Scoreless and clueless

Last updated : 04 January 2005 By Rob Davies
After a promising festive period, Notts disappointed against a poor Rochdale side that were reduced to 10-men before half time, and played the final 15 minutes with 9.

The fact the visitors managed to hang on is testament both to goalkeeper Matthew Gilks, but also the lack of imagination and creativity shown by the home side.

The Magpies did manage to carve out a few openings - notably the early chance that fell to Glynn Hurst - but were too often found lacking the craft and guile needed to break Rochdale's stern resistence.

Caretaker manager Ian Richardson made just one change from the side that beat Cheltenham 2-0 on New Year's Day. Matty Gill was struck down with a bout of food poisoning, so influential Stefan Oakes returned from a surprise spell on the sidelines to partner Paul Bolland in midfield.

Oakes: Recalled
Richardson again opted to play in a 4-4-2 formation, with David Pipe operating as an orthodox winger on the right-hand side and Rob Ullathorne back in his preferred role at left full-back.

Notts began the game at a frantic pace, playing with confidence and verve that suggested Rochdale could be in for a torrid afternoon.

Just three minutes were on the clock when the home side carved out arguably their best chance of the afternoon.

Top scorer Glynn Hurst - who netted his first goal since early November on Saturday - broke in behind the defence, but, when clean through on goal, smashed his shot straight at Gilks. The finishing was poor, and Hurst's lack of composure more so. You wonder what would have happened if the former Chesterfield frontman had tucked away the golden oppurtunity.

County were playing some positive football, with Pipe frequently running in space down the right-hand side. Pipe himself was twice in behind the defence during the opening ten minutes, but hesitation cost him and both of the chances were wasted.

After such a promising start though, Notts were never able to sustain such pressure and allowed the visitors to come more and more into the game - as is the pattern with most games at Meadow Lane in recent months.

Hurst: Missed chances
Dale top scorer Grant Holt had their first real effort on 24 minutes with a half-volley that was fumbled by Saul Deeney, but cleared by the defence.

One theme of the first half was the over-zealous referee Carl Boyeson, who was as picky and whistle happy as they come. He was, however, correct to book visiting defender Gareth Griffiths for a cynical trip on the rampaging Gavin Gordon.

Oakes hit the resulting free kick straight at the keeper, before Hurst again got behind the visiting rearguard, only to hit his shot straight at Gilks, when a square ball would have left Chris Palmer with a tap-in.

Paul Bolland was the next Notts player to come close, after he skipped past a challenge and struck a well-hit left footed shot that was well held by Gilks.

The turning point for the entire encounter would come a minute before half time though, when Rochdale midfielder Ernie Cooksey was sent off for a two-footed tackle on Pipe.

From my view, the offence only warranted a yellow though the referee was straight on the spot and immediately gave Cooksey his marching orders. In hindsight, the incident actually worked in Dale's favour with Notts creating far more chances against 11 men then they did against 10.

Pipe responded to Cooksey's - who was lucky not to see red in the original encounter between the two sides for an elbow on Kelvin Wilson - by appearing to knee him in the head and can himself feel lucky to not see a card.

Half Time: Notts County 0-0 Rochdale AFC

Richardson had to make an enforced change at half time with Pipe - who had been the Magpies best player in the first period - picking up an ankle injury and being replaced with Tony Scully in a straight swap.

The second half began in a similar theme to the first half, but this time it was Gordon and not Hurst who broke in behind the visiting defence and was through on goal.

However, a lack of pace let the former Cardiff striker down and the covering defender managed to get back in time just as he was about to pull the trigger. Gordon fell under the challenge but cries for a penalty were optimistic, to say the least.

Bolland: Excellent display
That was as good as it got though, as for long periods the ten men of Rochdale easily contained the un-imaginative home side. The defence looked solid, but there was four of them playing against one striker. Would it not have made sense to withdraw one of them and put on strikers Matty Williams or Shaun Harrad?

Scully was causing problems down the right, as Pipe did in the first half, but wasn't given the ball enough for my liking as instead the Notts defenders decided to lump the ball up for Gordon to flick-on.

Rochdale looked semi-dangerous on the break, and only excellent defending from Mike Whitlow prevented Paul Tait from an easy chance to score.

On 75 minutes, Rochdale were reduced to 9-men. Unlike the first sending off though, there can be no doubt about this one - whatever ex Notts assistant Steve Parkin says.

Griffiths saw his second yellow for a carbon copy for his cynical trip on Gordon in the first period, this time the challenge coming on Scully.

The resulting free-kick was just a yard outside the 18-yard box, but Oakes' curling effort was well tipped round the post by the outstanding Gilks.

Richardson then made his second change, bringing on Williams for the slightly ineffective Palmer. It still remained a surprise that it was the former Derby winger, and not a defender, who was removed. Whitlow, Julien Baudet and Kelvin Wilson were pretty much passengers for the last 15 minutes, and surely one could have been sacrificed.

Notts pressured the hosts but the goal failed to come. Gilks made his best save of the afternoon from a long range effort from Oakes, before parrying the rebound away from the onrushing County players. Scully also came close with a cheeky lob that was tipped over.

Incredibly, Rochdale themselves almost snuck a winner when the dangerous Holt turned to defenders before volleying low to Deeney's right hand corner. The ball looked goal-bound but Wilson did well to steer the ball to safety when one false move would have seen a disasterous og.

The last minute, and the subsequent three minutes of injury time, brought more agony for the home support. The excellent Bolland charged into the area before firing in the perfect low cross, which the sliding Hurst agonisingly failed to connect with. As a rather tall spectator commented, it was a real 'Gazza moment'.

It was left for Hurst - who scored a hat-trick in the original fixture - for the final say. The 28-year-old drove high and wide when a bit of composure was needed. It was the story of the game.

Full Time: Notts County 0-0 Rochdale AFC

So, yet another 'turning point' proves to be a false dawn. Notts should be beating sides like Rochdale at home, whether they have 9-men or not. The fact that they played an entire half a man short, and the last 15 two men short, and still came away from Meadow Lane with a point is shameful.

Richardson has pointed to the fact that we've now claimed three consecutive clean sheets, but two were due solely to the goalkeeper and surely if you can't keep a clean sheet at home to 9-men something is wrong. Instead, he should have focussed on the lack of imagination, and common-sense, showed by his side in the second half.

Middlesborough await on Saturday, and no doubt the players will have no trouble raising their game for the Premiership side, just like they did when they faced them last season, along with Chelsea, and in the televised Cup tie with Swindon. The real test will come afterwards, when we make the trip to Southend.

Some consistent improvement is badly needed.

Match ratings and reaction to follow.