Rochdale inflicted a 4-1 defeat on high-flying Cheltenham Town on Friday night to move back within touching distance of the play-off positions.
A double from Ashley Grimes and one a piece from Bobby Grant and Dele Adebola ensured Rochdale’s last home match of 2012 ended in victory.
Rochdale went into the encounter looking to end their recent run of defeats and were searching for their first win in five.
While the home match against Exeter City at Spotland a fortnight ago was much improved on the poor display against York City, the first half performance against Cheltenham Town was refreshing as Dale looked the hungrier of the two sides from the off.
Cheltenham Town goalkeeper Scott Brown pulled off five fantastic saves, while Dale were denied by the woodwork, during the opening quarter of the game.
It was clear from kick-off that Rochdale had set up to play a quick passing game and this certainly left the visitors’ defence looking shaky at times.
On four minutes Bobby Grant had the first opportunity of the match after getting a head on Dele Adebola cross – his effort however went wide of the upright.
Moments later and The Robins had ‘keeper Brown to thank as he pulled off three fantastic saves in quick succession to keep Dale out. Andrew Tutte broke from inside his own half after intercepting a Cheltenham attack before feeding in Grant who fired a shot from the right of play. His effort was blocked by the goalkeeper and fell nicely for Ashley Grimes who volleyed a powerful effort in on target from inside the area. Brown pulled off yet another fine reaction save to keep Grimes out only send it into the path of Tutte who forced the ‘keeper into a finger-tip save to put his strike over the bar.
It was a high-tempo display from Dale which saw Peter Cavanagh, Tutte and Kennedy linking up superbly with the front trio of Grimes, Grant and Adebola.
With Rochdale playing attacking football, they continued on top and Brown, and who was the difference between the two sides certainly in the early part of the half, was forced into another two good saves to keep out Grant first of all, before denying Jason Kennedy with his legs. Grant, who missed last Saturday’s match against Aldershot Town with a shoulder injury, had yet another shot blocked by the ‘keeper. The ball fell fortuitously for Kennedy inside the 18-yard-box, and despite failing to make a clean connection with it, his effort was enough to make Brown uncomfortable and the goalkeeper had to come off his line to block with his legs.
On fourteen minutes Rochdale’s hard work was almost undone after a poor back pass let Shaun Harrard in on goal, putting the back four under pressure for the first time during the game. Harrad read the mistake well and rounded Josh Lillis but much to the relief of Dale, Phil Edwards had tracked back to block the shot and put an end to the danger.
Two minutes later and up the other end veteran striker Adebola almost went it alone as he broke forward on a lengthy run before sending a shot goalwards - the ‘keeper once again kept the ball out with his legs.
The momentum continued with Dale and moments later Grant was denied again, this time by the woodwork – his shot from 30 yards rattling the cross-bar with power.
After a lengthy spell of pressure the game quietened in terms of pace for a time, but it was during that spell that Rochdale opened up a two goal lead thanks to two fantastic strikes.
On 38 minutes Grant hit home his eleventh goal of the season with a curling effort which nestled in the top corner of the net leaving ‘keeper Brown with no chance of a save.
It had taken a wonder strike to breakdown the goalkeeper and the game required another to send Dale into the interval two goals to the good.
On 40 minutes, Brown was on hand once again to pull off yet another block to keep out Kennedy. But there was no stopping Grimes who doubled the advantage two minutes into stoppage time with a brilliant curling effort from distance after latching onto the end of Cavanagh through ball.
There were no changes for Rochdale at half time as Manager John Coleman kept it as was for the start of the second half.
Rochdale started the second 45 minutes buoyed by the display during first half but gifted the visitors a goal as Phil Edwards turned the ball into his own net three minutes after the re-start.
Zebroski’s initial shot, which never looked to be causing much danger was spilled by Lillis, and as Edwards attempted to clear any further threat, he bundled the ball into the Dale goal.
Grant was proving to be a real handful for the Cheltenham defence and they were really struggling to cope with his pace and trickery as he commanded the right hand flank. On 51 minutes he again found the space to get a ball into the danger area, and after being left by Grimes, Tutte fired over the bar from the edge of the area.
Two minutes later and up the other end, Rochdale were left with another heart in mouth moment as a nothing ball inside the ‘D’ was flicked on by Steve Elliot for Alan Bennett who sent the ball wide of target. The Cheltenham skipper should have done better but much to the relief of the Dale defence he could only send it past the upright.
Less than 60 seconds after the Cheltenham chance, Rochdale were again attacking the visitors’ goal and Rhys Bennett’s low drive was deflected into the side netting, while Adebola forced goalkeeper Brown into a point blank save moments later after cutting open the Robins’ defence.
On the hour mark Rochdale had a penalty claim turned down despite McIntyre appearing to have been felled inside the box. The decision was contested by the home side but the referee stood by his decision and waved play-on.
The match continued to be dominated by Rochdale and John Coleman’s side always looked the most likely to add to their tally.
On 65 minutes, Grant came within inches of netting his second of the evening but couldn’t get enough on his diving header to steer Kennedy’s wicked cross into the back of the net.
And with continuing to press, Dale’s third of the night came just two minutes later through Grimes who coolly curled the ball past Brown and into the bottom corner of the net.
Rochdale were certainly in the driving seat and it didn’t take long inflict yet more pain on Cheltenham as Adebola got his name on the score-sheet to make it four after capitalising on a loose ball from Brown who had spilled an initial shot from Grant.
Despite being four goals up, Rochdale certainly didn’t take their foot off the gas and the goalkeeper Brown was forced into yet another finger-tip save to deny Grimes who linked up well on the overlap with Grant to send another on target.
As the match approached full time, Rochdale almost made it five but substitute Ray Putterill, who’s shot looked destined to creep in under the bar, was denied by the ‘keeper who got a hand to it to send it over the bar.
It finished Rochdale 4, Cheltenham Town 1.