• Adam Stubbings

ITEN Match Preview: Rochdale (A)

Despite having to cope with a smaller squad of available players than he would like at this stage of the transfer window, Darren Moore got his Doncaster Rovers tenure off to a solid start with the 1-1 draw against Gillingham last Saturday. Despite losing star striker John Marquis days prior, Rovers picked up their first point of the season courtesy of Kieran Sadlier’s sweet volley on the stroke of half time. Next, Moore takes the side across the divide to face Rochdale in his first away game in charge.

At time of writing, a replacement for Marquis has not been forthcoming despite confirmation that two bids had been accepted for forwards at the back end of last week. No other incomings have materialised either but with the League One deadline for signings not until 2nd September, there is time yet for Moore to boost the squad’s numbers and quality. The focus this week has been on former manager Grant McCann’s interest in new club captain Ben Whiteman, a player who excelled in his bow as skipper and is integral to our push for success this season.

Thanks to the resolve of the Rovers board and his desire to stay, Whiteman figures to return to his hometown this Saturday in Rovers colours leading the charge once more, ending McCann’s seemingly endless pursuit of dismantling the squad he took to the Play Offs last year.

Stick or Twist?

Focusing on the game then, Moore faces up to his team selection with the same crop of players he had last weekend. A slow start raised eyebrows in the game with Gillingham, with the visitors edging a tense first half before Rovers came on strong after the break and took control of the game without being able to find a winner. Sadlier did enough to merit leading the line again with that goal but is much better suited to playing in the three behind a central striker, so Moore may opt to move things around particularly after the encouraging debut of Niall Ennis.

Ennis, signed on loan from Wolves on the eve of the Gillingham fixture, displayed strength, speed and courage in his half hour run-out, and his move up front allowed Sadlier to drop back into his favoured wide forward role supporting the attack. Opting to start Ennis at Rochdale is surely a tempting proposition for the manager, but he may wish to give Madger Gomes a chance to impress after a relatively quiet debut for the Spaniard. Alfie May claimed Man of the Match honours on the opposite side so will surely retain his place, whilst any notion of not starting James Coppinger is not worth the words.

Whiteman staying past the Championship transfer deadline (5pm today) means he and Arsenal loanee Ben Sheaf should be able to build on the sterling work they did on the ball last weekend. The duo crafted a clever partnership transitioning play from front to back and although Sheaf was naïve in possession at times, his distribution and movement were at exactly the standard we need to compete in this division. A solid debut for a trio of defenders means the back line should remain the same, unless Joe Wright sufficiently recovers from his calf injury in time to replace Alex Baptiste.

In truth, with Baptiste making a steady debut and Cameron John signed on loan to cover the position as well, rushing Wright back may not be the best for him or the team.

Rochdale Riding High

There’s nothing better than a morale-boosting opening day victory, particularly away from home, and Rochdale fans got just that as their side swept aside newly-promoted Tranmere at Prenton Park. 3-0 up into the 90th minute, a feisty end to proceedings saw it end 3-2, but three points the crucial take-away for Brian Barry-Murphy as he embarks on his first full season as a manager. Dale will look to dictate play against Rovers so the battle between our own duo of Whiteman and Sheaf, and the home side’s triumvirate led by MJ Williams, whose size and composure makes him an asset.

Rochdale haven’t made too many changes to a squad that struggled to survival last season, but in Rhys Norrington-Davies, brought in on loan from Sheffield United, they have found a game-changing defender. The left back was a constant menace at Tranmere, providing width high up the field and showing why Brad Halliday will have a tough day handling him at Spotland on Saturday. He was involved in his side’s second goal on his debut before netting himself, manoeuvring through the penalty area superbly before a deft finish with the outside of his foot completed what was a terrific passing sequence from Dale.

The dangerman though is Ian Henderson, as has been the case for the past six years. Now aged 34, ‘Hendo’ shows no signs of slowing down coming off the back of one of his best goalscoring returns in 2018/19, notching 20 in the league, and he kicked off the new season with two goals at Tranmere. Opening the scoring with a penalty, he doubled the advantage after the break with a sublime chip from a tight angle on the left of the box, beating the offside trap before finishing with aplomb. He now sits on 99 league goals for the club, so Rovers will be hoping to prevent him reaching his century.

Eoghan O’Connell went off with a muscle injury at Tranmere meaning new signing Tyler Magloire may step in for his debut, whilst midfielder Jimmy Ryan, who came on for O’Connell, will be suspended after being charged retrospectively with violent conduct for his part in an incident late in the game.

View from Spotland Stadium

To get a first-hand view of our opponents this weekend, ITEN spoke to Rochdale season ticket holder Nathan Butterworth about his side ahead of the clash on Saturday.

ITEN: How are you finding the management style of Brian Barry-Murphy now he's had a bit of time to implement his own ideas?

When it’s been competitive they have been very good. I don’t know what happened pre-season but we were awful. The results he has got so far, you can’t complain, and the football’s a lot better to watch than the last 18 months under (Keith) Hill. So far, so good really.

ITEN: Many neutral outlets are predicting Rochdale to struggle this year, do you think this squad is capable of surprising the pundits?

I do think we will struggle but not as much as we have done in the last two seasons. I’m hoping to not be in a serious relegation battle come the last 5 or so games.

ITEN: Which new signing do you expect to have the biggest impact this season?

I like the look of Norrington-Davies and (Eoghan) O’Connell but O’Connell is meant to struggle with fitness and he went off with what looked like a minor muscle injury against Tranmere. I think the centre back we are meant to be getting from Blackburn could be a very good loan signing as well (Editor: Rochdale signed Tyler Magloire from Blackburn this morning, after our interview).

ITEN: Ian Henderson remains your most reliable player, with two goals on the opening day. How much longer do you think he can sustain being the focal point of your attack?

I’ve given up guessing with Henderson, he looks to be getting better! The major problem is though: the teams that have done a proper job on Henderson, we looked like we could have played all day and not scored. He will be our focal point but we need to add better back-ups. His fitness is still on another level, he’s never injured and came back after the summer in better shape than anybody.