Rochdale were unable to mark their final away game of the season with a win as they went down 3-0 at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium on Saturday.
Second half goals from Andy Whing, James Constable and Alfie Potter brought an end to Dale’s six game unbeaten run.
As expected, Manager Keith Hill made one change to the eleven who turned out against Port Vale last weekend as Wayne Thomas started in defence ahead of Shane Cansdell-Sherriff who dropped to the bench. Meanwhile, there was a welcome return to the matchday squad for Reece Gray – his first appearance since recovering from the horrific injury which has kept him sidelined since pre-season.
It was a reasonably quiet first half with clear cut chances at a premium for either side, however the hosts had the best opportunity of the half on four minutes.
Goalkeeper Josh Lillis was forced into a fine two handed save deny Deane Smalley who fired an on target volley from close range. The re-bound fell for Alfie Potter on the follow up, but he could only hit it past the upright.
Rochdale looked comfortable and had been playing some fine football out on the left hand side of play with Michael Rose and Ian Henderson working well together to apply the pressure on the U’s defence, however on 18 minutes Dale’s first real opportunity of the half came from the right through Joe Rafferty who picked out George Donnelly with a cross to the back post. The frontman could only send a powerless header into the hands of goalkeeper Max Crocombe.
Three minutes later and Rafferty was involved again, this time a fortuitous ball fell at his feet after Henderson had an effort blocked, and he took a snap shot which was comfortably collected by the ‘keeper.
Shortly after the half hour, some great vision from the visitors’ Smalling saw him pick out Potter who squeezed through the gap between two Dale defenders. But after doing all the hard work, he took a fresh air swing at the ball and Lillis was able to get down and collect.
Michael Rose had a long range effort comfortably saved by Crocombe, before the U’s Liam Davies hit a free-kick from 25 yards well over the bar.
The set-piece was one of the last opportunities of the half and the teams went in level at the break.
HT: OXFORD UNITED 0-0 ROCHDALE
There were no changes for Dale at the interval as Manager Keith Hill stayed as was for the start of the second half.
The start of the second half started similarly to the way the first ended as both teams looked comfortable and it was evident that it would take a piece of quality to break the deadlock as both defences stood strong.
On 52 minutes Rochdale had one of their best opportunities of the game so far after some fine play, but Jason Kennedy could only head wide from close range. Grant had picked out Henderson with a sublime cross field ball, and after controlling it impeccably, he sent it into the U’s box for the No7 who sent it wide of the target.
While Dale were left to rue a missed chance, the home side went on to take the lead just 60 seconds later on 53 minutes through ANDY WHING who opened the scoring with an over-head kick from six yards.
There was an urgency from Rochdale after going behind and they looked the better of the two side with some dominant passages of play.
Five minutes after the U’s took the lead, Donnelly hit an effort past the upright from close range, before Rose struck a left footed volley narrowly wide.
On 63 minutes Manager Keith Hill made a triple substitution with Cansdell-Sherriff, Gray and Joel Logan all being introduced onto the field of play in place of Rafferty, Grimes and Kennedy respectively.
Two minutes after the substitutions, Dale had a penalty shout turned down. Donnelly appeared to be wrestled to the ground inside the area, but the referee as quick to say no.
Shortly afterwards, Rochdale were on the attack once more, and after running every inch of the pitch to make himself available on the edge of the area, Phil Edwards picked out Gray who turned a shot into the side netting.
Despite a spell on top for Dale, Oxford went on to double their advantage with 76 minutes on the clock through a fine goal from substitute JAMES CONSTABLE. He fired the ball from a tight angle across goalkeeper Lillis and into the top corner of the net.
On 80 minutes Gray had an on target effort saved and it rebounded back out for Donnelly who smashed a powerful goal which went of the target, while Dale had a second penalty claim turned down on 88 minutes. Henderson was sandwiched in between two defenders, but again the ref said no.
But despite Rochdale searching for an equaliser, Oxford went on to add a third. Sean Rigg intercepted a Dale short corner and peeled away catching out the visitors' defence who had gone up for the corner. He picked out the onrunning Potter who made no mistake in firing it past Lillis and into the back of the net.
It finished Oxford United 3, Rochdale 0.