Wembley heartbreak for Keith Hill’s heroes

Date published: 26 May 2008

Rochdale 2 (McArdle 23, Rundle 77)
Stockport County 3 (Stanton o.g 34, Pilkington 49, Dickinson 77)

Rochdale fell at the final hurdle, losing out on promotion to Stockport in their first ever visit to Wembley.

Stockport fell behind to Rory McArdle’s header but they led 3-1 with twenty minutes to go after an own goal from Nathan Stanton, a header from Anthony Pilkington and Liam Dickinson’s strike.

Dale were given hope by Adam Rundle’s superb volley but they couldn’t find the equaliser.

The fans, many of them tearful, stayed behind to show their appreciation to the players for what has been superb season with so many wonderful memories. Dale will reflect on their play-off heartbreak over the summer and they will come back a stronger side for it, of that there can be little doubt.

This is a team that is definitely on the up.

Keith Hill was forced to change the side that got Rochdale to Wembley. Simon Ramsden moved into the midfield to fill a huge void left by the suspended David Perkins, with Nathan D’Laryea coming into the side at right back. Adam Le Fondre was brought into the starting line up to face his former side at the home of football, Rene Howe had to settle for a place on the bench.

Two free-kicks each and a couple of decent moves was all the two sides had to show for a tense first ten minutes. Adam Rundle and Gary Jones both made early bursts for Rochdale but they came to nothing. The mentality of the teams seemed to be not to lose the game in the opening stages rather than make winning it a priority.

The first shots of the afternoon did not come until the game was twenty minutes old. Both came Stockport’s way but Liam Dickinson and Anthony Pilkington’s deflected long range efforts did little to trouble Tommy Lee in the Dale goal.

The first clear shot came the troublesome Dickinson’s way but again Lee was not tested as the ball flew well wide of target.

Dale’s first shot led to the opening goal. Chris Dagnall’s strike from the edge of the box took a deflection to take it out for the game’s first corner. Rory McArdle met Kallum Higginbotham’s kick to head home emphatically from two yards out. Jim Gannon, Stockport’s boss, was left to ask questions of the three defenders at the near post that didn’t move.

Stockport came within inches of a leveller on half an hour when Anthony Pilkington’s free kick, for a foul by McArdle on Dickinson, flew just past the upright with Lee beaten.

The equaliser came minutes later. County took a quick corner that allowed Tommy Rowe whip in a dangerous goal-bound cross that hit Nathan Stanton’s hand to send Lee the wrong way and draw Stockport level.

Stockport’s football started to impress as they settled after the goal and Keith Hill would have been the happier of the two managers to see the half time whistle blown. The interval brought a chance for Keith Hill to make a change with Ben Muirhead, Dale’s penalty hero of the game against Darlington, coming on in place of Kallum Higginbotham, who had struggled to get the better of his full back.

The change brought no reward as Stockport picked up where they left off and took the lead. Michael Rose’s cross bounced on the six yard box and Anthony Pilkington stooped to head home via the underside of the crossbar.

Dale toiled in the possession stakes with Stockport’s five man midfield dominating against Dale skipper Gary Jones and make-shift midfield man Simon Ramsden.

As Rochdale sought the equaliser the game opened up and Jones was able to find some space and break free of the shackles. On one occasion he marched twenty yards unchallenged and unleashed a shot that travelled inches wide of Conrad Logan’s goal.

With twenty minutes to go the game looked to be up for Dale. Pilkington fed Dickinson from the right inside channel and he finished with aplomb, drilling the ball low and in at the near post to score his fifth goal against Rochdale this season.

Stockport were dominant and twice came close to sealing victory. Michael Rose’s deflected free-kick brought a superb full length stop from Lee and then Rowe drilled just wide after cutting in from the left touchline.

Hope arrived for the Wembley first-timers in the shape of Adam Rundle’s right boot. Dale took a long throw in and the ball fell for Rundle to hit a stunning volley from 16 yards out.

Rochdale desperately sought the equaliser and the game opened up into a thrill a minute encounter with Dale pressing hard and Stockport looking to exploit the gaps left in the Dale backline when they switched to 4-3-3.

Dale were almost constantly in possession but chances were at premium. Youngster Will Buckley, on for D’Laryea, had glory in his eyes with two minutes left but he blazed over from twenty yards and the game was up for Keith Hill’s heroes.
Attendance: 35,715

Rochdale: Lee, D’Laryea (Buckley 73), Kennedy, Stanton, McArdle, Rundle, Jones, Ramsden, Dagnall, Le Fondre (Howe 57), Higginbotham (Muirhead 45).
Subs not used: Holness, Doolan.

Booked: McArdle, Stanton.

Stockport: Logan, Rose, Owen, Dicker, Pilkington, Gleeson (McSweeney 75), Dickinson (McNeil 90), Rowe, McNulty, Turnbull, Smith.
Subs not used: Taylor, Tunnicliffe, Proudlock.

Booked: Logan, McSweeney.

Attempts (on target): Rochdale 6 (2) Stockport 10 (6)
Free kicks: Rochdale 15 Stockport 15
Offside: Rochdale 0 Stockport 7
Corners: Rochdale 3 Stockport 2

Referee: S. Attwell.

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