Like a lot of clubs Sunderland will face this season, you can be forgiven for not knowing a great deal about Rochdale. Unless you count our Under 23s playing them in the Checkatrade Trophy a couple of years ago, this is our first competitive meeting against the Dale in our history, so it’s difficult to know what to expect from Keith Hill’s men.
After just avoiding relegation to League Two, Rochdale have enjoyed a mixed start to the season and are bang in mid-table. Their form is starting to pick up though, evidenced by a 3-0 win over Gillingham last weekend but they share a similar weakness to ourselves - they love conceding goals.
With the Lads looking to bounce back from a defeat to Burton, a team with a leaky defence could be just what the doctor ordered. Rochdale don’t have any problem scoring themselves however, so Saturday could be a tasty encounter.
To find out a bit more on Rochdale, I had a chat with Ian Wright of Rochdale Supporters Trust who catches us up on the opposition and gives his view on the game.
RR: Following a season where you just avoided relegation to League Two, is your start to the 18/19 campaign being considered a decent one and what is the expectation for the season as a whole?
IW: Yes, I think it’s been a decent start. Our away form is very good, and after Saturday’s first home win against Gillingham, eleven points is a decent return.
I think we’ll finish comfortably mid-table this season, but anything above the bottom four will suffice.
RR: Keith Hill has been in charge of Rochdale (in his current stint) for over five years now. To give that further context, Sunderland have had nine permanent managers during that time! Given his long association with the club, as both a player and a manager, just how highly is he thought of at Rochdale?
IW: Keith Hill is the most successful manager in the club’s history and has reached legendary status in the eyes of most Dale fans. Two promotions, two Wembley visits, and various other achievements will live long in the memory.
He does have his faults, but to carry on taking the club forward, he’s still the right man for the job.
RR: Our biggest issue so far this season has been going behind in games and conceding from set pieces. Similarly, you’ve conceded the third highest amount of goals in League One with 16. Is there anything in particular that’s causing you to leak so many goals and is there any particular weakness you can see Sunderland exploiting?
IW: I think it’s just a lack of concentration individually, possibly down to nobody marshalling the defence and taking control.
Like yourselves, set pieces are our Achilles heel and that could be where you could find some joy.
RR: On the other hand though, 13 goals scored so far this season is a pretty good haul. Would you say your attacking play is your biggest strength, and who in the Rochdale side would you say is the main threat to Sunderland?
IW: Last season we gave a lot of points away by conceding very late on in games, so far this season that hasn’t happened, so I believe our new found determination is our biggest strength.
I’d say Ian Henderson will be our main threat, he’s already our leading goal scorer this season and has got sights on becoming the leading scorer in the club’s history.
RR: Looking at Jack Ross’ squad, who do you think will cause Rochdale problems? Any players in our side you’ll be keeping an eye on?
IW: Josh Maja looks to be a handful and is scoring goals at the moment, so our shaky defence will have to be very wary of him.
Charlie Wyke has crossed our path while with Bradford, so I would have been keeping an eye on him if it wasn’t for his injury.
RR: How do you see Keith Hill approaching this game and what do you think his starting line up will be?
IW: I think Hill will go for a win and see it as a nothing to lose situation, as you’ll probably be big favourites to win this fixture.
Starting eleven: Lillis, Rafferty, Delaney, McGahey, Hart, Camps, Gillam, Rathbone, Henderson, Andrew, Wilbraham.
RR: Finally, can we have a score prediction please?
IW: Sunderland 2-2 Dale!