Rochdale secured a comfortable 4-1 victory over Gillingham at the Crown Oil Arena, as they got back to winning ways in fine style.
Nathaniel Mendez-Laing opened the scoring with a thunderous effort inside ten minutes, but the visitors equalised seven minutes later through Josh Parker.
Ian Henderson restored Dale’s advantage with a superbly taken lob just after the half hour mark, and Callum Camps doubled the lead shortly after the break, round off a fine counter attacking move.
Zesh Rehman saw red for the visitors just before the hour mark after two bookable offences, and Peter Vincenti rounded off the victory in the final minute of the 90 to seal a convincing three points.
There were three changes from the midweek defeat at Scunthorpe United. Conrad Logan replaced Ben Wilson in goal, Matthew Lund returned from a two match suspension, and Joe Bunney made his first appearance since the beginning of January after an injury lay-off.
Callum Camps sent the first effort of the game over the crossbar with his left foot, but Dale’s strong start was rewarded inside ten minutes when they opened the scoring.
Mendez-Laing picked up the ball in the right channel, shifted it onto his left foot and arrowed an unstoppable effort into the far top corner. The players celebrated by holding up a Thompson 15 shirt in front of the
Dale dugout, showing their support to their teammate in his battle with cancer.
Dale came close to doubling the lead five minutes later, when Henderson was denied by the legs of Stuart Nelson after a ricochet fell into his path, before he turned a Mendez-Laing cross over the bar at the near post.
The lead would only last a further two minutes, as Gillingham equalised against the run of play through Parker. Mark Byrne’s cross from the left was headed against the near post by Parker, but the rebound fell kindly to him and he smashed the ball into the roof of the net.
Logan, starting his first game since the end of January, produced a strong right hand to deny Cody McDonald from putting the Gills ahead, after the striker had cut in from byline on the left side.
Hill’s side quickly regained control of the match and were inches away from retaking the lead just before the half hour mark. Bunney’s superb cross from the left was met with a glancing header from Henderson, but the ball came back off the inside of the far post before being cleared.
Henderson again came close just a minute later, this time denied by Nelson. He controlled Lund’s pass on the turn and fired across goal, only to be denied by a fingertip save from the Gillingham stopper.
The Dale skipper’s persistence paid off in the 33rd minute when he put his side back in front with a superbly taken goal. Mendez-Laing fed a ball behind the visiting defence for Henderson to run on to, and with
Nelson in no man’s land, Dale’s top scorer lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and into far corner from 25 yards.
Only the post denied Dale a third before the break, when Mendez-Laing bamboozled the Gillingham defence as he dribbled into the area, only to see his near post effort cannon back off the near post.
Dale’s third didn’t take much longer to come though, as Camps finished off a fine counter attack inside the opening four minutes of the second half.
A Gillingham corner was cleared to Henderson, who released Mendez-Laing down the left wing. His searing pace took him away from the defence and into the area, where he squared to Camps who had a simple tap-in to double Dale’s advantage.
McDonald again tested Logan as he looked to reduce his side’s deficit. He found space on the right side of the area and fired at goal, but Logan stayed big and blocked the effort with his chest.
Mendez-Laing, already with a goal and two assists to his name, was only denied a second goal by a flying save from Nelson. He picked up a pass from Lund and cut back on to his right foot on the edge of the area, before curling an effort to the far post which was tipped wide.
The visitors were reduced to ten men just before the hour mark, when Rehman was shown a second yellow card after a late challenge on Mendez-Laing.
Hill made a double substitution with 15 minutes remaining, Ollie Rathbone and Vincenti replacing Lund and Calvin Andrew.
Rathbone’s first action was to send a left foot shot well wide from the edge of the area, after which Man of the Match Mendez-Laing was replaced by Donal McDermott to a standing ovation.
Mitch Dickenson and Vincenti both sent headers well wide for their sides, but in the final minute of normal time Vincenti made the three points a certainty with Dale’s fourth.
He raced onto a ball down the right side and shrugged off the attentions of his marker, before rounding Nelson and slotting home past a defender on the line to round off a comfortable victory which sees Dale back to winning ways.