Stockdale mixes it up but Dale still a work in progress
If he didn’t know it before, he knows it now – Robbie Stockdale has a tough job on his hands.
But the Rochdale AFC manager is certainly equipped for the task. On the day the nation’s media was let loose, I was afforded some time with him. He won my respect and endearment immediately when he only half joked that he would rather be dealing with team affairs than talking to the likes of me. That’s what supporters want from their manager. It’s not a job in which the primary concern is a PR exercise where one can pose and preen and drop clichés like confetti, it’s a graft and one that is all consuming. I was left after that interview in no doubt that Stockdale was fully invested in the task ahead.
He said patience would be required on the fronts of recruitment and results. A very fair ask given the tumultuous months the club had endured prior to his appointment. On the field, Brian Barry-Murphy asked to be released from his managerial role, and, off it, the club was, and still is, in the grip of a hostile takeover. Stockdale also had to deal with a squad that had lost key players Ollie Rathbone, Matt Lund and Stephen Humphrys – the propulsion and the shells of the howitzer.
He set about this task efficiently, bringing in no less than eight players in a matter of weeks. It’s too early yet to assess how all of them will fair, but key positions have been filled with a mix of youth and experience, skill and brawn.
He has also inherited some fine players too. Abraham Odoh, Alex Newby and Jake Beesley all complement each other to provide a nightmarish front three for defences to handle; Aaron Morley remains a successful product of the youth academy (if utilised properly); Conor Grant looks like he could grow into the club’s next big asset; and the versatility of Jimmy Keohane is a benefit to any team.
Yet despite latter pre-season results and performances being encouraging, the opening League Two fixture, away at Harrogate, saw all pre-match optimism washed away with the spa town’s wastewater. A nervous, disjointed opening ensued, with new faces trying to find their place, but it was two familiar mistakes that saw Harrogate race into a two-goal lead, first from Jim McNulty and secondly from Morley. With both Eoghan O’Connell injured and Sam Graham looking the part after coming off the bench, you have to imagine the former’s return to fitness and the promise of the latter would limit the seasoned McNulty’s place in the starting line up going forward.
Despite the setback, Dale did find some rhythm and fluidity, and managed to get the game level again, thanks to Newby and Grant, before it descended into something more akin to the bottom division of old – scrappy and without flow. It was perhaps inevitable then, that the spectre that haunted Dale last season would rear its head here to spoil the day – the concession of an injury-time goal.
The defeat to Harrogate does at least instil some realism into the fanbase in that League Two will not be a cakewalk. The Yorkshire side are not even among those fancied to challenge for honours this season. There will be much tougher games to come.
In Stockdale though, we do have a manager who is prepared to take on the ugly side of the game, to make us difficult to play against, while embracing the art of scoring goals. I’m sure this week on the training ground will have been spent honing both in equal measure. As he said at the fans’ forum, “I don’t care if we score after fifty passes or three, just the right pass at the right time”.
While it would be easy to dismiss the mentality of conceding a late goal as “typical Dale”, it’s not entirely fair. There is a clear emphasis from Stockdale on the team playing to its strengths. We mix it up now. Take Beesley as a prime example. He wasn’t used effectively enough last season. He was always going to be a player in the mould of Glenn Murray. Someone who can win headers and link play, but last season players didn’t hit him like that. The evidence so far suggests that’s exactly what Stockdale has in mind for him. It’s encouraging.
Supporters will be able to attend a home league game at Spotland for the first time in 17 months when Scunthorpe come to town on Saturday. Let’s hope it is our visitors who leave disappointed this time.
Events on the pitch are a balm. They help soothe the worry of what is happening off it. We celebrate 100 years in the Football League when we play Colchester United at the end of the month. I sincerely hope future generations see at least 100 more. The Dale Supporters’ Trust has been incredible during the past few months and has launched a scheme where members can make a regular monthly donation that will be ringfenced in order to purchase further shares to help safeguard the future of the club. Definitely worthwhile taking part.
Up the Dale, not for sale.
Rochdale AFC squad 2021/22
Jay Lynch (28)
Joel Coleman (25)
Brad Wade (21)
Aidy White (29) LB/LWB
Corey O’Keeffe (23) (on loan from Mansfield until January) RB/RWB
Matt Done (33) LB/LWB
Jimmy Keohane (30) LB/LWB/RB/RWB
Joe Dunne (19) LB
Max Taylor (21) CB
Sam Graham (20) CB
Jim McNulty (36) CB
Eoghan O’Connell (25) (C) CB
Jeriel Dorsett (19) (season-long loan from Reading) CB/LB
Aidy White (29) LW
Stephen Dooley (29) LW/RW/CAM
Matt Done (33) LW/CAM
Alex Newby (25) RW
Jimmy Keohane (30) LW/RW/CDM/CM/CAM
Abraham Odoh (21) RW/LW/CAM
George Broadbent (20) (on loan from Sheffield United until January) CM
Aaron Morley (21) CDM/CM/CAM
Conor Grant (20) CM/CAM
Ethan Brierley (17) CM
Corey O’Keeffe (23) (on loan from Mansfield until January) CDM
Liam Kelly (25) CDM/CM/CAM
Matt Done (33) ST
Jake Beesley (24) ST
Danny Cashman (20) (season-long loan from Coventry) ST/IF
Josh Andrews (19) (season-long loan from Birmingham City) ST
Alex Newby (25) IF
Abraham Odoh (21) IF