Town out of trophy
By David Mitchell
It took a penalty shoot-out, won by Rochdale, to finally separate the League Two sides after two survivors of Blue Square North days had pulled Micky Mellon’s side back into this Johnstone’s Paints First Round match.
Jamie Milligan and Jamie McGuire combined twice to pull back a two-goal deficit and take an entertaining cup tie straight to penalties. Ultimately, the comeback was in vain. Earlier, a penalty from Bobby Grant and a stunning shot from Ray Putterill had given Dale the upper hand before Town fought back.
Mellon started with six players who had featured in Saturday’s win against Aldershot. League Two’s tightest defence was much-changed. Rob Atkinson and Alan Goodall, both former Dale players, returned for their first competitive action of the season and centre-back Ashley Eastham, on loan from Blackpool, made his debut.
Town faced two of their former players, striker George Donnelly and midfielder, Ian Craney, with a third, Peter Cavanagh, missing the match through injury.
Goodall was prominent in attack in the early stages, making two strong runs across half way. The second allowed Andy Mangan space to send in a low cross from the left which Steven Gillespie failed to exploit. In the sixth minute, Donnelly showed his strength and pace to run at the heart of the Town defence but his route to goal was blocked by Scott Davies. An open game developed on a still night Rochdale evening. Both sides pressurised their opposite defence and Town had a good chance to take the lead when Gillespie found Ball in the 13th
minute. Ben Smith deflected the former Peterborough striker’s shot wide for a corner. Gillespie was anxious to make a mark on his first start of the season, showing pace on and off the ball and sending a right foot shot narrowly wide on the quarter hour.
Dale came back in the 18th
minute when Andrew Tutte ran on to a pass from Donnelly before stretching Davies with a right foot shot which skimmed past the far post. Five minutes later there was more penalty area drama for Town when keeper Davies was adjudged to have brought down Ray Putterill as the midfielder jinked into the box. Davies was booked and protested vigorously to the nearest touch judge. Unfortunately for Town, he could not repeat his heroics from Saturday and Bobby Grant struck a sweet spot kick to his left to give Rochdale the lead.
Town immediately exerted pressure and gave Dale’s defence some anxious moments up to the half hour. Alex Marrow headed narrowly over Smith’s crossbar from a Goodall corner and the goalkeeper was kept busy. Putterill almost turned villain two minutes before the break as Town’s appeals for handball were turned down by referee Bond. Despite going in a goal down, Town had looked the better side throughout the half. They dominated possession and Smith was by far the busier keeper.
Rochdale pinned Town back in their own half after the break and Mellon looked to Milligan’s creative spark in the 56th
minute, the midfielder replacing Marrow. Before the former Town skipper had chance to touch the ball, Rochdale went further ahead. Putterill cut in from the left before striking a thirty yard right foot shot which bent past Davies at the far post in the 58th
minute. Milligan was soon to play his part. His corner from the right picked out McGuire at the near post and the Town skipper put his side back in the game with a firm header. He collided with Smith in the process, the keeper coming off worse and needing treatment before play resumed.
Rochdale could have gone clear again in the 69th
minute but for a stunning save from Davies which denied Rhys Bennett. It appeared even more crucial three minutes later when the Milligan/McGuire partnership delivered again. A free kick from the left side was met by McGuire on the back post and Town were level. Milligan nearly delivered the goods himself in the 76th
minute as he swung another free kick across Smith’s goal and narrowly wide. Rochdale were causing problems for themselves by infringing regularly in dangerous positions and the two stalwarts from Blue Square North days nearly secured an unlikely hat trick as McGuire reached for yet another Milligan delivery.
Rochdale recovered their composure and looked threatening again. Davies saved his side with a save from close range and Eastham made a crucial diving lunge to deny Putterill a shot on target. Donnelly broke clear in added time but dragged his shot wide. Milligan and Barry Nicholson scored from the spot in the penalty decider but it wasn’t enough.
Town: Davies, Beeley, Eastham, Atkinson, Goodall, Nicholson, McGuire, Marrow (Milligan 56), Ball, Gillespie (Titchiner 62), Mangan