Behind Enemy Lines: Little pressure on Hill as Rochdale continue to punch above their weight

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Rochdale fan Col Cavanah gives us the lowdown on Saturday’s opponents, who continue to punch above their weight under Keith Hill.

You started with a defeat at Portsmouth having played the majority of the game with ten men but bounced back in the week with a win at League Two favourites Mansfield in the cup. What are your aims for the season? 

Our aim for the season is as it always will be at this level and that is to stay up. Now to be fair, we’d all expect that to happen given the management, stability and talent of the first team, but we are conscious that are place in the footballing food chain is probably in the bottom third of League Two. That helps to keep feet on the ground.

I think League One is significantly tougher this season. There’s a lot of clubs who have strengthened on last season and it’s very difficult for a club like ours to compete financially without putting the future of the club at risk. I reckon we’ll finish about eleventh, flirting with the play offs, but ultimately missing out.

How far can Keith Hill realistically take the club? He has been linked with several jobs over the years but does seem at home at Spotland and always does well with a relatively small budget?

Keith Hill works at Spotland because the entire footballing side of things comes down to him, from the first team down to the U9’s in the school of excellence.  I don’t think there’s another club in the country that would allow him to just get on and get things done. There’s so little pressure on him, apart from that which he puts on himself and even if we have a nightmare of a season, and we get relegated, he’ll still be here next season.

The last couple of years have seen us get very close to the Play Offs, so in terms of making that extra step, it’s not a million miles off and as we know Play Offs are a lottery (and a million other clichés). Could we find three teams in the Championship to finish above to stay up? Possibly.

You could argue that we’ve still not fully benefitted from Hilly’s management so far. The youth policy is reaching the stage now where we’ve got half a dozen members of the first team have been given their professional debut by him. This will be the season where the likes of Callum Camps and Jamie Allen go from being great young players to simply great players. The financial stability at the club now ensures that any player sales are when it suits us, and with sell on clauses all over the place and Keith Hill recently signing a five year deal, there’s a lot more to come.

You paid a fairly sizable transfer fee by your own standards for Jordan Williams from Barrow. Is this the kind of investment Hill requires to take the club to the next level and convince him to stick around?

The transfer fee is certainly more than what we usually pay out but when you consider wages, it’s not that big a deal. We could have signed a similar player released from a League One side, and paid out more money in total by the end of the contract. It is important to Hill that we do keep pushing the club to the next level – the next step is securing training facilities that will allow us to make our Academy Category 2.

What sort of game can we expect from Rochdale? You got in behind our defence on the wings last year and tore us to bits in a 3-2 win. Do you think Keith Hill may try the same approach this time around?

You’ll find a very high pressing game from us and the movement from some of our players is on a different level. We know we’ve got weaknesses, so there’s no berty big bollocks reckoning that we’re gonna steamroller everyone in this division, but some teams will not be able to cope with the movement from Henderson, Done and Rathbone. Your players will certainly know that they’ve been in a game. The defence will be dragged in all directions and we’ll create some pretty big gaps in your defence.

You lost Mendez Laing in the summer. How big of a blow was that?

Mendez Laing was a great player for us, but in the two seasons he was with us, he was nothing more than luke warm up until about the end of January, then turned into our most important player for the remainder of the season. When we were at our peak last season, he wasn’t in the side. We’ve brought Matty Done back from Sheffield United for his third spell with us, and there’s nobody gets the best out of him like Keith Hill does.

Ex Iron Niall Canavan is still with you. Iron fans don’t look back particularly fondly on his stay at Glanford Park. How is he getting on and is he likely to play?

When he first arrived, he was exactly what we’d be missing with a bit of grit and determination at the back. Unfortunately, there’s not been a great deal more than that, and he’s second choice for a position that is probably our weakest area. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move on before the end of the month.

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Which other players should we look out for on Saturday?

We’ve got yet another young lad called Ollie Rathbone. Your fans might remember his Dad Mick Rathbone from his playing career. We picked up Ollie from Man United twelve months ago and at first he looked around six stone wet through. He was a revelation when he broke into the first team last season and he seems to have come back looking much stronger this season.

Have you got any weak links the Iron may be able to exploit?

We’re a bit guilty of overplaying it at times, especially at the back. Despite playing well, I was having kittens at Mansfield on Tuesday as we knocked the ball about like we were playing on a perfect 4g pitch despite the Armageddon style conditions we were playing in.

Which Scunthorpe player would you love to see in a Rochdale shirt?

He’s not the most fondly remembered player from his time with us, but I’d quite like to have Rory McArdle back. We miss that sort of physical leader at the back and his attacking threat from set pieces. I bet we’ve not had a centre half to score more than a couple of goals in a season since Craig Dawson was firing them in upon request several years ago.

Can you give us a score prediction?

If we can get the first goal, I’d expect us to win by a couple of goals. Possibly 3-1. There was a stat last season from the bookies that betting on us to win by two clear goals at home was the most consistent bet in football.

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Written by Matt Blanchard

Part of the team since 2007, before becoming editor in 2013. Undertaken the role of match summariser during Scunthorpe United live match commentaries for BBC Radio Humberside. Seasonal contributor to football titles FourFourTwo and When Saturday Comes and a finalist at the Football Blogging Awards in 2014.

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