Manager Keith Hill was in a reflective mood on Monday morning as he spoke to www.rochdaleafc.co.uk ahead of Dale’s midweek fixture against Doncaster Rovers…
“After Saturday’s game, Richard Partington [Rochdale Observer reporter] alluded to a lot of things that I hadn’t really thought about,” said Hill.
“When I went home and digested what he had said and looked back at this time last season and the players that we had available in comparison to what we’ve got now, I hadn’t realised the amount of transition and the turnover of players was as big as it is.
“That’s when you consider the impact that players like Joe Thompson, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Matty Lund, Jamie Allen, Callum Camps, Keith Keane, Ian Henderson and Calvin Andrew were all making at this time last season.
“The players that I’ve mentioned who are still at the football club have got a lot of games under their belt and would have been playing against Blackburn at the weekend. They got great knowledge and experience in the game, and if we look back at Bolton game that we won last season, those players were all available for that game.
“I’ve got a good group of players, but at this moment in time, we’re not really performing as a team, and that’s the next stage where we have to be better.”
He continued: “I’m expecting more from the players. They are a good group of players, but we haven’t seen the best of them yet.
“If we’re going to beat Blackburn or have a chance of beating them, then we have to turn up with our best game. I think they’re the best League One side that we’ve played against, and that goes back to when we got promoted seven years ago. They’re definitely up there with the likes of Brighton and Southampton, and with Sheffield United of last season and Wigan Athletic from the season before that.
“I know that we beat Southampton twice and we were unbeaten against Brighton, but we’re a million miles away from those teams. We’re trying to keep on re-creating another team year in, year out, but there has been a lot of turnover of players, more than I thought.
“I was too concentrated on the football and not considering the transition period for players who are coming in cold, and that’s what we’ve got at this moment in time when you consider the injuries that we’ve had and the key players we’ve had missing from Saturday’s game.
“But that’s my job as a manager - to try and come up with a permutation with the players that I have available to try and win games and avoid losing games. Unfortunately Blackburn were better than us and I still believe after the weekend’s assessment that they’ll be top of the tree come the end of the season.”
With the injury list still substantial, Hill says the players who returned to the squad on Saturday – Joe Bunney, Josh Lillis and Oliver Rathbone – will have to catch up to speed quickly.
“It’s not just about a return to the training pitch, it’s about getting up to speed quickly. At the weekend, we had players who were catching up to speed during game time, and unfortunately they’re a couple of beats back from where they should be. But hopefully the weekend will have stood them in good stead, and now we start making sure that these players retain their fitness so they don’t look back.
“They missed a lot time but we need them and I have to play them to get them fit because we don’t have any reserve team fixtures. The players are going to play and they’re going to have to catch up to speed very quickly.”
Doncaster Rovers, who were promoted to League One at the end of last season, are the visitors on Tuesday night, and Hill is expecting another tough test.
“They’re a big club - they were a Championship side just four seasons ago.
“You knew they’d bounce back from relegation with Fergie [Darren Ferguson] at the helm and the calibre of players that they’ve got. They’re a good side – we watched their game against Northampton and we kept a keen eye on what they’ve been doing previously. They played really well in patches against Northampton at the weekend and they probably should have got something from the game.”