Rochdale enhanced their reputation as the most inconsistent side in the Football League as they were soundly beaten 4-1 by Gillingham in Saturday’s early kickoff.
Brian Barry-Murphy opted to hand 17-year-old Ethan Brierley his first start in the league, in the absence of Matty Lund and Jimmy Ryan, although this might not have been the best fixture for the youngster to start in, against what is a physical Gillingham side.
After a bright start from Dale saw Stephen Humphrys shoot just wide of Jack Bonham’s goal, the visitors took the lead with their first real attack after just nine minutes.
The first of many many aimless Jim McNulty passes fell to John Akinde, and the striker bustled his way into the box before shooting at goal, where Jay Lynch spilled the ball straight into the path of Robbie McKenzie who was presented with a tap-in to make it 1-0.
The home side had seemingly abandoned their plans to play out from the back, constantly gifting the visitors possession by aimlessly hoofing it, which was never going to work in the absence of Lund, who was suspended, and Jake Beesley, who the club seemingly refuse to give an update on after he picked up a head injury in the win against Plymouth earlier this month.
It was soon 2-0 to Steve Evans’ side, as a long throw into the box was flicked on by Connor Ogilvie, with Dale a little bit too generous with their social distancing, leaving Akinde with all the time in the world to turn and volley past Lynch.
Dale had their first real opening when good work from Humphrys found Alex Newby in the box but his shot was well saved by the legs of Bonham.
Unsurprisingly, the away side were now making the most of their lead and time-wasting at any opportunity, whilst also throwing themselves to the floor and winning free-kicks thanks to the complaints of the ever-delightful Steve Evans.
It was game over before half-time as thanks to another soft free-kick, combined with some more woeful Dale defending, on-loan Celtic man Scott Robertson was allowed time to shoot on the edge of the box, with his shot hitting Ogilvie and deflecting past Lynch to make it 3-0.
As is often the case with Dale, it’s the hope that kills you and after Tuesday’s superb 5-0 win at Wigan Athletic, I was feeling a lot more hopeful than usual before kick-off but this was truly awful stuff from Barry-Murphy’s side.
Half Time: Rochdale 0-3 Gillingham
Despite the tactically baffling first-half from Barry-Murphy, he made no changes at half-time and Dale quickly dashed any chances of an unlikely comeback by conceding a penalty within 90 seconds of the restart.
Unfortunately, it was Brierley who gave it away, as he made a risky challenge inside the area and brought down Akinde, who picked himself up to fire the penalty comfortably past Lynch.
From there, it was a matter of damage limitation for Dale, as Tolaji Bola and Matty Done replaced Kwadwo Baah and Brierley, with Haydon Roberts moving into the centre of midfield, which in retrospect, should have been done from the start.
The away side should have made it 5-0 when they broke away late on, although Alex MacDonald couldn’t hit the target when found in acres of space in the Dale area.
There would be a small cause for celebration amongst Dale fans when Eoghan O’Connell took his frustration out on the ball 35 yards from goal, smashing it past Bonham in the Gills goal to make it 4-1.
90+1' GOAL! Eoghan O'Connell with a superb strike!
— Rochdale AFC (@officiallydale) December 19, 2020
Unfortunately for Dale, it has become a running theme at times this season where opposition sides don’t have to do too much to beat them, as Evans’ side simply put pressure on our defence and controlled the midfield, and scored four goals as a result.
Hopefully, for Dale, the likes of Beesley, Ryan and Lund will be back for their trip to Blackpool on Boxing Day, as it was clear that they were hugely missed today.
Full Time: Rochdale 1-4 Gillingham
Man of the Match: John Akinde