder showed his knack for being in the right place at the right time once again in the 92nd minute when substitute Joe Bunney’s header was saved only for Lund to be on hand to slam home from point-blank range, sparking delirium inside Spotland.
The last-gasp win started a four-game winning streak for Dale and Lund’s brace contributed to his nine goals from midfield throughout the campaign, demonstrating Hill side’s ability to produce goals from all areas of the pitch.
Pretty in pink: Bristol Rovers 1-2 Rochdale
Without a goal in four matches and coming off the back of consecutive 3-0 defeats at Mansfield Town and at home to Southend United, it was imperative Dale stopped the rot at the Memorial Stadium against struggling Rovers.
Their advantage over fourth-placed Fleetwood Town had been cut to just three points and with the pressure mounting on his players, Hill decided to deflect the attention away from his players by donning pink pants for the day.
It turned out that pink made the fans wink, as Dale shrugged off Kaid Mohamed’s early opener for the hosts with second-half strikes from Bunney and Lund secured a crucial victory for Dale.
Dale sealed promotion at home to Cheltenham Town the following week thanks to strikes from Vincenti and Henderson prompting a mass pitch invasion as well as making Hill the first manager to get the club up twice.
Although Dale’s title hopes faded on the final day as they went down 2-1 at Newport County, eventually finishing third, the club can look back on season 2013-2014 as one to remember.
The campaign saw Hill rightfully confirm his status as a club legend and, with the 44-year-old staying at the helm, Dale fans can look forward to many more good times as they plan their assault on League One next season.