Not for the first time this season, manager Danny Wilson was left to lament poor defending that contributed to more points lost. Rochdale, with only one win since the start of October and six defeats in their last seven, battled hard throughout and gained a deserved draw in a topsy-turvy game.
It could have been so different for Town after a high-tempo start to the game that saw Michael Timlin score after less than forty seconds. Making up for his miss last time out, Timlin reacted quickest to poke home when ‘Dale keeper Josh Lillis could only parry Matt Ritchie’s 20-yard strike.
Wilson had suggested pre-match that an early goal might test Rochdale’s confidence, and Sean Morrison should have left them reeling after only two minutes; his free header from eight yards narrowly clearing the crossbar.
However, Town have tended to perform better when coming from behind this term, seemingly switching off when going ahead. Both scenarios were in evidence in this game, firstly when Swindon allowed their hosts to equalise from the penalty spot.
Despite vociferous protestations from the visitors, it was hard to argue with the referee and his assistant after a drilled cross struck Lecsinel Jean-Francois’s raised left arm. Skipper Gary Jones made no mistake.
From that point until some time after the break the match drifted along, somewhere between stalemate and mediocrity, until the home side fashioned a lead courtesy of Scunthorpe loanee Bobby Grant. He smartly controlled a chipped pass and turned, leaving the unfortunate Jean-Francois on the floor in his wake as he tucked the ball beyond Phil Smith’s despairing dive.
Grant’s goal provided the jolt that got Wilson’s men back on track and they suddenly rediscovered the impetus to play football. The pressure began to mount on the Rochdale defence and both Charlie Austin and David Ball could have converted chances.
The strain finally told for Dale after 78 minutes. After a flurry of shots were blocked at close range on the edge of the penalty area, Austin showed a cool head and quick feet to make space and power the ball home off the underside of the crossbar.
And, following their very next attack only minutes later, Michael Rose perfectly executed a left-footed free kick low into the far corner past a stationary Lillis; such an effort is rapidly becoming his trademark.
Yet the Reds were to rue the return of the naivety at the back that has blighted their season so far. Once again Wilson’s men demonstrated how they could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, only to throw away two points at the death, Gary Jones squaring the game again and grabbing his second goal by getting ahead of the Robins’ defence to meet Anthony Elding’s deflected cross.
A down-hearted David Prutton echoed his manager’s sentiments when he said that, at 3-2 up with only eight minutes to go ‘you have to think we’d hold on’. But as the travelling Swindon faithful will know, 31 goals conceded in 17 league games tells its own story.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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