Boundary Park was just another ground as striker Chris O’Grady continued his journeyman-like trawl through the leagues. O’Grady made little impression at the club as he had done at a handful of others, but Rochdale has been a different story.
Keith Hill has transformed the career of the marauder and he repaid his boss with a brace that gave Rochdale a 2-1 victory away at Oldham.
The first home league defeat under Paul Dickov could not have seemed more surprising prior the enforced winter break. Before New Years’ Day, Oldham had been undefeated up to the 23rd of October, while, in contrast, the Dale had been without a win for an identical period. A loss at Hartlepool for the Latics and Rochdale’s victory against Tranmere in the opening round of fixtures of 2011 saw the situation change.
Perhaps the most significant moment of their encounter came in the first-half as the home side lost Jean-Yves M’Voto through ankle ligament damage. The on-loan Sunderland defender had been a rock for Oldham and his loss would destabilise the backline as the match went on.
The effects of M’Voto’s withdrawal would not be felt until the second period as neither team managed to warm the gloves of both goalkeepers. Dean Brill and Josh Lillis merely had to watch as Dale Stephens and Jason Kennedy put each side’s best opportunities wide and over the bar respectively.
Shortly after the hour mark, Rochdale did get an opportunity on target and took the lead. Reuben Hazell- who is likely to become club captain after Sean Gregan’s departure to Fleetwood Town- looked ill-at-ease after the loss of his central defensive partner and conceded a penalty for a push on Craig Dawson.
Gary Jones was in a rich vein of form in front of goal for the visitors, so it was a surprise when he could only strike the base of the post with his penalty. O’Grady was quickest to react and dispatched a right-footed effort past a prone Brill.
Hazell never recovered and had made another mistake within a quarter of an hour. Once again, O’Grady was the punisher for both Hazell and his former employers as he dispossessed the defender before dispatching his shot into the far corner of the net to give Rochdale daylight.
Oldham had rarely caved under pressure all season long and hope was raised as Scott Wiseman was dismissed for a challenge on Cedric Evina. A straight red card seemed harsh for a mistimed, rather than malicious, tackle, but Rochdale would have to defend the final minutes of the game with a one-man deficit.
They couldn’t hold out and Dean Furman continued a fine goal-scoring season with an unstoppable effort. Neale Trotman- who has extended his loan spell from Preston to the end of the season- nodded down the ball and Furman dispatched a powerful volley past the helpless Lillis.
Oldham could smell blood in the water and Brill had the best opportunity of the dying moments. The goalkeeper could only put his free header over the bar from a corner and the away side held out for an unlikely win.
The visit of Swindon on Saturday will be a tricky game, but Dickov’s men need to get there year underway to ensure the four-point gap to the play-off places does not increase.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.