Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League One - 9th; W 19 / D 12 / L 15 / F 71 / A 62 / Pts 69
Keith Hill’s charges had slow start to 2016/2017, not tasting victory until their eighth league game against fellow Lancastrian side Fleetwood Town. From then on until the New Year, every single match ended decisively and Dale were looking good to be in the play-off reckoning at just past the halfway stage. However, another long winless run, characterised by individual errors from defenders leading to leads or drawing positions being surrendered, scuppered their hopes of seeing their early promise sustaining itself. Once again, they rallied in March but it was too little, too late and whilst ninth for a club with a modest budget was still commendable, Hill and their devoted fanbase knew it could’ve been so much more.
Top Goalscorer: Ian Henderson (15 goals in 39 starts/3,421 minutes)
Top Creator: Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (9 assists in 30 starts/2,636 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Keith Hill; I have previously drawn ire for praising the Rochdale manager on this blog. One of the main arguments against him is that he’s only achieved anything of note at a single club. His time at Barnsley, which sandwiched his first and second spells in OL11, was not a fruitful one but he still has plenty of years in him left should another side higher in the pyramid come knocking for him to prove the doubters right or wrong with more definitiveness. He has worked wonders at the Crown Oil Arena, with the football his lineups often play the envy of many and an emphasis on bringing through players from the academy and being able to retain the more talented ones thanks to the healthy finances. Intelligent and methodical, he is nevertheless prone to the occasional outburst and whilst Dale supporters might not always agree 100% with everything he says or does, they know his continued presence in the dugout is a big boost to the club.
Ins: Jordan Williams (Barrow), Reece Brown (Bury), Brendan Moore (Torquay United) & Bradden Inman (Peterborough United on loan).
Outs: Conrad Logan (Mansfield Town), Peter Vincenti (Coventry City), Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Cardiff City), Matthew Lund (Burton Albion) & Donal McDermott (Swindon Town).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: With serious injury to one-time inside forward Joe Bunney’s successful conversion to attacking full-back, the left flank will have a decidedly different look and feel to it. I wouldn’t expect a repeat of the Calvin Andrew experiment and Hill is almost certain to bring in another player to at least provide cover in the meantime. Mark Kitching is likely to deputise and will be asked to get forward in a similar fashion, with Jim McNulty stepping wider to cover for him on the counter.
McNulty could be partnered by two-time Bury utility man Reece Brown and if anyone can get the best out of him, it’s probably the Dale boss. Joe Rafferty is evidence that the club have come a long way since the days of Michael Simpkins and he is one of the best in the third tier in his role. The bulk of clean sheets accrued in 2016/2017 were when Keith Keane played and that’s no coincidence. He is prone to a rash tackle but he is able to screen the back four superbly when on form and can also drop deeper towards the backline if the opposition are camped high up the pitch.
I have waxed lyrical about Callum Camps on my blog on more than one occasion and together with Jamie Allen, they embody what is required from a midfield duo in modern football, mixing some of the necessary ‘darker arts’ with no shortage of skill, finishing (especially in Camps’ case) and passing range.
As things stand, new signing Jordan Williams might get the nod on the wing and with captain Ian Henderson’s creativity and positional sense, there could be a lot of movement and rotation amongst the front three, which will help create openings and space for the late runs of Camps and Allen. Bradden Inman was highly thought of at Crewe and will battle it out with Reuben Noble-Lazarus for the other spot, with a high degree of rotation between them and elsewhere in the XI likely to occur to keep both the players and ideas fresh; Dale lost simply too many games in the dying embers last season. Henderson will again lead the line but in Andrew and Steve Davies, Dale have different options and shapes at their disposal, even with the first team squad still looking a little light.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Play-off chasers. In a more competitive league and with not too many signings made thus far, it would be easy to overlook Rochdale’s credentials. However, their manager has proven time and time again that he can get the best out of players others in the sport would consider either ‘broken toys’ or gambles on individuals from further down the pyramid who have impressed in non-league.
Dale play in a progressive, entertaining fashion and if their pre-season work on improving defending set pieces pays off, then they could upset much more fancied sides and be in the reckoning for a top six place. There is still some work to do in the summer transfer window, particularly in defence, but Hill is a patient man and rarely makes a rash decision when in need of an extra body. They must avoid a slow start for the slow evolution of the club to reach the next stage, but they have every chance of doing so.