The Thursday Preview: Rochdale Vs Charlton
Carbrini Sportswear is to athletic kit what Dixy Fried Chicken is to fast food: available only in the discount stores of inner city, working class suburbs like Harpurhey or Woolwich, conjuring up images of Sunday morning high roads buffeted by gales and greasy cartons. That the firm has manufactured uniforms and sponsored a bevy of lower league clubs is therefore telling; but it’s about all that links the adversaries in Saturday’s Spotland clash between Rochdale and Charlton.
For this is one of those games Peter Snow would have loved plotting with the swingometer. As Matt Holland was firing them past Chelsea and co a few short years ago, Rochdale were four divisions away and seemingly not temporarily either – the Greater Mancunians had spent only five years above the basement, set a record for the lowest average position of any club in the football league and posted crowd figures averaging only three thousand across their history.
But let there be light with ecclesiastical heating magnate Chris Dunphy and manager Keith Hill. A low key magician, the latter has proved himself a master at rebuilding from scratch. A Wembley appearance in his first season was historic and yet, having subsequently suffered the scarpering of top scorer Adam Le Fondre, Chris Dagnall’s goals saw Dale finally exit League Two last May. Meanwhile Charlton were, in the estimation of my esteemed colleague Lloyd “a fading force in decline”. The vertiginous plummet had been hair raising indeed, but good sense did quietly take hold of the club this Summer.
The departures lightened the wage bill by gallons: talisman Nicky Bailey, on whom the Addicks’ surely over relied, departed for Middlesbrough and good money was obtained for a totally unproven player in Jonjo Shelvey. Frazer Richardson, still chiefly known as a Ridsdale-era Leeds reject, the forgotten Don Izale McLeod, and Deon Burton joined them away from the Valley, the latter in the unlikely Azeri climes of Qebele.
Phil Parkinson could thus attempt to rehabilitate a reputation severely tarnished by his Hull disaster and unimpressive early days in South East London. Reliable staff members such as Therry Racon and Scott Wagstaff were joined by the thrills provider Lee Martin on loan and a duo of lower league forwards, Paul Benson and Pawel Abbott.
Hot under the collar throughout the Indian summer, Addicks seemed to have reached their Armageddon when Brighton came knocking and annihilated them 4-0, but that was the spur for a reel of six wins, halted only by Bristol Rovers last weekend. Among the victories were a 5-1 triumph at London Road and a 3-0 defeat of a Swindon that had thwarted Charlton’s 2009-10 pretensions. Of the newcomers, the clever ex-Dagger Benson has hit form and negotiated the logjam of the South Circular well.
Up at Spotland, perhaps the best that can be hoped for is to be this year’s Exeter – to survive and then hopefully to build, but early, hope was raised: a 2-0 St. Mary’s win confirming the cute decision to retain the on loan services of Craig Dawson and Tom Kennedy, both having been traded off to the midlands in the Summer. A 3-0 hefting of much fancied Huddersfield followed and Dale were briefly in the play off portrait.
But recent weeks have been less kind, even if their dropping the decidedly poisoned chalice of a cup draw against FC United of Manchester can be forgiven (all to lose and all that). The midfield goals of veteran Gary Jones, a fair proportion of them from the penalty spot, have kept heads afloat but Dale are tying too many (the last three included versus Swindon, Carlisle and Oldham) and close season Dagnall replacement Anthony Elding, recruited from Ferencváros, has been less than a mighty Magyar. Still, the Valiants’ stutter at home to the Pirates and home advantage for Rochdale emboldens me to predict a 1-0 win for the home side, climate permitting.