• Adam Stubbings

ITEN Match Preview: Rochdale (H)

Rovers get set for two home games in four days looking to keep their push towards the top six alive, boosted by the midweek win at Tranmere. Another North West side, Rochdale, are the visitors to the Keepmoat Stadium this weekend, a team whose focus is on staying clear of relegation as the business end of the season kicks into gear.

Spoilt for Choice

Darren Moore shuffled his pack for the trip to Tranmere on Tuesday, a move which paid off handsomely as Jacob Ramsey netted two debut goals and Fejiri Okenabirhie also got his maiden Rovers goal off the bench. A switch to 4-1-4-1 allowed Ramsey and fellow new boy Devante Cole to play from the start, whilst Niall Ennis excelled in an unfamiliar left-wing role. It is a healthy set of options for the manager then ahead of another game that Rovers will come into as favourites.

James Coppinger returns to the fold having missed the 3-0 win on the Wirral, but his place in the side is far from a guarantee. The two midfield places alongside Ben Whiteman are up for grabs and Ramsey has surely done enough to keep his, whilst Madger Gomes also impressed, meaning Ben Sheaf was used as substitute for the first time. Add Coppinger to the mix and you have quite a headache for the manager, but it is one he will welcome as he plots the best way around a Rochdale side who have played a pretty tight 4-4-2 formation recently.

Another clean sheet suggests the back four picks itself, although debate still rages about whether Cameron John is deserving of a place at left back ahead of Reece James, who has maintained superb performance levels despite finding himself in and out of the side since Christmas. Otherwise, the continued form of Seny Dieng, Brad Halliday and central duo Tom Anderson and Joe Wright means no changes should be expected there.

Niall Ennis and Kieran Sadlier exposed the space behind Tranmere’s wing backs expertly on Tuesday night, but may not get the same spatial freedom against Rochdale’s conventional back-line. The direct running provided by Jon Taylor then may be a better option, although Ennis finding himself on the bench would be a shame considering his recent run of form. However, we know that Darren Moore takes each game on its merits and so form cannot be the dominant factor in his selection decisions.

For Dale, Approach is Key

The main question around Brian Barry-Murphy’s team selection for this game will be what he does with his attacking options, however that decision may hinge on whether he sticks with the 4-4-2 or reverts to a more fluid 4-2-3-1 set-up against a Rovers team likely to put the pressure on for large spells.

One thing for sure is that Ian Henderson will be the focal point for Rochdale, as he has been for the past seven years. Top scorer again at the age of 35 this season, Henderson is the main man for Dale and will be their biggest goal threat. He could be partnered in attack by Tyler Smith, who netted the late winner against Shrewsbury off the bench last weekend, but is someone who Rovers know all about after a lacklustre loan spell on Lakeside last season.

Whether the duo start up front or we see Smith leading the line with Henderson coming off the flank depends on the make-up of the midfield. Callum Camps’ recent injury has forced some chopping and changing in this department, with Aaron Morley preferred to the defensively-minded MJ Williams alongside Jimmy Ryan against Shrewsbury. Ollie Rathbone also prefers a central role but has been used out wide in the past couple of games, which could be a precursor to Barry-Murphy opting for a 4-3-3 on Saturday.

Questions abound in defence too, with teenage wonderkid Luke Matheson absent from the last two squads since signing for Wolves on a deal that sees him stay with Rochdale until the summer. Paul McShane may continue at centre half ahead of Jim McNulty but Barry-Murphy may opt for the guile of utility man MJ Williams in a role he recently occupied against Bolton, in order to combat the threat of Devante Cole or Fejiri Okenabirhie.

Key Battle

It is perhaps a bold statement to say that the key battle will be won and lost in a position where the players are not yet known for certain, but it seems clear that Darren Moore wants to see his #10 running the attacking play, at least if Tuesday night is anything to go on. Jacob Ramsey excelled in the position and his two-goal haul sets him up for another red-letter day against Rochdale, but he isn’t the only candidate for the place.

Whether it is Ramsey, James Coppinger or even Madger Gomes, the player in question will have to find ways through a defence that has plenty of strength and experience. Getting Eoghan O’Connell and Paul McShane on the back foot will be the main aim, looking to find the forwards running off the shoulder and facing up one-on-one. This looks a game made for Kieran Sadlier and Jon Taylor, so the ability of the central creative players to find them in goalscoring positions will be vital.


These two sides have met over 100 times since a first meeting in the old Division Three North way back in 1923, with Rovers two victories away from a 50% win rate in the fixture.

Those in the away dressing room present at the last clash on Lakeside will be dreading a repeat of the New Year’s Day demolishing handed to them last year. Mallik Wilks terrorised the Rochdale defence all day and Grant McCann’s side ran out 5-0 winners, scoring in the opening minute through Alfie May and leading 3-0 by half time. It is perhaps telling that MJ Williams is the only member of the defence still at the club now, but manager Brian Barry-Murphy was in the away dugout that day as then-boss Keith Hill’s assistant. Hill will be back at the Keepmoat next week as Bolton manager.

Honours were even in the reverse fixture at the start of this season as Kieran Sadlier powered home an injury time header to earn Rovers a 1-1 draw at Spotland, whilst Dale’s last win at the Keepmoat came a little over two years ago in the FA Cup when Calvin Andrew scored the only goal to knock Darren Ferguson’s side out in the 3rd Round.

Likely Line-Ups

Continuing the trend of tinkering to suit a game-plan, we predict two changes from Darren Moore as Jon Taylor and James Coppinger come back in for Niall Ennis and Madger Gomes. Devante Cole keeps his place up front with Fejiri Okenabirhie used off the bench.
Sticking with two up-front due to the size of the Rovers central defence, Tyler Smith replaces Aaron Wilbraham to use his pace in-behind. The rest is as-you-were from last Saturday but with the knowledge that Matty Done could give a more attacking outlet on the left wing from the bench.