As 2012 draws to a close, Mancunian Matters looks back at a year of football for Rochdale, with everything from the highs of new players to the lows of relegation.
Rochdale started 2012 playing in League One, trying to better their ninth place finish from the season before. But with a run of just four wins in 27 games, the club was struggling to repeat its form of the previous season and manager Steve Eyre was sacked in December.
The Dale entered the New Year with Chris Beech as caretaker manager but he too was axed after taking just two points from five games as Rochdale drew with Preston North End and Tranmere Rovers. Heavy defeats cost him his job, including a 5-1 loss at home to Stevenage Borough and 3-0 away to Wycombe Wanderers.
John Coleman was named the club’s new manager on January 24 and won his first game 3-0 as Rochdale faced Bury in the derby, seeing them move from 24th to 22th in the league.
With games against Charlton and Notts County postponed due to frozen pitches, February got off to a slow start for the new manager and his side. And when games finally resumed on Valentine’s Day, Rochdale probably wished they had another week off as they suffered a 1-0 defeat to a Garry Thompson wonder strike for Scunthorpe – the first home win for three months.
But the Dale responded with victory against Bournemouth and draws away at Charlton Athletic and Colchester United before a narrow 1-0 defeat against play-off contenders Notts County. Five points from five games for Rochdale gave them a steady return this was not enough as they sat 23rd in the table.
A 0-0 draw against promotion contenders Sheffield Wednesday followed by a 2-2 tie at Huddersfield seemed to promise good things from Rochdale. However, a loss away at Carlisle United gave them two points from three games and saw them drop to the bottom of League One.
A battling 3-2 victory at home against Oldham, with a hat-trick for Michael Symes, helped them overtake Exeter City and Chesterfield to move up a couple of places and give players and fans hope of survival. It was followed, however, by defeats to Tranmere and Brentford. The month was rounded off with a thrilling 3-3 draw at Spotland against Walsall as Rochdale came from 2-0 down to lead 3-2 before an injury-time header for Walsall split the points.
With six points from the month’s seven fixtures, Rochdale had lifted themselves off the bottom of the league, but were still six points from safety.
In the last full month of fixtures of the 2011/12 season, April would prove crucial in defining the fate of Coleman’s side. But with just one victory from five games, it was not the outcome the club wanted.
The month began with a 3-1 defeat at Yeovil, followed by a heavy 5-2 home thrashing by promotion hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday. With Exeter City and Chesterfield both collecting points, Rochdale found themselves back at the foot of League One and their next game against Exeter would be vital. Rochdale collected three points to keep themselves in touch with their relegation rivals – thanks to a dramatic three goal in the last 20 minutes to overturn Exeter City’s 2-0 lead.
But in their next game they were on the wrong end of a 2-1 result at Chesterfield, condemning them to relegation with two games remaining. A 2-1 home loss to MK Dons rounded off a miserable month.
After two years in League One their last game was to a 2-1 defeat at Leyton Orient, with Reece Gray scoring a late consolation goal for Coleman’s side. But life in League Two beckoned as the Dale finished bottom of League One with 38 points – four points behind Exeter City and Chesterfield.
Despite club chairman Chris Dunphy estimating relegation cost them around £500,000, he said money would be available for transfers to help manager John Coleman and assistant manager Jimmy Bell. The first casualties of the transfer window were Joe Widdowson, David Lucas and Dean Holden, with four loan players also leaving as Coleman promised a squad overall.
The first player in was striker George Donnelly, who signed from Macclesfield for an undisclosed fee for a two-year contract. The Dale also launched their new playing kit, designed exclusively by Fila, opting for a return to the thick blue and black stripes ready for friendlies and the new season.
With no competitive fixtures in June, all Rochdale’s action was off the pitch with Coleman busy building up a new squad. Defender Peter Cavanagh signed on a free transfer from Fleetwood Town, while goalkeeper Josh Lillis, who previously had two loan spells at Spotland, joined on a two-year deal after being released by Scunthorpe. Centre-back Rhys Bennett signed on a one-year deal following his release by Bolton.
Going the other way in the transfer window, midfielder Nicky Adams joined promoted Crawley Town, Gary Jones went to Bradford City after 11 years at Rochdale and striker Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro moved to Tranmere Rovers despite a return of eight goals for the season.
More additions to the squad saw Kevin McIntyre and Joe Rafferty sign one-year deals, with Brian Barry-Murphy also agreeing a deal to stay at the club. Teenager Ryan Edwards completed a six-month loan move from Blackburn Rovers before England Under-18 international centre-back Matty Pearson became the eighth player to arrive at Spotland. But Marcus Holness left after almost five years and centre-back Stephen Jordan was also released.
Action back on the pitch got underway with a bang as Rochdale’s new-look outfit claimed a 1-0 win over Championship side Blackburn Rovers thanks to a late Joe Thompson goal. But their second game of the pre-season ended in defeat to Hull City as Josh Lillis let Koren’s long-range shot squirmed through his hands into the net. But with 10 changes at half-time, Coleman used the game to give his new players a run-out ahead of the approaching 2012/13.
In their next pre-season game, Rochdale beat Evo-Stik Premier side Marine with a single goal from trialist Danny Johnson, followed by a 2-1 defeat to Conference Premiere side Southport, in a match where only two of Rochdale’s players were over 19-years-old. A 3-1 win against Championship team Burnley completed Rochdale’s pre-season, with Dele Adebola netting to give himself a perfect start at his new club after signing a one-deal deal an hour before kick-off.
Also joining the club was defender Phil Edwards, who changed his loan spell into a one-year contract, striker Craig Curran, goalkeeper Ben Smith, Ray Putterill and Ian Craney, while midfielder Joe Thompson left for Tranmere. The month was marred by a horrific injury to Reece Gray, who was side-lined with a dislocated ankle, a fractured tibula and a snapped medial ligament during a closed-doors friendly against Liverpool.
There was more bad news as Rochdale’s first competitive match of the 2012/13 season saw them knocked out of the Capital One Cup in extra time after a 4-3 thriller against Barnsley. Prior to the game, the talking point was the return of manager Keith Hill and striker Chris Dagnall to Spotland. And Dagnall wrote the headlines with two goals in extra-time to eliminate Rochdale.
Coleman and his new-look squad proceeded onto League Two matters with the ambition to quickly climb the pole, which they slipped down in May, to the Football League One. However, despite encouraging performances against Northampton Town and Chesterfield, the Dale were forced to settle for one point in both games.
The ending of the month was sour, as Torquay United dismantled Coleman’s side at Plainmoor to leave Rochdale sitting uncomfortably above the relegation zone.
In the final days of the transfer window, Coleman snapped up Scunthorpe United’s striker Bobby Grant to strengthen the strike force.
The start was superb for Rochdale with two victories at home. Grimes and Adebola secured the club’s first win of the season against Barnet and a penalty shootout victory against Fleetwood Town – in the Football League Trophy – soon followed. However, Burton Albion dampened the mood at Spotland by escaping with three points.
But Rochdale brushed off the disappointment and scored an excellent 2-1 victory against AFC Wimbledon – the strike partnership of Adebola and Grant proved too hot for the Dons. And the ball continued rolling for Rochdale, as Rotherham United also suffered defeat to the feet of Coleman’s troops.
Rochdale failed in their attempt for a hat-trick of victories following Dagenham and Redbridge’s comeback, but the club beat Gillingham 2-1 to finish the month like they started. The three points seized from the Gills pushed Rochdale into the League Two play-off places. A successful season looked to be arising.
The month offered Rochdale tricks and treats. Firstly, Rochdale claimed an admirable draw with Bradford City following Grant’s dismissal in the opening half. But the fixture against Accrington Stanley at Crown Ground was the one to truly stir the emotions – Coleman returned to face the club he managed for more than a decade. Rochdale defeated Accrington Stanley 3-2 with Donnelly, Grimes and Kennedy bagging the goals.
However, Rochdale started to stutter with losses against fierce rivals Bury – in the Football League Trophy – Morecambe and Plymouth Argyle. Home victories appeared difficult to produce, as the winless streak at Spotland was extended to five games following the Shrimps’ win.
But Rochdale ended the unwanted run by defeating Oxford United 2-0 and followed the result with a goalless draw against ten-men Fleetwood Town. The Dale slipped outside the play-off places, but were hanging firmly onto the coattails of the promotion chasers.
Rochdale stoked the bonfire in their promotion quest, but also suffered FA Cup heartbreak during the month. Off the pitch, Coleman signed Terry Gornell on-loan from Shrewsbury Town to boost the attacking options.
To start, Rochdale and Morecambe failed to be separated in the FA Cup first round and so resulted with a replay. Another draw followed against Port Vale, in which Rochdale produced an exceptional two-goal comeback.
In the next fixture, Grant scored the last-gasp winner against Wycombe Wanderers to propel Rochdale into sixth position. However, Rochdale lost their FA Cup replay to Morecambe and Coleman’s wish for an ‘FA Cup pay day’ evaporated. Finding the perfect response, the Dale captured three points against Bristol Rovers at Spotland with top scorer Grant netting the winner once more.
As the month approached its end, Rochdale returned to the periphery of the play-off places after Southend United won 3-1.
‘Tis the season to be jolly – except for Rochdale. Defeats to York City, Exeter City and Aldershot Town emphasised the defensive problems within the team. Three goals were conceded against York and Exeter, while low-lying Aldershot produced four goals against Rochdale. Question marks began to appear regarding Coleman and his role as manager. The club slumped to 15th in the League Two standings. Four consecutive defeats and the supporters started to become restless.
However, Coleman remained defiant and confident in Rochdale’s ability to challenge for promotion. The manager hosted an event for supporters to vent their frustrations, as well as hear about the ambitions for the club.
The remaining December fixtures include Cheltenham Town, Burton Albion and Bradford City – four teams in a higher position than Rochdale.
Will Rochdale pull off a Christmas cracker and head into the New Year in form?