Liam Jennings from the Dale Supporters Team gives us his take on their 3-1 semi-final win...
SEMI FINALS DAY! That was the tweet the team woke up to on Saturday morning. The notifications from this tweet actually woke me up! I quietly got dressed, trying not to wake the parents. As usual, this didn’t happen at this, but the usual moan I get from my mum was substituted with a “good luck”. Cheers Ange!
I awaited the gaffer’s text to say he was on his way. Now the early alarm I could live with, but after being told on the team’s WhatsApp group on Friday that Rhys was going to wear a suit, I was bitterly disappointed when I got in the back of his car to find him, like the rest of us, kitted out in our newly acquired RAFC training gear!
We arrived at our usual meeting point at 8.00am, however as per, our loved up centre half Joe Walsh arrived 25 minutes late, he’s a joke. Taking into consideration this was probably the biggest game the club has played in a number of years, you would have expected our newly appointed Media Man, Rob Dyson, to remember his camera. He never. Great start to his career with the club…
After the nutritious breakfast from McDonald’s, it was time to hit the road – next stop West Bromwich. The lads from West Brom were kind enough to organise a pitch and referee for the fixture, as the game had to be played at a neutral ground.
Each car set off in unison, but due to a quick stop off required at a sports shop to get some lads so new shin pads, Iain’s car took an early lead. For once, the M6 was quiet, however this didn’t stop the gaffer ignoring his sat-nav and going the wrong way… twice! We arrived an hour before kick-off, giving us plenty of time to get our kit sorted and onto the pitch for our “warm up”. As usual, this consisted of 10 lads taking shots at a keeper, and 4 lads passing a ball in a circle. Ben as usual didn’t warm up, he just walked around holding a ball.
The gaffer called the lads in and gave out the team. The formation was our trusted 3-5-2, with Ben McCarroll © in goal, THEE back three of Jack Leeming, Joe Walsh and Jonny Hall. Liam Jennings sitting in front of the back 3, with Ryan Lockett and James (Jimmy) Hardman in the centre of the park. On the right side was Phil Darlington, and left Thomas (Mose) Davies. This left Kyle Davies and Toby Wright leading the line up front. This left a bench of Iain Murray (honouree linesman for the day), Remi Chatburn, Travis Roberts, Luke “MMM” Walsh, and Suitless Rhys Wolstenholme. The gaffer caused a little bit of confusion when he came out with “I want it like a 3-1-4-1-1” Just leave it at 3-5-2 next time gaffer!
Watford kicked off and we quickly understood why they had made it to the semis. They played the ball around quite well, and the two centre forwards were both very tidy footballers. However, it didn’t take long for Dale to get a foothold in the game. There were spells of the first 20 minutes where we were camped in their half. Their keeper was forced into action a few times from long range efforts from Ryan Lockett and Liam Jennings.
Despite the first half dominance from Dale, Watford took the lead. Dale were attacking a corner, the ball was cleared to one of the Watford forwards. His first touch took the ball away from Liam, gliding past Jennings as if he wasn’t even there, passing to the other forward who ran at Joe Walsh before finding his partner who had continued his run. A very nice finish into the far corner past Ben gave Watford the lead. 1-0 Watford
This was Watford’s only chance on goal in the first half. But fair play, they limited us to only half chances. There was a possible penalty shout when a ball was played into Toby around chest height, the full back who had tucked in seemed to bundle Toby to the ground, but the ref waved play on.
The chance of the half for Dale came to Kyle. He was positioned centrally, just at the edge of the box. Unfortunately, the ball just would fall quick enough for him to get his shot away, so he had to head the ball forward. By this time the defender had put pressure on him and his shot was saved by the keeper.
We went into half time 1-0 down, but spirits were never really down. We had done enough in the first half to realise we were in no way out of the game, and on another day we could have been going in at half time having scored 3 or 4. The gaffer didn’t really need to give one of his famous half time team talks, he went along the lines of “Go out, carry on playing the football you have been playing in the first half, and we will be in the final”. His message was simple, we could only really throw it away by not playing the way we usually do.
The second half started with our usual “WorldNet” – we were unfortunate not to get a corner from this, but such is life. Apart from that, the first 5/10 minutes were very rocky for Dale. McCarroll was forced to pull off a great 1-on-1 save. Personally I think if they had scored that, we would have struggled to get back into the game.
After we had weathered this poor patch, the game fell into the same pattern as the first half. Dale spent about 10 minutes enjoying all the possession without causing any real clear cut chances. Then our chance came.
Toby picked the ball up about 25 yards out from goal. This was his first opportunity to get the ball and go at his marker. He brushed past him with ease, but the keeper pulled off a great save. The ball fell the Kyle who was on the edge of the box, about 4 yards wide of the Dee on the right. He brought the ball down and curled the ball with the outside of his foot into the far corner off the top of the post and into the net. This shot had to be that accurate as the keeper was back up, and there were two defenders on the line. It’s quite weird that he scored with the outside of his foot, as on Wednesday when Daniel Sturridge score in the UEFA Cup Final – Kyle exclaimed that he would NEVER try a shot with the outside of his foot in a game. 1-1.
At this point Rochdale had really got their tails up, and it was only a matter of time until we capitalised on this. And a bit like when waiting for an hour for a bus, the second one wasn’t far behind!
This time Jimmy tried a ball over the top for Toby’s run. The defender managed to get his head to it, but it fell around 30 yards out to Kyle, who hit the ball first time after a bounce and it flew in past the keepers left. I had a great view of this shot as I was stood about 10 yards behind him. Bobby Charlton has been known to say he aims for the middle of the net, and the natural curl of the ball will move it into one of the corners. From where I was stood, it looked like Kyle had tried this, he’s old enough to have played with Sir Bobby to be fair. The ball swung from near enough the centre of the net, to hitting the post and going in. I’d like to say he meant this, but the look on his face when it went in would suggest otherwise! I’m sure I saw Phil pushing his jaw back up into place it fell that far down! 2-1 Dale.
The game then evened itself out. Watford obviously started to throw everything into getting an equaliser. There were two separate occasions where Mose Davies came to the rescue – following his man all the way from the edge of the Watford box, back to make great challenges as the Watford full-back was about to have strikes at goal. This eventually took its toll on Mose, and he was taken off to be replaced by Travis Roberts. The gaffer’s instructions to Trav were simple – continue what Mose had been doing.
Liam Jennings generously offered himself up to be subbed so the gaffer could come on up top. This had absolutely nothing to do with the fact I could hardly walk – I’m just a team player, and I could have easily lasted the last 5/10 minutes!
It was time for Dale to try and play out the last few minutes without conceding a goal, but the task got easier when we caught Watford on the break to get a two goal lead. Watford had changed their formation to leave only 3 at the back. Jimmy intercepted a pass and played Kyle down the left channel, Kyle latched onto the through ball, slowed the play down for Jimmy and Rhys to get into the box. Kyle then drove into the box, beating his man down the line before squaring the ball to Jimmy for a simple tap in. 3-1 Dale.
This made the last few minutes a bit more bearable from the side line, and it really did take the wind out of Watford. The last couple of minutes were played out without any action in front of either goal, and we were emerged from a very tough game as 3-1 winners, booking our spot in the Final against Preston B.
Saturday was a very hard game against a good Watford team, who no doubt will be there or there abouts for many years to come if they keep that squad together. I must say they were a pleasure to play against, and we wish them all the best of luck in future.
Onto the final for Dale. It has been a great journey to get there, with two trips to Scotland, beating West Brom who had previously been unbeaten in 2 ½ years, and then beating Watford on Saturday. We go to the final on 22nd July full of confidence, and if all goes to plan, we will be coming back as British Champions.
The Final is being played at UCLan Sports Arena, on Friday 22nd July, with kick off being at 6.30pm. All support is welcome.
Up The Dale!