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A Dale Fan Abroad - Reflections on Burton Albion 1 Rochdale 2
Written by DaleAddict on Monday, 6th Aug 2018 08:00

Lying in bed awake on Friday night I was struck by ‘the fear’. By around midnight it had consumed me, and all of my optimism for the season ahead was gone.

‘The fear’ dictates that no matter how good your preseason has been, or how spectacular the end of last season was, all of the doubts for the season ahead slowly build up until you eventually convince yourself that you won’t win a game until November. We’ve never even got a point at Burton.

Our first four games are against two recent Championship sides, one frequent playoff contender, and one with a new manager and an injection of cash into his playing budget. We’ve started the past two seasons horribly. The only additions to our starting XI are practically pensioners. The doubts kept piling up, and by the early hours I just about had us picking up our first point of the season at home to Accrington at the end of November courtesy of a dodgy last minute penalty.

My memories of visits to Burton did not exactly help matters. The last time I was at the Pirelli Stadium was in 2013 for a 1-0 defeat thanks to an Ollie Lancashire own goal that former Dale striker Rene Howe had the audacity to try and claim. Peter Cavanagh had been sent off very early in the game and I spent the first 15 minutes telling anybody that would listen (which was nobody) how the referee had completely ruined the game as a spectacle and that, since I don’t get to many games, he should personally refund my entrance fee.

When I got home and saw Cavanagh’s challenge on the highlights I told anybody that would listen (again nobody) that the referee should have issued Cavanagh with an assault charge as well as a red card!

I was at Dale’s first ever game at Burton when my Dad took me to the FA Cup game in 1999. I remember very little about the 0-0 draw, but I vividly recall a number of innocent Dale fans being set upon by some Derby thugs, and my Dad was thankful that he was just about too old and I was just about too young to be targeted. Not happy memories. (I must also have been to Burton for our 1-0 defeat there during the promotion season in 2009, but for the life of me I can remember nothing about it.)

However, by Saturday morning ‘the fear’ was gone and everything was fine again. The positives returned. It’s a good time to play Burton, they’ll still be reeling from the last game of last season, just as we’ll still be on a high. We’ve beaten some good sides in preseason and played well. Play well and get a result today and we’ve got nothing to fear from Peterborough, Fleetwood or Barnsley. We’re due a good start to the season. One of our ‘pensioners’ is already a club legend and played in a promotion winning side last season, while the other scored one of the goals that helped keep Bolton in the Championship.

The only way to support your team before the season starts is by entering it full of optimism. Put ‘the fear’ to rest, at least for a month or so. By the time kick off approached I was sweating, but this had less to do with nerves and more to do with the fact that it was 35 degrees in Salzburg yesterday.

With five minutes to go before kick off I had my laptop hooked up to the television so that I could experience IFollow in all of its glory, a beer in my hand (with a few more in the fridge for celebratory or commiseratory purposes), and I had asked my son not to put his hands in any electrical sockets, pull soil out of the plant pots or try to escape off the balcony, a warning that lasted about 30 seconds. Unfortunately he is not yet old enough to understand the importance of Dale games, just as he is not yet old enough to understand the importance of not playing with electricity.

By half time I was questioning ‘the fear’s’ very existence and laughing in its face. Not only had we played very well, we’d scored two excellent team goals both very tidily taken by Bradden Inman. The first saw M.J. Williams stride out of the defence like he was Franz Beckenbauer and knock a perfect ball in to Aaron Wilbraham whose deft touch was matched by Inman’s finish, and then Burton committed too many men forward and a Wilbraham dummy allowed Ian Henderson to break and weight a beautiful pass which Inman again gratefully accepted.

We also looked a solid outfit, with Jim McNulty and Harrison McGahey doing the dirty work alongside Williams, and David Perkins committing those niggly not-quite-fouls that break up the play and must be incredibly frustrating to play against. I imagine that is exactly why Keith Hill re-signed Perkins and his tenacity and dogged determination resonated through the rest of the team. One can only imagine how beneficial he is in training and for our younger midfield players.

Burton did enough in the second half to show that they are a very strong side and if I were a Burton fan I wouldn’t be too worried about this opening day defeat. This was the perfect time for us to play them. They struggled to adjust in the first half; pushing too hard and leaving themselves too open at the back and we are a good side ourselves when faced with an opposition that wants to attack. During the second half, thankfully, Burton were also a bit rusty in front of goal and in creating truly clear chances from strong positions. I would be very surprised if they don’t start picking up results once they have settled into the demands of League One football.

To win away from home against a good side usually always requires a good performance from your goalkeeper and yesterday was no exception. To me Josh Lillis’ positioning, as much as anything else, stood out, as it allowed him to make what would otherwise have been quite difficult saves to look fairly routine. Even his positioning for Burton’s goal was good, but, although it wasn’t easy, he should have held the ball and prevented Burton from getting back into the game. It is testament to the rest of his performance that his praises are being sung rather than being chastised for the mistake.

Even though it’s only one game in a 46 game season, the importance of holding on to win yesterday cannot be underestimated. One can’t help but think that last season we would have drawn, or even lost, that game, so already it’s a huge advance in terms of game management and maintaining a professional approach right through to the final whistle. It might not have been pretty at times, and there were certainly shortcomings in terms of finding a way to hold the ball for longer to relieve some of the pressure, but the nature of the victory will arguably stand us in better stead than if we had gone on to win by three or four.

By the final whistle I was no longer sat on the edge of my seat, but rather stood in front of the screen hopping from foot to foot and crying out for the game to end. Being a Dale fan isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it! But the supporters that were there yesterday brought the three points home with them, and I had a much more peaceful night’s sleep. Fear? What fear?

Up the Dale.

Jan Harwood

About the Author: Jan Harwood has been a Rochdale fan for all of his 32 years. He followed the team home and away until he moved to Salzburg, Austria in 2009. He has been spreading the good word of Dale internationally ever since. If you want to read more, he writes his own blog about sport and sports literature at www.headinabookeyeonthegame.com.







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