Cup: Boro 2 – 1 Rochdale

Middlesbrough Rochdale
Delaney 83′
On target
On target

Boro avoid Rochdale upset

Redcar Red reports on the victory over Rochdale in the EFL Cup…

Tonight’s tie was the first time both clubs have met in a competitive fixture despite having a pre-season “Friendly Relationship” of late. If it was questionable what sort of side Dale’s Keith Hill would put out tonight it was considered fairly straightforward that TP would once again turn to his bench and to youth. The big dilemma for Boro’s Manager however was commercial constraints and who he would risk as a fair few of them had been linked during the day with various loans before Friday’s looming deadline. Chapman has once again been linked to Mogga’s Rovers, Fletcher and Johnson has been linked with the Blades and Leadbitter linked with the Lions along with Fletcher and Johnson again as part of a Saville deal. The injured Gestede had also been linked to AK’s Forest this week but a return from injury was unlikely for this evening.

Would TP curtail his use of those who had been “linked” in an effort to reduce the Boro wage bill or would he give them an opportunity to put themselves in the shop window and in doing so further Boro’s progress in the Carabao Cup? Additionally it was a possible opportunity to give Ayala another 45 minutes of fitness programming along with Hugill to help regain his match sharpness. Rochdale are the holders of two unenviable records of 36 consecutive seasons in the Football League’s bottom division from 1974 to 2010 and also the lowest average League position of all the clubs which have existed continuously in the Football League. With respect to tonight’s opposition there are many in the wider Boro conurbation in particular near neighbours Darlington and Hartlepool who would be grateful for such “stability”. Needless to say Rochdale do not have many “glory” supporters numbered amongst their ranks and in common with Boro the erstwhile “League Cup” is the Clubs highest achievement in the Footballing spotlight having graced the final in 1962 when they lost to Norwich in the final.

TP made ten changes from Friday night and went with with a selection of new arrivals, fitness returnees, fringe players and under 23’s. Lonergan returned in goal after a minor injury and Ayala anchored a back three alongside Mahmutovic and Woods. Despite allegedly being in talks with Sheffield United Marvin Johnson started along with Besic and Hugill supported by Fletcher captained by Grant.

McNair on the right earned an early corner after being put through by Besic. Early formation indications looked like Johnson was playing Left Wing Back on the opposite flank to McNair. Besic once again was alert and lobbed a ball through for Fletcher who was offside as both Boro and Besic looked lively early on. Mahmutovic playing on the right of a back three was cleaning up early Rochdale pressure comfortably.

First real chance came to Fletcher from a Hugill and Tav worked opportunity that he couldn’t convert and came to nothing. A Rochdale Free Kick to the back post saw an acrobatic overhead kick which was pulled back by the Ref for offside. A rare slip by Leadbitter allowed Rochdale to nip in and test Lonergan as the Visitors started to build in confidence. That lazy passage of play fired Boro up who responded with a left footed shot that deflected out for a corner which Grant took and Mahmutovic met well but it went out for a goal kick. The opening 15 minutes were a bit low key after a quick start gave us false hope.

Rochdale were attacking intermittently and Boro seemed a bit hesitant in dealing with things and the game as a spectacle was reminiscent of those pre-season friendlies used for getting fit that these sides normally contest. Besic who was our main creator put a ball in between the Rochdale Centre Back and Wing Back for Johnson to miss the target. The game was very scrappy and messy, the only excuse for Boro was that the Players were all familiar with one another as individuals but not as a combined unit and things clearly lacked a degree of understanding and intuitive movement. A swift one-two between Tav and Hugill created momentary excitement but offside was the only result as ultimately the move was over complicated and overplayed. Enes Mahmutovic drove forward from defence and played in Fletcher who fired in a near post shot which was tipped round for a corner which was in itself eventually headed clear.

The next stirring moment to wake up the ten thousand onlookers was when Paddy McNair drove past a few defenders to let loose a shot at the Rochdale goal. In the 37th minute a Johnson ball from the left flew across the Rochdale box which Tav put back in to Hugill who hit the post with Marvin Johnson following up and fired it home at an angle for the opener on the night and for the season for Johnson. Rochdale then responded with an effort of their own a few minutes later as they broke on the break, cutting through the Boro defence but fortunately for us missed the chance as the ball flew across the face of Lonergan’s goal.

Up the other end Mo Besic played a well weighted pass through to Fletcher who curled his shot past the far post just minutes before the half time whistle brought proceedings to a close in what was a poor game for the hardy souls watching. McNair and Johnson had both been lively and Besic was instrumental in a lot of our play. Tav was running around a lot, some might say buzzing but I’m not sure TP would have described it in such generous terms as he seemed to be the focus of TP’s “Adama like” attention on many occasions.

TP made two changes for the second half with Ayala and Besic having done enough in terms of fitness and no doubt with one eye on Friday night at Elland Road. Spence and Brahimi came on in place of them with Brahimi making his debut. The second half started off with a half-hearted Penalty claim for Dale as Boro resumed in the same low key mode as Rochdale tried to get something early on and put Boro under some pressure. Andrew then tried his luck with a shot at Lonergan who had to tip it over the bar. The resulting corner created a bit of mayhem in the rearranged Boro defence giving the visitors some belief and Boro fans nervous anxiety.

Boro seemingly cleared their heads and as if to confirm their renewed authority a Hugill goal to open his Boro account was very welcome. Marvin Johnson put in one of those inviting crosses for the Teesside Striker to rise and power home giving Norman in Goal for Dale no chance. Billal Brahimi was starting to settle into the game and was asking questions of the Rochdale defence winning a free kick (which unfortunately was wasted) just before Hugill was taken off by TP to preserve him also for Friday night with Chapman taking his place. Meanwhile Keith Hill brought on Dooley for Inman.

Fletcher then went up front to become the focus of Boro attacks. Rochdale with nothing to lose were still in the game forcing a save out of Lonergan and missing an even better chance just a minute after Hugill went off. Rochdale were now going for it and Boro had some serious resolute defending to do. In a breakout a Brahimi ball played in from the right saw a McNair effort blocked by Cannon then Chapman hit the upright from the rebound much to the relief of the two hundred and fifty or so travelling fans who knew that a third goal would have been game over and for Boro a chance to breathe easy.

A flicked on cross in the Boro box had Lonergan once again coming to save Boro blushes bravely diving at the feet of Andrew just after the Rochdale Captain Henderson had gone off for Gillam. With a little under fifteen minutes remaining Gillam was then clearly held in the box as valid claims for a Rochdale penalty were waved away.

Boro were becoming hopeful (or desperate) that Rochdale would start to tire but their endeavour was still there on full display finding a second wind in the last seven or eight minutes, launching attacks that were scrappily repelled with blocks and challenges. Then an effort from an initial set piece that was palmed out by Lonergen came straight back and was side footed in by Delaney at the back post to make it two one.

Rochdale were now sensing blood and two blocked shots in quick succession after McNair lost possession led to a daft free kick given away rashly by Chapman. It presented Dooley the chance to float the ball into the Boro box and now bereft of Ayala and Hugill’s aerial prowess we witnessed a mad scramble in the Boro goal area cleared off the line by Mahmutovic. Boro were literally hanging on and there were still two or three minutes left.

After looking comfortable at one stage in the first half things were now looking very ragged with Boro literally clinging on to their slender one goal lead. Another save by Lonergan this time from Camps saw Mahmutovic again clearing his lines as the fourth Official held up the board with five minutes. Another Dale ball to the back post saw a header come in and Lonergan once again saving our evening. Things were getting increasingly desperate and Ashley Fletcher was now back clearing his lines as a make-shift centre-back.

Again a low Rochdale cross to the back post needed Lonergan intervening to claim the ball. In the last seconds of the game Wood made a rare hash of a clearance gifting Delaney who sliced his shot over when scoring would have been easier. The final whistle then pierced the Riverside bringing respite and relief and to save a late upset and penalties. In balance Rochdale have had a few good Cup displays of late and they certainly will feel unlucky tonight as Lonergan was the undisputable Boro MOM.

So some fitness levels are further improved, Lonergan looks match sharp and a few of the youngsters got another opportunity to impress but it was far from enjoyable and best described as functional but on the positive we are into Thursday night’s draw for the next round of the Cup.

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