Rochdale 0, York City 0
DON’T Look Back In Anger was inevitably included in Rochdale’s rousing 20th anniversary Oasis Day celebrations for the visit of York City.
And Noel Gallagher’s pre-match sentiments could quite easily have been echoed in both dressing rooms prior to kick off, given each side’s determination to play out 90 minutes with no regrets.
For a City team, already deprived of the services of Josh Carson and Wes Fletcher for the rest of the season, the loss for this game of Ben Davies – the only recognised left back on the Bootham Crescent books – will have led many to question whether a trip to Sky Bet League Two’s table-toppers would signal the start of a slide away from the division’s play-off positions.
But Tom Allan’s surprise selection in place of Davies, following a run of five months without a first-team appearance, proved every member of the Minstermen’s squad are all part of Nigel Worthington’s masterplan.
Another clean sheet also edged his team closer to setting a record that could live forever in the club’s record books.
Seven successive shut-outs have left on-loan keeper Nick Pope and his back four just one short of City’s longest-ever sequence – set in 1985.
Having kept the division’s leading scorers at bay, Worthington’s men certainly passed the stiffest examination of their defensive credentials at Spotland on Saturday.
Pope’s handling and judgement off his line was again immaculate and he also made a couple of crucial saves as the hosts threatened in the final quarter.
But, despite the game resembling an attack v defence training drill for long periods – other than a 15-minute spell early in the second half when City matched Dale’s possession levels – Pope faced few other shots.
That was largely testament, once more, to the anticipation and positional sense of talismanic centre-backs Keith Lowe and John McCombe, who wasted no time clearing their lines, lofting the ball high in the sky, into touch or down field.
Incredibly, almost 19 hours of football have passed since the Minstermen were last breached in open play and, until the second-half introduction of Rochdale top-scorer Scott Hogan, the home side’s opportunities were largely limited to set-piece situations.
The majority of those were conceded down City’s left during a first half in which teenager Allen made a tentative return to the fold.
Home keeper Josh Lillis, meanwhile, did not make a single save in 90 minutes with the visitors only mustering two off-target goal attempts all afternoon.
Ryan Brobbel dragged a 25-yard effort wide of Lillis’ near post on 12 minutes either side of Oliver Lancashire headers that cleared the City crossbar following Ian Henderson free kicks.
Winger Henderson also lifted an edge-of-the-box effort too high and provided a corner that saw Peter Vincenti miss the target with another header.
It took 43 minutes for the game’s first save with Pope beating away a curling Matt Done free kick.
Aside from Brobbel’s shot, Ryan Bowman falling down under a home challenge in the penalty box was City supporters’ only other real cause for first-half excitement but referee Kevin Wright probably rightly waved play on.
After the break, League Two Player of the Month Jamie Allen’s rising drive was caught by Pope early on but, little by little, City started to make their presence felt.
Other than a glancing Bowman header that bounced almost half a world away from Lillis’ goal, however, Worthington’s men failed to threaten the home net and Hogan’s introduction from the bench, after a month on the sidelines due to injury, reinvigorated the league leaders.
On 73 minutes, Pope dived low to his right to keep out Matthew Lund’s 15-yard drive and then recovered in time to grasp the loose ball as Graham Cummins waited to pounce.
Next, the on-loan Charlton net-minder made a flying dive in the opposite direction to push out Hogan’s curling shot.
Hogan also saw a far-post header clip the outside of Pope’s left-hand upright, although the 19-goal marksman was subsequently flagged offside.
Former Norwich and Colchester forward Henderson went on to bend an 88th-minute chance wide as City held out for a ninth goal-less draw of the season.
While some might say the Minstermen currently lack the firepower to sustain their play-off push, having looked like the team were going nowhere for long spells this season, most fans are just happy to roll with it now, see their side soldier on and, hopefully, keep the dream alive until Scunthorpe on May 3.
As for the wily Worthington, ask him now if his side can stay in the top seven and he is likely to answer “definitely maybe”.
Nick Pope: made saves at crucial times and dominated his penalty box with usual assurance. 8
Lanre Oyebanjo: rarely joined in attacks but worked hard to keep tabs on the lively Henderson. 7
Keith Lowe: STAR MAN – put one foot wrong with a trip but otherwise just about flawless. 9
John McCombe: cleared his lines without hesitation and never looked troubled by the home side. 8
Tom Allan: nervy start but grew in belief after break and responded to playing in front of City’s fans. 7
Ryan Brobbel: provided only real goal threat, willing to run at the opposition when given the ball. 7
Russell Penn: dispossessed in dangerous positions on occasions but battled away until the end. 7
Adam Reed: largely limited to defensive duties as he scrapped for the team and rarely seen in final third. 7
Will Hayhurst: tracked back with discipline and determination but distribution let him down on occasions. 7
Ryan Bowman: held the ball up when needed, but did not really stretch Dale’s back four with movement. 7
Michael Coulson: did not make an attacking impression but harried and hassled to defend from front. 7
Subs: Calvin Andrew 7 – competitive (for Hayhurst, 69), Lewis Montrose (for Reed, 84), Ryan Jarvis (for Bowman, 84). Not used: Tom Platt, David McGurk, Michael Ingham, Sander Puri.
Josh Lillis, Joe Rafferty, Oliver Lancashire, Rhys Bennett, Matt Done, Peter Vincenti (Graham Cummins, 71), Peter Cavanagh, Matt Lund, Jamie Allen, Ian Henderson, Joe Bunney (Scott Hogan, 63). Subs not used: Robbie Thomson, Ashley Eastham, Jason Kennedy, George Donnelly, Michael Rose.
Star man: Bennett – proved a muscular and tough adversary.
Referee: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire).
Rating: 8/10 – kept on top of most things.
Booked: Done 40, Rafferty 58, Lowe 81.
Shots on target: Rochdale 5, City 0 Shots off target: Rochdale 5, City 2.
Corners: Rochdale 10, City 2.
Fouls conceded: Rochdale 9, City 7.
Offsides: Rochdale 1, City 0.
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