Rochdale bowed out of the 2012/13 season with a deserved victory over ten man Plymouth Argyle thanks to a debut goal from Joe Bunney.
The second half substitute had been on the pitch less than five minutes when headed Dale ahead late in the game.
As expected, the Green Army brought a large following to Spotland which made for a fantastic atmosphere inside the ground.
Manager Keith Hill made three changes to the eleven who started against Oxford United last weekend. Shane Cansdell-Sherriff returned in the centre of defence alongside Wayne Thomas, while Darcy O’Connor was handed his first team debut at right back. Phil Edwards dropped to the bench to make way for the changes, while Joe Rafferty was missing from the squad. Reece Gray started in Dale’s attacking line in place of Ashley Grimes.
It was a youthful bench with Joel Logan, Jamie Allen, Callum Camps, Scott Tanser and Joe Bunney all included.
It was evident that the visitors were playing for their future in the Football League as the game started in an up tempo manner. Both teams were fighting for every ball, making for an entertaining first half.
On seven minutes, Wayne Thomas received a yellow card for a late challenge out on the right hand flank and Plymouth had several shots on goal blocked following the set-piece. Further opportunities during the half were at premium for the visitors however as Rochdale began to take a foothold on the game and kept the Green Army penned into their own half for large spells.
On 11 minutes Gray had an effort blocked, before the Pilgrims were reduced to ten men three minutes later.
George Donnelly was felled on the edge of the area by Maxime Blanchard and the referee made no hesitation in showing him a straight red card.
Dale looked to make the most of the extra man but were kept out by a resolute Plymouth defence and goalkeeper.
Donnelly forced ‘keeper Jake Cole into a fine reaction save on 20 minutes with a low drive from the edge of the area, and Cole was to thank once more as he denied Gray with his shoulder after the youngster was allowed to send a free header in on goal from six yards.
Dale were creating plenty of opportunities in the final third and the pounding of the Plymouth goal continued. On 24 minutes Captain Peter Cavanagh had a brilliant volley blocked, and he was involved ten minutes later as he fired a shot from distance just over the cross bar.
Michael Rose was later denied by the woodwork as he struck a powerful shot from 35 yard effort in on goal. His shot rattled off the underside of the cross bar before the ball bounded down and back into play.
But despite a dominant and comfortable first half performance from the home side, they were unable to break the deadlock and the teams went into the interval tied at 0-0.
HT: ROCHDALE 0-0 PLYMOUTH ARGYLE
Rochdale started the second half in the same dominant manner in which they had finished the first, but despite some fantastic link up play between Gray and Ian Henderson during the early stages following the re-start, Dale were unable to make the most of it.
As the half continued, Rochdale very much stayed on top and looked extremely comfortable, but clear cut opportunities were limited as the Plymouth defence stood strong to soak up any pressure that came their way.
With Dale unable to find a breakthrough, Rose fired a long range effort in on goal, but he could only watch on as it went over the bar.
Manager Keith Hill had already introduced Scott Tanser onto the field of play, and he was joined by fellow youngsters Joe Bunney and Callum Camps on 75 minutes – George Donnelly and Bobby Grant made way for them respectively.
Hill had likened Bunney to an “uncut diamond” when he joined the club last month, and it didn’t take long to see why as he fired Dale ahead within four minutes of his introduction after linking up with Tanser. He headed down past ‘keeper Cole after getting on the end of a Tanser cross.
ROCHDALE 1-0 PLYMOUTH ARYGLE
The changes were certainly inspired substitutions and shortly after Bunney had given Rochdale the lead, Camps was denied by the ‘keeper.
In the final stages of the match, Bunney sent a glancing header just inches wide of the post.
It finished Rochdale 1, Plymouth Argyle 0.