If I was forced to have write this match report at
half time, then I'm afraid I'd have no doubt been lumped in with the
much discussed negative folk who seem to be attracting all the attention
of both the management and the messageboard right now. For in all
honesty, we were dreadful and were perhaps a little fortunate to have
gone in at half time only two goals down.
We really were that bad. In a side that had been
freshened up due to injuries and opportunities given to those who have
been out of the side recently, numerous players had what can only be
described as a nightmare and we were heading out of the FA Cup.
But after half time, inspired by a lunatic Dave
Flitcroft on the touchline, no doubt alerting the FA drug testers, we
came out and absolutely battered the visitors with one of the most one
sided halves seen at Spotland in many a year, with the only surprise
being that it took until extra time for us to secure the victory.
On with the report....
Barnet at home was always going to be a far tougher
proposition than Barnet at Underhill. Not only did they come to Spotland
with a collection of impressive away performances behind them, but they
came very much as the wounded beast following their 4-0 destruction at
home to Notts County at the weekend. They had very much a point to prove
to the 40 odd supporters scattered and outnumbered by stewards in the
We were forced into a couple of changes. Late
injuries to Dagnall and Toner meant that we made more changes than had
been hoped with a grand total of five changes, and even with the recall
of Ramsden to the bench, we still could only name six out of the seven
We had recalls to the starting line up for Le Fondre,
Shaw, Keltie and Buckley, plus a first start at Spotland for Mark Jones,
with Rundle, Thorpe and Thompson joining Dagnall and Toner in missing
out. Would so many changes affect things? Well you'd think so given how
we allowed the visitors to race into a 2-0 lead, but both goals came at
the hands of first team regulars rendering this excuse useless.
We just weren't at the races, and we couldn't live
with a Barnet side who attacked directly and with plenty of pace. In
reply, we looked pedestrian and lacked any of the direction of the run
which has seen us shoot up the league table. The centre of midfield
failed to do anything of any note, other than seemingly give the ball
away at will.
It was hardly the stuff of surprises when Barnet took
the lead. A long ball forward saw McArdle watch it bounce then get
beaten for pace by the Barnet attacker, who took the ball wide past the
Dale keeper Russell before angling it into the far corner. Worryingly
this hadn't been the first time we'd been done for pace at the back.
But going 1-0 down isn't panic stations. We've got
one of the best records around for coming back from a goal down, and
with plenty of time left on the clock plus the possibility of extra
time, there was nothing to unduly worry us. Until we went 2-0 down.
Had you been watching the City v Hull game at the
weekend, you'd have seen two of the most bizarre bits of defending in
recent years. Gary Jones was clearly inspired by this, with a needless
back pass which landed straight at the feet of Adomah who needed no
invitation to take advantage, and he too rounded Russell to double
Barnet's lead. Our captain had already been having a stinker before this
moment, and this did nothing to add to it.
The most worrying aspect about going 2-0 down was the
lack of reaction to it. Jones seemed to be haunted by his error for the
remainder of the half, and aside from a chance from Shaw which was
knocked wide, we never really looked getting back into the game, and a
late chance in the half from Barnet should really have seen the game put
out of our reach as they failed to take advantage of their numerical
superiority in one attack.
The half time whistle brought many boos around the
ground, and despite all that had been said and wrote about the boos from
the weekend, it was hard to argue with a reaction to such a poor showing
But what we had to come was in such contrast to the
first half. Everything that was wrong in the first half was put right in
the second half. Did the half time boos inspire Dale onto greater things
in the second half? We daren't be so cheeky to even suggest it.
Lee Thorpe was sent on for Mark Jones at the start of
the second half, and from that point on it was Dale on a mission, and we
chucked everything at Barnet and if we were heading out of the FA Cup,
then we were going to go down fighting with every last bit of effort
that we had inside us. The half time team talk needs writing down and
sending out to troops on the front line as the Dale players played as if
they were prepared to lay down their lives for the cause.
We knew what to expect from a Barnet side who had
already showed signs of time wasting in the first half, but whilst they
were expecting a storm in the second half, this was a complete onslaught
in which the ball was almost entirely in the Barnet half.
The introduction of Thorpe was perfection. He gave
the Barnet defence no time at all, contesting every header going. But
the real genius about Thorpe was the freedom that it gave Le Fondre who
simply took control of the game and made it his own. The match ball was
always going home with him.
The comeback had started from the first second of the
second half, but we had to wait ten minutes for the goal, and what a
move. Tom Kennedy, who was in a minority of Dale players to have come
out of the first half with any credit, put in one of the crosses of the
season. Keeping it low, he curled it in at pace into that dangerzone in
front of the keeper. Alfie read it perfectly, making sure that any touch
from him would convert it into the back of the net. Game on.
The only question marks at this stage were how long
we'd be able to maintain the energy levels that we were showing, and
would we be susceptible to conceding at the back. The former was
probably the biggest worry as everything was on a different plane to
what we'd seen in the first half, and our central midfield duo who had
been so poor in the first half were dictating everything in the second,
and I don't recall seeing two players change things around so much from
one half to the next as they did tonight.
We had to wait a bit longer than we'd expected for
the equaliser. With Joey Thompson thrown on at the expense of Shaw,
Hilly was clearly trying to ensure that we kept the same tempo which had
seen Barnet run ragged throughout the second period.
But when the equaliser came about, it was again
straight out of the top drawer. A rejuvenated Gary Jones was scaring the
Barnet to death by getting the ball and running at them, and he threaded
the ball through to Alfie who timed his shot perfectly, firing it across
Harrison to get Dale back on level terms.
This did inspire a new lease of life in the visitors
who remembered that they were allowed to attack, and the rules of this
game were more than just waving your arms at the referee at every single
decision, time wasting for fun and putting the ball out of play for
corners. Despite tiring legs, they caused one or two worries including
one shot which seemed to end in the Family Stand side of the WMG.
We continued to press and push for a win inside the
allotted time, and the chances seemed to be queuing up. Jones had one
effort which looked goalbound only for it to go straight at Harrison and
Joe Thompson had one chance cannon off his own meat and two veg. No
pre-match conjugals for him for a few days after that.
Despite the odd foray into our half, there was only
ever going to be one winner and if that required extra time then so be
it. But extra time and injure were never going to stop Adam Le Fondre,
and with time ticking away in the first period of extra time, he
produced a goal worthy of completing any hat trick.
Pushed out wide, he chipped the ball over the head of
Harrison to complete his hat trick, despite the sneaky efforts of JT to
deny him the goal and the butterfly celebration was echoed around the
ground as Alfie celebrated his way to the dugout to be replaced by
The final period had Dale get chances aplenty, with
Will Buckley pretending to be Paddy and trying to beat the whole Barnet
side single handedly. He came very very close. Closer than Barnet came
anyway, and the only way they were ever going to score was with the "2-0
and you fucked it up" chants that the Footballing Gods were mocked with.
They overlooked it this time and with that, it's time to start planning
our way to Forest Green.
This was a game had 20 years worth of Dale emotions
all rolled into one game, and it might well be twenty years or so at the
very least till this game will be forgotten. At 8-30, many Dale fans
were no doubt wishing they'd stopped at home. A couple of hours later,
they were drained of energy after one of the most remarkable second half
showings you'll ever likely to see.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again. Never
write this Dale side off. Not even once.