For Rochdale fans, the summer of 2011 has been a far cry from the norm at Spotland.
After finishing ninth in a highly impressive first season in League One, our ultimate nightmare became reality as manager Keith Hill and his assistant Dave Flitcroft were poached by Barnsley. Hill, who was one of the top ten longest serving managers at the time, had been continually linked to moves away from Spotland in his four and a half year tenure at the club. After a strung out “Will he? Won’t he?” saga, Hill and Flitcroft (or “Hillcroft”, as they were known by the ‘Dale faithful) eventually decided that their next step on the managerial ladder was to be in South Yorkshire.
As is always the case when a manager leaves, the fans were split. Half of the fans wished Hillcroft well, whilst the other half hoped they crashed and burned at Barnsley, referring to them as “Judas”. The question now was, where do we go from here? A number of names were thrown into the hat to follow in the footsteps of Hillcroft. Some were ridiculous (Roberto Di Matteo, Kevin Keegan), and some were downright terrifying (Paul Simpson, Paul Ince).
With names like Messrs Simpson and Di Matteo mentioned, it was to our surprise that we named a bloke from Man City called Steve Eyre as the man to step into Hillcroft’s shoes. The day before he was appointed, Eyre went from not even being mentioned for the job, to 3/1 with some bookies and William Hill even closed betting. It appeared we had our man.
So who is this Steve Eyre character? As well as being every headline writers dream, it seems he’s also a pretty well respected chap in the footballing community. Having retired from football at the age of 19, Eyre went on to spend 20 years coaching at Man City, winning five youth league titles and one youth FA Cup before being approached by Dale chairman Chris Dunphy. Apart from that, there’s not much else to report really.
First impressions are good, I must say. He certainly talks a good game without the cockiness that Keith Hill used to have. I personally was a fan of Hill’s attitude, but it’s always nice to not have one of the most unpopular football managers in the Football League.
He’s also brought in a few good players. Rather predictably, he’s used his City connections to sign Ashley Grimes and Andrew Tutte permanently, the former bagging three goals in his first three games, and also got Liverpool’s Stephen Darby on a season-long loan. Add to this the fact he’s openly invited Joey Barton to train with us, like him or not it’s a decent way to show a bit of ambition I think you’ll agree!
Any hopes Eyre had for an easy start to his managerial career have quickly been dashed. Keith Hill took two of last season’s star performers, Scott Wiseman and Matty Done, to Barnsley with him, whilst star striker Chris O’Grady has been snapped up by Sheffield Wednesday for an undisclosed fee. Not only was he faced with the task of replacing three quality players, but his opening two league games were to be against Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town – arguably two of the favourites for promotion this year!
So here we are, two games (and a Carling Cup win over Chesterfield) into the new season. What do we know now? Still not a lot really. After a 2-0 opening day defeat at Hillsborough and a 2-2 draw at home to Huddersfield, Eyre is still waiting for the honeymoon period to kick in. We’ve learnt a few things along the way though. Firstly, Ashley Grimes knows where the back of the net is, with his latest goal being an 89th minute equaliser against Huddersfield on Saturday.
Secondly, it’s clear that we’re lacking height after the departure of O’Grady. For all his endeavours on Saturday, the man with the best name in the Football League – Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro, stood no chance in the air against Huddersfield’s giant centre halves. Eyre has been quick to address this, and is working round the clock to bring in a tall centre forward and centre half.
Thirdly, it’s clear just how much Steve Eyre was respected at Manchester City for his work with the team’s youth players. Our first few home games have been attended by numerous Man City youngsters, as well as Micah Richards and bad lad ex-loanee Kelvin Etuhu making an appearance in the main stand at the Huddersfield game. Rumours of Carlos Tevez also showing his face are unconfirmed, but I believe Chris Dunphy is currently working every hour God sends on a contract for the unsettled Argentine international.
Ok, so maybe the last bit was a little porkie pie, but I can dream can’t I? On second thoughts, he’s probably not tall enough for us anyway…
Written by Jack Oldham, We Are Going Up’s Rochdale Blogger
Jack tweets at @jacko_dale