Rochdale AFC vs Stoke City FC
FA Cup Fourth Round
Monday 26th January 2015
Spotland, Rochdale, Lancashire
“Cambridge. A place where some of the greatest minds in history have defied convention and rewritten the laws of the Universe,” purred Gary Lineker, perched on a bridge and intercut with images of Isaac Newton. As introductions go, it was a brave one for a programme that contained the pitchside wisdom of Steve Claridge.
And so, with the weekend barely underway, the FA Cup was back and live on BBC One on Friday evening, with The Three Musketeers unceremoniously shunted to accommodate Lineker, Shearer and Phil Neville. Probably not a great weekend to be editing Points of View.
Complaints, too, that the scheduling didn’t take real fans into consideration. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed the Friday night games, and a peak audience of 7.1 million witnessing League Two Cambridge take on Falcao and co. suggests I’m not alone. The dogged display from The U’s to earn a replay certainly looked like an early contender for result of the weekend. How wrong we were.
Out went Swansea at Ewood Park, inexplicably live on BBC Two Wales, and watched by fewer than 6000 fans (both at home and in the ground possibly) in the early kick-off. Out went Tottenham, paying the price for fielding a weakened side against struggling Leicester, along with Southampton who fell to Pardew’s Palace.
So jam-packed were the highlights, even Emile Heskey’s return to Anfield was little more than a footnote on Match of the Day, with the former England man receiving his first standing ovation since announcing he was retiring from international football. But the real shocks were at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad.
Middlesbrough’s dismantling of Manchester City was as impressive as it was unexpected, but it was Bradford’s win at Chelsea that was truly remarkable. 22/1 pre-match, and 450/1 at 2-0 down, the Bantams rediscovered the heroics of their incredible 2013 League Cup run to put four past Jose Mourinho’s side, and join Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sunderland and Basel in an exclusive list of teams who’ve left SW6 victorious against the artist formerly known as The Special One.
With Sunday’s games requiring a late winner from the ghost of Stanley Matthews for a shock, newly-installed fourth favourites West Ham saw off Bristol City, before Aston Villa and Arsenal edged into the last-16 by the odd goal against Bournemouth and Brighton respectively.
And so it came down to the final game of the weekend to see if there could be one last upset before the replays. Hoping to continue the weekend’s trend was League One side Rochdale, with 2011 finalists Stoke City firmly in their sights. We’re hopeful of an upset.
The form guide suggests we’re in with a chance; Rochdale find themselves in the play-off positions of a crowded League One table and have already seen off Championship side Nottingham Forest in the Third Round. Stoke, meanwhile, survived a scare at home to Conference side Wrexham in Round Three before Stephen Ireland saved Mark Hughes’ blushes against his hometown club.
The gulf between the sides has been more apparent during the last week, though. While Rochdale trained indoors at a local sports facility due to snow covering the Spotland pitch, Stoke returned from a training camp in Dubai on Friday.
Joining me again would be James Billington. Last with me under the faulty floodlights of Warrington vs Colwyn Bay to see this blog’s 100% record extended, it’s been a barren run since then. Sure, Chelmsford’s draw against Barnet and Chester’s dogged stalemate at Oakwell were impressive, but the fact remains that we haven’t picked a winner since October. It’s the sort of run that even Stuart Pearce wouldn’t survive.
At least that was the plan.
Leaving work in Nottingham to meet me in Chesterfield, James got caught up in a two-hour delay on the M1. At around 6pm, just two hours before kick-off ahead of a 1hr 40mins journey, we gave up the ghost. Stepping in would be my next door neighbour Jonathan, a Manchester United fan and a football coach of a local U8s side in his spare time.
Jon is a lovely bloke and we have sons around the same age who we’re both trying to pass our love of the game on to. He’s also just got a new puppy which threatens to throw my plans further into turmoil as I attempt to tear myself away from it on his driveway.
Making tracks towards Lancashire while nervously watching the clock, in what’s becoming something of an Underdog Blog tradition for readers of previous entries, he drops me off outside the ground to collect the tickets as he attempts to park. As he does this, the crackly radio commentary announces the opening goal for Stoke in the fourth minute.
It was, as described by Talksport, a belter. Jack Butland’s long ball up field was half cleared by Oliver Lancashire, whose header sent the ball high rather than out. Dropping to Bojan, the ex-Barcelona man had time and space to hit a perfect volley beyond Josh Lillis and into the corner of the net. It was the sort of goal you wish you’d have been there to see…
As we enter the ground, it feels a little bit like some of the early enthusiasm may have been quashed by that early opener. Stoke’s jubilant away support exceeds 2,000 in the stand opposite to the dugouts, and they’re already in fine voice, belting out their own unique version of Delilah.
“I wonder why they sing that?” ponders Jon. “Maybe they had a player called Delilah.”
“Or Tom Jones?”, I add. We agree this is more likely, if probably not the correct answer.
The roar of the home crowd is roused in the minutes to follow. Matt Done, the goal-scoring winger who is back at Spotland after briefly following Keith Hill to Oakwell, and Callum Camps both look to drive the home team forward. Camps has a half-shout for a penalty ignored by referee Martin Atkinson just before the 10-minute mark.
We watch the game from the corner of the pitch, between the main stand and the terrace. Our tickets are in the standing Sandy Lane end, so we decide to grab a pie before making our way into the packed throng. Two very tasty steak pies are despatched without too much trouble – there hasn’t been time to stop for food in the frantic pre-match preparation – and we eye the Stoke players warming up in front of us.
With a team full of internationals on the pitch, Charlie Adam, Stephen Ireland and Peter Crouch all jog up and down the touchline. It’s perhaps still too easy for the mainstream media to overlook Stoke, but it’s clearly a squad of real quality.
I’ve visited the Britannia Stadium as an away fan on a couple of occasions and enjoyed the battles (one win each as it happens) that ensued. The combatant style that established them in the Premier League has added flair these days under Hughes, but that spirit is useful on nights like tonight. We may never know if Messi could do it on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke, but Stoke themselves aren’t doing too badly so far on a chilly Monday in Rochdale.
Bojan continues to pull the strings for the Potters, threading a neat ball through to Arnautovic on 16 minutes that leads to a corner. At the other end, Rochdale attempt to hit back, with Rafferty’s deep cross narrowly evading the run and leap of Done in the box, as the ex-Barnsley man continues to look the most likely to level the ex-Barca man’s goal.
The game threatens to boil over in the 26th minute. Peter Vincenti’s attempt to win the ball in midfield sees him make contact with Victor Moses, prompting a furious Mark Hughes to jump out of his dugout in protest. Replays suggest he made contact with the ball but followed through onto Moses’ standing foot, and he stays down clutching his ankle.
The game continues in that ridiculously awkward manner that tends to happen when a referee refuses to stop play, and the lively Bojan takes his frustrations out on Vincenti by fouling him and then squaring up, in an exchange that looks like a first year threatening a sixth former. Both men are booked.
Moments later, Bojan breaks into the box before falling to the floor. The baying fans behind the goal demand a second yellow for simulation, but it quickly becomes clear that the talented Spanish forward is hurt. He limps off the field and out of the game, with what unfortunately turns out to be knee ligament damage. He’s replaced by Ireland.
Rochdale continue to grow in confidence as the half continues. Stephen Dawson, another ex-Tyke, almost finds a breakthrough just after the half hour mark, before the best chance of the game falls to Done.
Chasing onto a through ball from Camps, Done breaks between two Stoke defenders before poking the ball past the advancing Butland and just wide of the goal. He’d get another chance from a similar ball just before half-time too, as the Premier League defence struggled to cope with his movement and pace.
As half-time arrives, we try to catch our breath. Jon chats to a very nice steward called Ifty who is stood at the front of our stand. He tells us about the opening goal, which he underplays slightly, and adds that he hopes Dale can get back into it.
He’s a regular here, and was part of the team that came in early to clear the pitch covers of several inches of snow last week to ensure the game would be going ahead. Despite milder temperatures in recent days, an impressive pile of snow remains.
He briefly allows me access to take a photo, in what I confess is quite a bizarre request. A more senior steward arrives and appears disgruntled by this, and I immediately feel guilty in case our new friend is in trouble for letting a weird bloke take a photo of a pile of dirty snow on his smartphone. Sorry Ifty.
As the teams come out for the second half, it’s a familiar tale to several games covered in earlier rounds. Rochdale can’t afford to lose a second goal against such strong opposition, especially given that Stoke don’t look like they’re out of third gear yet. It’s a point you’d expect Keith Hill to be making in the home dressing room.
Hill, who is back in the dugout after refereeing Barnsley vs Chester, is an example of a rare breed of football manager; arguably over-achieving with one club, then perhaps giving in to the understandable lure of a slightly better offer elsewhere.
It didn’t work out at Barnsley, and now, back where he began his managerial career, he’s potentially leading Rochdale towards their most successful season for decades. It’s a similar story with Eddie Howe at Bournemouth and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Darren Ferguson at Peterborough.
Dale are finally shaking off the perennial tag of being a lower league side, after spending an unprecedented 36 consecutive seasons in England’s fourth tier. Recent years have been a little more eventful, with two of only three promotions in their history coming since 2010.
Those successes book ended relegation back to the fourth tier in 2012; but that’s a fate that the home side look to be just a handful of wins away from avoiding already in mid-January. Perhaps then they might be able to concentrate on looking up, rather than down.
Stoke make a change at half time with Steve Sidwell replacing Stephen N’Zonzi while the home team remain unchanged, and looking to find the momentum they had before the break. Dawson signals their intent early on in the half with a crunching 50/50 tackle with Phil Bardsley. It’s the kind of challenge that neither pull out of very often.
Stoke doubled their lead in the 52nd minute. After two attempts to clear the ball upfield, a lofted ball back into the danger area found Victor Moses, who made space to drive the ball across the face of the goal and find Ireland at the back post. Two-nil.
“We’re the famous Stoke City and we’re going to Wem-ber-lee”, sing the Stoke fans, followed by another rendition of Delilah.
The energy of the home fans is further sapped as Matt Done’s number flashes up on the fourth official’s board minutes later. He clearly has an injury and is replaced by Calvin Andrew. Reuben Noble-Lazarus joins the ex-Barnsley brigade for Vincenti too.
The Stoke fans are in full party mode now, singing about the merits (or lack thereof) of the town of Rochdale, a ditty about co-commentator Robbie Savage looking like a girl and a choral rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot.
“They’re onto rugby songs now”, says Jon. “Maybe that was from when they used to play the long ball.”
Victor Moses breaks up the sing-song in the 61st minute with a piece of magic. Picking the ball up on the left, he jinks his way to the by-line, beating Rafferty twice in the process, and bends the ball into the far side of the goal from a ridiculous angle. The accuracy is pinpoint and the game is won.
Watching it back on TV, you can clearly see dozens of Rochdale fans applauding as he wheels away. I really like seeing opposition fans applauding a wonder goal. It shows a lot of class and an enjoyment of the game beyond rivalries on the pitch. It was a special goal to witness, and those fans showed their appreciation.
Undeterred, Rochdale continue to attack. They lack a cutting edge without Done, though, with the muscular Calvin Andrew doing well the hold the ball up but offering little in the way of a goalscoring threat.
“Get the ball in the box!” shouts Jon, as another attack breaks down on the edges of the area. Coach Bland is invested in the team like it was his own Under-8’s side now, and he’s attempting to rally the troops.
It’s gone fairly quiet in our end. Noticeably, though, I don’t hear a word of dissent from the stands. It’s been a competitive game, with Stoke’s Premier League class giving them a scoreline that flatters them slightly. The home fans are already turning their thoughts to Saturday’s away game:
“Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. We’re going to Coventry…”
Just like at Tranmere in the Third Round, slim hope arrives late in the 78th minute. Rochdale win a freekick near the corner flag, and the ball into the box finds its way to Rhys Bennett near the far post. Controlling the ball and turning towards goal, he slots in from eight yards out to make it 3-1.
A petty gesture from Glenn Whelan to grab the ball from the net and boot it upfield is in vain, as Rochdale come straight back down the pitch to win a corner almost from the restart. The home fans are louder than they’ve been all evening now, as chants of “Dale! Dale!” ring out from the Sandy Lane end.
It’s not to be, as Stoke soak up the pressure to close out the game. A Jon Walters finish from an excellent Arnautovic cross on the break wraps the tie up deep in stoppage time and restores the slightly flattering three goal deficit.
With the Fourth Round draw taking place earlier on The One Show, complete with a bizarre routine where representative fans from each tie shook hands awkwardly, it will be a visit to Ewood Park for Stoke in Round Five. For Rochdale, a trip to Coventry rather than Wemberlee to maintain their unexpected promotion push awaits.
It’s been one of the most memorable Fourth Round weekends in FA Cup history, giving hope to the remaining underdogs that Wembley could be within reach. With a talented squad and a manager keen to add silverware to his managerial C.V, there could be value in newly installed fifth favourites Stoke City.
We say goodbye to Ifty as we leave Spotland, stopping to check that he’s still in a job, and head back to the car.
“It’s vote of confidence from the chairman time”, I tell Jonathan, as I reflect on another heavy defeat for the underdog. “Fancy Cambridge for the replay?”
The Underdog Blog Record 2014/15
P 9 W 3 D 2 L 4 F 7 A 17 GD -10
Rochdale AFC vs Stoke City FC
FA Cup Fourth Round
Monday 26th January 2015
Spotland, Rochdale, Lancashire
|Rochdale 1 –||4 Stoke City|
|Bennett (78)||Bojan (4)|
Rochdale: 1. Lillis, 2. Rafferty, 5. Eastham, 6. Lancashire, 17. Tanser, 3. Bennett, 7. Vincenti (11. Noble-Lazarus – 58′), 12. Dawson, 28. Camps (24. Allen – 63’), 40. Henderson, 16. Done (9. Andrew – 55′)
Substitutes: 21. Musangu, 25. Rose, 26. Logan, 39. Bunney
Stoke City: 22. Butland, 2. Bardsley, 17. Shawcross, 26. Wollscheid, 12. Wilson, 15. N’Zonzi (21. Sidwell – 45′), 6. Whelan, 10. Arnautovic, 27. Bojan (7. Ireland – 32′), 13. Moses (16. Adam – 75′), 19. Walters
Substitutes: 5. Muniesa, 20. Cameron, 25. Crouch, 29. Sørensen
Referee: Martin Atkinson