Rochdale prove a class above struggling City

Rochdale prove a class above struggling City

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Cillian Dunn was at St. James Park on Saturday to watch Exeter City continue their dismal home form with a loss against Rochdale.

Exeter City’s dismal home form continued against high-flying Rochdale on Saturday, as a first-half goal from Jamie Allen condemned the Grecians to a 1-0 defeat.

City, who have failed to win a match at St. James Park since they defeated local rivals Plymouth Argyle back in October, can have few complaints about the result, with Dale the better side throughout.  Manager Paul Tisdale afterwards conceded that this was this case, admitting: “I don’t think we can play that way and get away with results against teams like Rochdale.”

Rochdale now lie third in the League Two table, just a point off leaders Chesterfield, while City sit fourteenth, and the gulf between the two sides was as evident on the pitch as it is on paper.

Photo: Steven Ayers
Photo: Steven Ayers

It says a lot that the sponsor’s man of the match was keeper Christy Pym, who was making just his third appearance as a professional, with regular No. 1 Artur Krysiak sidelined with injury. The 18-year-old was busy from the first whistle, showing impressive composure to claim several dangerous crosses, as Rochdale looked to assert their authority from the off.

Exeter, too, threatened with some early crosses, but it was Pym who was forced into the first save of the match, denying Allen with his feet following a low cross from Matty Done. The young stopper then had to be alert to claim a long range effort from Matthew Lund, as Rochdale continued to press.

To their credit, City looked to respond, with Liam Sercombe in particular looking dangerous, one lofted cross resulting in a chance for Jimmy Keohane, who could only head wide. For the most part, though, the early exchanges were scrappy, with neither side able to maintain possession for a sustained spell.

Yet Rochdale were still looking the better side, winning a succession of corners that Pym was forced to punch clear, while an acrobatic effort from Scott Hogan sailed narrowly over his crossbar. City threatened rarely, failing to even muster up a shot on target until the half hour mark, when Arron Davies’ tame effort was easily gathered by Dale keeper Josh Lillis.

They did, however, look dangerous from set pieces, with an excellent delivery from Matt Grimes narrowly evading both Danny Coles and John O’Flynn at the back post. This was a warning sign for Dale, as they were to discover moments later when another City free kick caused havoc in the box, the ball falling kindly at the feet of O’Flynn, six yards out.

The Irishman, though, somehow contrived to blast the ball over when it would have been easier to score. It was a miss City were to sorely regret.

For the remainder of the half, Rochdale were dominant, slowly growing more confident in possession while the pace of Hogan allowed them to get behind the City backline time and time again. The opener was delayed for a while by the heroics of Pym, who twice denied Hogan, before brilliantly blocking a driven cross from Ian Henderson.

Unfortunately, he could not deny Rochdale forever; though when their goal finally came, in first half stoppage time, it was through no fault of the young keeper, who had done well to save Henderson’s initial effort, but could do nothing to prevent Allen from firing home the rebound.

Photo: Steven Ayers
Photo: Steven Ayers

Given their sluggish performance, it was of little surprise to see Tisdale ring the changes at half-time, Keohane and Davies making way for Eliot Richards and Tom Nichols. The substitutes were lively, Nichols seeing a powerful strike tipped over by Lillis, and Richards volleying into the side netting from 25 yards, but City were still poor in possession and continued to look vulnerable defensively.

Rochdale, now playing mostly on the counter, almost capitalised on this when Lund played Henderson through on goal, only for Pym to come to the rescue once again, racing off his line to clear the danger ahead of the forward.

Moments later, the Grecians keeper was finally beaten, but Lund’s powerful drive struck the inside of the post to the disbelief of the 147 travelling fans, who by this stage must have harboured fears that their wayward finishing would be punished with by an equaliser.

Any such worries were unfounded; though City piled on the pressure, with Sercombe and substitute David Wheeler firing in countless crosses, the Rochdale defence held firm. Wheeler saw an effort blocked, Matt Oakley blasted over, but ultimately City failed to even trouble Lillis.

“Rochdale were worthy of their result today,” Tisdale admitted, and even the most ardent of Grecians would struggle to disagree. City host Wycombe on Tuesday, and unless their performance is markedly improved, it is difficult to see them ending what is now a 10 match winless run at St. James Park.

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