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Match Report: Rochdale 1-5 Stevenage (Stevenage Fan's Perspective)

Monday 16th January 2012
There are not many better fixtures to play in a week where you have seen your manager take up a position at league competitors Preston but Stevenage showed that life without Graham Westley can carry on in similar fashion with an emphatic 5-1 victory at second from bottom Rochdale.

The victory put Stevenage back into the play-offs but more importantly showed that they have the ability to contest for a third successive promotion without the man who built the values and work ethic of a side that has gone from non league football to a formidable Football League force.

Mark Roberts took on the responsibility as player manager and immediately showed differences from his former manager by naming an unchanged starting eleven to the team that secured victory at Reading the previous week.

It was a match that the away side dominated. The opening goal came just before the 20 minute mark when Luke Freeman, impressing greatly on his first game since joining permanently, skipped to the byline, escaping some clumsy defending from Rochdale before shooting with his weaker foot just inside the near post.

Peter Kurucz in the Rochdale goal reacted slowly and will have been disappointed not to have done more to prevent the goal but the Stevenage celebrations, with Freeman at the centre, showed just how much this meant for the team and staff to get the first goal.

Despite Stevenage's dominance, the scoreline remained the same at half time. Roberts' debut half time team talk may well put him in contention for a permanent position, as what ensued in the second half was awesome and near relentless with four goals in the opening 20 minutes of the second period.

Barely a minute of the second half had passed when Stevenage doubled their lead. Freeman again caused problems for the Rochdale defence down the left, his cross was taken down by Chris Beardsley and his second touch played in Lawrie Wilson, who made no mistake with his finish, which was fired fiercely past Kurucz.

Rochdale found themselves back in the game just six minutes later when Daniel Bogdanovic's cross from the right wasn't dealt with by the Stevenage back line and the bounce fell to Brett Oremerod in the box. His volley, executed perfectly, gave keeper Chris Day no chance at his near post.

Less than a minute later Stevenage regained their two goal advantage thanks to some route one football and some bad defending. Roberts' defensive clearance ended up as an assist when the Rochdale defensive contingent decided to let Lawrie Wilson pick it up. His pace set him free and he smashed home his second in the same emphatic fashion as he had done his first.

If Rochdale thought their hopes of a result looked bleak with the third goal, they were irreparably damaged minutes later when Joe Widdowson's sloppy and cynical lunge on Chris Beardsley saw him dismissed for a second yellow card.

Down to ten men, Rochdale capitulated further, as with less than 60 minutes gone, Stevenage added their fourth. Freeman claiming his second of the match with a superb strike from outside the box. This time causing problems from the right, he cut inside and curled an unstoppable shot into Rochdale's goal.

Neither Stevenage nor Freeman were finished there; less than ten minutes later it was five when Freeman's cross from the left found Joel Byrom unmarked in the box. The midfielder made no mistake as he casually rolled the ball past Kurucz into the bottom corner.

Thankfully for Rochdale, the score stayed that way and Stevenage were unable to add a sixth despite their pressure. Don Cowan, on for Beardsley, forced an excellent save from  Kurucz and Jon Ashton had a goal disallowed for the aerial aid he received from the Rochdale defender's back.

Stevenage will undoubtably miss Westley but what this victory showed is that the ethos and organisation that have been instilled during his managerial period remain without his presence on the touchline. You do feel from watching this team that Westley's system has become so deeply ingrained in the players and staff that they could carry on with Roberts at the helm. Realistically though, this is not an option and it would apply too much pressure to an experienced defender that is inexperienced managerially.

Saturday's win implies though that there is no impending rush to appoint a new manager. The Stevenage chairman Phil Wallace will need to make sure that the new appointment fits into the system that he, Westley, and the team have built up over the last three years, and this will take time.

Roberts and the Stevenage team appear to be capable in the short term but February brings four significant fixtures, the outcome of which may decide whether Stevenage will be fighting for promotion come May. They face Carlisle, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield and Charlton in the space of three weeks; and they will need managerial experience to guide them through the tough run. Who the new Manager will be is yet to be decided but the successful candidate will need to extinguish the flames of a potentially formidable baptism of fire.
Paul Lamey

Total articles: 8

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