Roll Up, Roll Up!
The season is almost on us again and I think it`s fair to say that optimism isn`t quite at the levels it was 12 months ago. Many people seem to think we`ll struggle to make even the play-offs this season.
What then has changed? Have we really moved backwards or is it simply a case of us fans being battle weary?
Certainly last season`s defeat at Wembley was difficult to stomach; I doubt a full season`s hard work being blown in the space of ninety minutes will ever feel good. It looked like after years of struggle we finally had a team capable of taking us up, throw in the fact that it was our Centenary and it seemed almost as if it was meant to be. Of course we now know that wasn`t the case and if the Footballing Gods were watching they certainly have a warped sense of humour.
There`s a dangerous school of thought, of course, regarding how we will do this season. We could go back to the days of scrapping with the likes of Bury and Accrington in the lower reaches of the division. It could have all been a flash in the pan, anyone remember the season after we last made the play-offs? The notoriously pessimistic Rochdale folk telling us how we`ll be one season wonders could be right, but somehow things are different, Dale are different…
If I could pick any management team to have in place to help the lads move on from the defeat at Wembley it would be the current one. The moniker of HillCroft is a fitting one, they are a team, and they bounce of each other and bring out the best in each other. If Hill were to ever be snatched from us you could bet Flickers would go with him, such is the respect the two hold for each other. It is the sheer enthusiasm with which the pair have approached the job, seen by many as impossible, which has won over the Dale fans. Of course enthusiasm counts for little if you don`t have the required skills for the job. Luckily HillCroft have both skill and enthusiasm and we can count ourselves lucky to have them on board.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the sale of David Perkins to Colchester. Let`s not beat about the bush, it`s a loss and a big one at that. But is it as catastrophic as some have made out? I think not, and here`s why. Last season was not about one man it was about, as the Official Site likes to put it, Team Rochdale. The only time we ever had a real struggle to replace Perkins when he missed games was at Wembley it is this, in my opinion, which has helped shape peoples views. The problem at Wembley was not so much that Perkins wasn`t playing more the fact that we had no one capable of replacing him. This helped create the myth we were a one man team, and that we couldn`t cope without him. Had Basham been allowed to play, as Hilly wanted, I doubt the reaction to Perkins` departure would have been as severe.
As it is we now have two players in the shape of Clark Keltie and Ciaran Toner, both of whom are more than capable of performing at this level, to replace Perkins and Doolan. If we are being truthful we are effectively replacing one player with two as Doolan was deemed so unfit by the management we played a right-back in his position at Wembley. Should anyone of Jones, Keltie or Toner be off form we now have back-up, something which for most of last season we lacked. With reports suggesting former Wrexham midfielder Mark Jones is in training with us it might not be long before we are strengthened further in that department.
There are many reasons to be cheerful looking ahead to the new season; we need only take a look at last season for one of those. It is easy to forget just what a torrid time we had at the start of last season with injuries, our Physio claiming it was the worst he had ever seen. This surely contributed to a poor start which was only held together by decent showings in the Carling Cup. If we can steer clear of another injury crisis like that, and you can`t see anything like that happening again, then hopefully this will mean more points on the board come next May.
People do still look back to the sale of Glenn Murray and question whether he has yet been properly replaced. It is far too early to judge Jon Shaw yet but one thing I will say is you don`t score that many goals in a struggling conference team if you`re a poor player. Let us not forget that we have Chris Dagnall back, his comeback added weight to the "it`s our year" camp last season and I expect big things from him this time around. Adding to our striking options are Lee Thorpe, an old pro who could prove crucial, and ALF who is always capable of getting you goals at this level.
Looking around the rest of the team I think we are strong. Russell has shown himself to be one of the best Keepers in the division and Spencer provides satisfactory back-up. The back four is strong with Scott Wiseman adding further depth and looking a shrewd purchase. When you consider highly rated players like Holness and D`Laryea can`t even get into the team you start to see the quality we have. With youngsters like Evans, Buckley and Lambert coming through I feel there is every reason for optimism. Buckley in particular will be staking a claim for a starting position and I really do feel he is one for the future. He will certainly be looking to fill our "problem position" on the right wing.
I can't help but feel this is one of the most open divisions in years. There is no MK Dons or POSH to run away with it this time. The two bookies favourites, Bradford and Shrewsbury, have quite some catching up to do and I'm not sure they've done enough to justify their tags.
I for one can`t wait for the new season, I hope this is finally the year.
UP THE DALE!