Off the back another big cup trip to Premier League opposition, Rochdale prepare to do battle with Wycombe for the second time this season. Since our 3-0 win at Spotland in September, neither side has really moved in the league – we’ve not left the top two and Dale have hovered just about far enough above the drop zone to feel safe. Things, er, could be better for both of us, though. Nathan Butterworth tells us more about his team’s campaign between then and now.
(Oh, the colours? That’s because this is the ‘Anything but blue’ fixture – a great initiative in support of a vital cause in Chiltern Samaritans – which will see us in our away kit. And it just so happens that Rochdale’s equivalent is garishly bright pink. Sorry about the yellow text!)
Just over halfway through, what have you made of Dale’s season up to now? Have you been disappointed compared to pre-season expectations and how do you think things will pan out from here on in?
We’ve been good against the teams around us but poor against everybody else. I don’t think we have had our best 11 fully fit for more than one game at a time. I wasn’t expecting much – we trimmed the squad, which is always dangerous. I just wanted to be safe again but a bit earlier than we have been recently. I think we will be fairly safe now; we just need to carry on beating the teams around us like we have done this season and hopefully move up a couple of places.
Who have been your players of the season so far and why? And how pleasing is it to see young players like Luke Matheson coming through and doing well?
It feels weird putting defenders as we have conceded a lot of goals, but for me, [centre-back] Eoghan O’Connell and [Sheffield United loanee] Rhys Norrington-Davies (when at left-back) have been my two picks for player of the season. It’s scary to think how many we would have conceded without them. O’Connell seems to be the only player that wins anything in our box and Norrington-Davies is just relentless up and down the wing.
We will always give young players a chance. It’s how we have to be – develop them enough to sell and keep the club going. Matheson looks a special talent, though. I like the look of Kwadwo Baah as well; I think he will be one to watch over the next few years.
We’re well into the January window now; are you expecting any business and what are the main priorities?
I am not expecting much, to be fair. I hope [veteran defender] Paul McShane signs a deal until the end of the season. Hopefully a bit of pace in attacking areas too, but I won’t hold my breath – we will be feeding off the leftovers in the last week as usual.
Last time we met, your emphasis on a short passing style was clear to see, but you did try to mix it up with balls down the line to target men Aaron Wilbraham and Calvin Andrew. Has Brian Barry-Murphy adapted his approach any more as the season has gone on?
Not really. We still always try playing out from the back. Against the better teams who press from the front, we struggle. We have got better at playing it long recently and trying to hit Wilbraham with Ian Henderson and Baah running off him, but it will always be passing out from the back first as that is the way the manager wants to play.
Finally, how do you see this game going and what’s your score prediction?
I don’t really like giving score predictions until I see our team, because we don’t hear anything about injuries that have happened from the last game or in training until the teams are announced. You seem to be struggling at the minute but will be hoping this game will be the one to get your confidence back, but I will go for 2-2.
Good luck for the season; I do hope you go up as it’s a good underdog story. Hopefully automatic but any way would be massive for you as a club.