It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Last time I wrote, Dale fans were still getting over the departure of Keith Hill and David Flitcroft, but were quietly optimistic about the upcoming season. After all, we’d just replaced the greatest management team in our history with one of the most highly-respected youth coaches in the country.
Seven months, three managers and just six wins later, we find ourselves 23rd in League One and four points from safety. It’s safe to say Steve Eyre’s tenure didn’t quite pan out as we’d hoped, as he was sacked in December after a dreadful start to the season. Many journalists were quick to jump on the back of Chris Dunphy and the board, slating them for not even giving him until the January transfer window to prove his worth. The truth is, many of these journalists hadn’t been to a Dale game all season and hadn’t seen what the fans had seen. We were sinking without trace, and something needed to be done.
Youth team manager Chris Beech took the reigns on a caretaker basis and was given every opportunity to make the job his own. His loan acquisitions of Daniel Bogdanovic, Brett Ormerod and Peter Kurucz certainly suggested he had the contacts to make a good go of it. Unfortunately, three draws and three defeats (including a 5-1 trouncing by managerless Stevenage) saw Mr Dunphy look elsewhere and after what seemed like weeks of rumours, long-serving Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman took over at Spotland.
I think I speak for most Dale fans when I say that Coleman was a universally popular choice to take the hotseat, as many were calling for his name in the summer. Let’s look at facts. In his thirteen years at Accrington (at the end of which, he was the 3rd longest serving manager in the country behind Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger), he improved the club’s position season upon season without fail. In other words, he never finished a season lower than the previous one. That’s some feat, I’m sure you’ll agree. Add to this the fact he had Accrington in and around the League Two playoffs on arguably the smallest budget in the Football League, and you know we’re in good hands.
Results and performances have picked up too. Four clean sheets and just three goals conceded in his first seven games is a clear sign of how he’s shored up the defence. This is even more impressive when you consider that when Coleman took over, we had conceded 49 goals in 27 games. We were leaking goals and it was a case of when, and how many the opposition would score, instead of “if”. This improvement is in no small part thanks to the signing of Kevin Long on loan from Burnley, who has filled the huge Craig Dawson-shaped hole that our defence has had since the summer.
It’s safe to say however, that us Dale fans are under no illusions. The impressive results that we’ve picked up recently (including a 3-0 thrashing of local rivals Bury in Coleman’s first game in charge, and draws against Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton) are a positive start but we need to face facts. We are still four points from safety, and whilst we aren’t conceding many goals, the truth is that we’re not scoring many either. We also still have a number of tough games coming up including Huddersfield, Sheffield United and MK Dons. Time is running out, there’s no doubt about it.
There are many things we can point the finger at and blame for us being where we are. Should Dunphy have taken a chance on a youth manager with no first team experience? Should Chris Beech have been given six games to prove his worth, when all but maybe two of his first few games were decent enough performances? In reality, I can’t think of many people who were against the appointment of Eyre in the summer, and it was a matter of time telling that he wasn’t up to the job. One thing is for sure; in John Coleman we have a manager who knows the lower leagues like the back of his hand, and more importantly, knows how to win. No matter which division we’re in next year, it promises to be a fun ride.
Having spent so long trying to get out of the cruelly named “Rochdale division”, it’s a sickener to think we could be on our way back after just two years. Nothing is certain though, and stranger things have happened. One positive is that if the worst happens and we do go down, then there’s no doubt we have the right man in charge to lead another promotion push next year. As ever, it’s a case of strapping ourselves in and trying to enjoy the ride.
After the days of champagne football (or perhaps, Pomagne…it is Rochdale after all) under Keith Hill, this season has served as a timely reminder of just how quickly things can change. It’s certainly been a learning curve, and here are a few things we’ve learnt since August:
– Being a good youth team manager, doesn’t automatically make you a good first team manager.
– “Second season syndrome” well and truly exists.
– If Matthew Barnes-Homer can play professional football, so can I.
– You wouldn’t want to meet John Coleman and his assistant Jimmy Bell down a dark alley.
As always – up the Dale!
Written by Jack Oldham, We Are Going Up’s Rochdale Blogger
Jack tweets at @jacko_dale