Sunderland travel to the Spotland Stadium on tonight where they will face Rochdale in the first midweek game of our League One campaign. The lads will hope to continue their good form having won consecutive games against Accrington and Portsmouth.
Last season we beat Rochdale in both fixtures scoring six goals, including a 4-1 victory at the Stadium of Light courtesy of braces from Josh Maja and Lyndon Gooch. Having said that, Rochdale have mirrored our start to the season by picking up five points, and have been much improved under the management of Brian Barry-Murphy.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Colin Cavanah from the Rochdale Supporters Trust to discuss how his team have started the season and what we can expect during the match.
MC: Rochdale have begun their season with a win and two draws, as well as an emphatic 5-2 win against struggling Bolton in the Carabao Cup, are you surprised at how well you have started?
CC: We’ve started well, of that there’s no doubt. We’ve been the better side in each of our games, and arguably we should have won the two games that we have drawn. Only an incorrect offside decision stopped us winning at Shrewsbury on Saturday. No one is getting carried away, but we’re generally pleased with the start.
MC: Your manager Brian Barry-Murphy was made permanent following a spell as caretaker last season, how is he performing considering it is the first management role of his career?
CC: He’s doing brilliantly. He did what was required last year in keeping us up when, if truth be told, it looked like the best we could hope for would be a valiant battle against the drop.
What’s really impressed me this year is that he has developed his own style of play.
Given he was part of the previous coaching staff, it would have been very easy to just continue with what he was a part of, but there’s a definite change in style and fingers crossed its been working.
MC: Rochdale have been quiet so far in the transfer window mainly signing loan players, are you satisfied with your business so far?
CC: We’re never going to be big hitters in the transfer window due to the way that we only spend money that we can afford to, but it looks like we have quietly done alright.
There was a genuine panic amongst the fanbase that we weren’t ready for the season but the subtle changes have took us up a level. We’ve got a loanee left back who’s name is far too long to type out (Norrington-Davies). Somehow he was on loan at Barrow last year but he’s been a revelation.
MC: The club’s talisman Ian Henderson scored 20 league goals last year at the age of 34, how vital is he to Rochdale’s success this season?
CC: He is everything. Supporters are quite rightly talking about him as being possibly the greatest player to play for us in our history, given all he has contributed since we brought him in on a free transfer from Colchester.
He’s expected to break our all time scoring record before the end of the season, and his age is showing no signs of affecting his game.
MC: What style of play can Sunderland expect from Rochdale during the match?
CC: We will be playing an almost pure brand of football. Based on previous games, we might well have 60% possession. I’ve a slight fear that it makes us vulnerable, especially when we come up against teams who are conscious of how we play.
MC: The Dale avoided relegation after winning four of your last six games, what was it that changed which led to your survival?
CC: It was the change of manager that was the difference. You’ll never hear a bad word about Keith Hill from me, but had we stayed with Hilly in charge, we’d have been down without a doubt.
Tactics didn’t change massively during that time, but the difference seemed to be the players taking greater responsibility. Perhaps we’d become a little bit too much “Keith Hill’s Rochdale” and that filtered down to the players, but they certainly stepped up during that run in. There’d previously been a big emphasis on mistakes being made that perhaps had the players playing within themselves rather than taking risks.
MC: Following a rollercoaster campaign last year, where do you think the club should be aspiring to finish in League One?
CC: The problem we’ve got is that we’ve had two finishes in League One just outside the Play Offs which has perhaps raised the bar to an unreasonable height.
I think our fanbase is well aware of our financial limitations but also that as a club there are sides we expect to finish. Personally, Bury and Bolton have gone for the season, especially with Wanderers having to go through so many games relying on the youth players, so there’s a mini league of us, Accrington, Wycombe, Gillingham, Tranmere, Southend, Wimbledon, and Bristol Rovers.
I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that we should finish at least above two of those.
MC: Last season Rochdale conceded 87 league goals, the most in League One, what has been done to prevent a recurrence of that statistic?
CC: We’ve got a new centre half – Eoghan O’Connell - who we have took advantage of the issues at Bury to sign, and the aforementioned left back on loan from Sheffield United.
Biggest difference seems to be increasing the possession that we have, working on the basis that if we have the ball, we can’t concede. Watch us score an own goal on Tuesday now!
MC: Sunderland won both games against yourselves last year scoring six goals in the process, what do you think final score will be tonight?
CC: Far too tight to call. I think the game has come at the right time for us before you’ve found your feet. Would take a point now, but no reason why we can’t sneak it.