Rochdale made the short trip to Wigan Sports Club for the early top of the table clash with Horwich Mens 1s. With both teams occupying first & second positions in the league after only two games played, it was all to play for.

Captain Adam Massey only making two changes to the side, Scott Hempsall-Jones stepped into left back & Mohammed Shakir taking his place as the attacking midfielder. With both teams looking to get the result from the fixture, the initial pace from the first push back was electric, Horwich starting the game made the first push for a goal with some quick passing & with the home team looking very comfortable on the ball, they managed to find pockets of space in front of the away teams’ defence. Peter Rogers & David Marlow having to be alert during the open stages kept the forward line quiet & snuffed out majority of the threat with great ease, whilst simultaneously setting Rochdale away on numerous counters.

It was with this ploy Rochdale fashioned many good chances exploiting the slow Horwich back line, in-form Andy Meanock finding room to manoeuvre setting both Dean Close & Bjorne Brauns away down the channels to great effect. With Close seeing plenty of the ball down the right wing, linking up well with the central figure Shakir early chances came for the away side, with a flash across the ‘D’ just evading Kane Morgan. Brauns was also unlucky not to find the back of the net after initial work saw him fly away from his marker & drive finishing with a shot straight at the keeper and then making himself a nuisance to earn a short corner for Rochdale, who came very close to opening the scoring.

With the ball injected from Close and stop from Manny Ahmed, Hempsall-Jones skipped past the first and second runners to create an opening. With a sweet reverse hit, the ball, took a slight deflection shaving the bottom post and going wide. It was a very good opportunity but not the last. With both teams pressing and eager for the first goal, both were denied by the goalkeepers. James Deacy producing the better saves with his reactions on each shot exemplary. His most notably save being the finger tip over the bar from close range. At the other end the home sides goalkeeper using his feet to good effect denying Rochdale. Morgan’s first strike creating a scramble across his line to kick away and also deny a double shot from Brauns. Slowly the game started to become very even but the chances were in free flow and short corners becoming a frequent route to a goal. With Horwich finding closer opportunities and Rochdale’s set plays less convincing, there was no way through for either.

With captain Adam Massey deciding to make an entrance into the game midway through the first half and frequent changes made from the home side, the pace of the match didn’t waver. Ahmed starting to find his range of passing linking well with illustrious Meanock and playing through Morgan down the channels, Rochdale sliced through the static Horwich defence with great efficiency and poise on every occasion going forward. As Rochdale enjoyed each build up to the home teams ‘D’ the finishing was less desirable, Hempsall-Jones finding himself through on goal but finishing wide and a slight deflection from a Close delivery eluding Massey from trapping the ball, Rochdale started to grow impatient and frustrations started to show. Horwich having to battle their way for chances in open play finally managed to score the first goal. After some neat work recycling the ball around the back line, found some space down the right channel. With a bursting run along the baseline, the young Horwich player produced an intelligent ball to a waiting forward at the back post. A well-executed first-time sweep was met with Richard Saggerson on the line, but with the power of the shot bouncing away from his stick, he was helpless to stop the forwards second attempt, now it was 1-0 to the home side.

The goal took the sting out of Rochdale initially, but knowing the task they had and capability of overcoming it, gradually came back into play as Horwich sat deep and feeling content with the lead. Meanock now growing in the game started to find space further forward playing intricate hockey in close quarters to bring in Saggerson and Liam Nutter now in attacking wing back positions, but with Horwich staying deep, any delivery out wide found a cluster of players committed to keeping the score line in their favour closing out the first half.

After a brief talk at half time, the second half started with Rochdale now finding a stubborn Horwich team deploying a defensive midfielder in front of the defence making the task to score even more difficult. Rochdale found initial chances limited with Morgan and Shakir having difficulty finding space and Horwich working tirelessly leaving the Rochdale side with half chances. Rochdale were to find themselves on the back foot shortly after with a quick break resulting in a free hit outside the 25-yard line. It was at this point Rochdale found themselves 2-0 down after Ahmed lost concentration by leaving his marker after a quick one two. With the move in full force, the Horwich forward with time and space drove down the base line and his cross shot squirmed into the net at close range leaving the unfortunate Deacy beaten. As it was still early in the second half Captain Massey started to urge his players forward with Brauns and Hempsall Jones driving forward at each opportunity cultivating in chances for Shakir and Morgan. 

The match started to turn scrappy in the middle as both teams were guilty of giving the ball away with a more direct approach. Marlow, playing like hockey’s version of Fabio Cannavaro stood out in todays performance commanding the defensive line with great tackling and reading of the game. Throughout the contest the spectacular defender read each play Horwich tried to muster and it was ever more present in the second half earning him the Flying Horse man of the match award. On many occasions finding the skill to tackling and carry the ball whilst evade any tackle against him and find Nutter and Saggerson in advancing positions. With Rochdale taking more risks forward, there were opportunities coming thick and fast. Nutter now pressing forward in support found joy against his opposing player pushing him further back whilst picking off any pass directed at him allowing quick breaks forward. With a both sides defences on top chances were very few, Ahmed unable to break away in the ‘D’. Brauns stopped by the protective guard in front of the defence and Massey finding no way through a barrage of defenders for a shot, Rochdale started to look to a set play. With clever build up from Rochdale Shakir, Hempsall-Jones and Close all found feet inside the ‘D’ to win short corners, but all in vain as Rochdale continued to squander golden opportunities to get back into the game. With the game stretched at both ends and Horwich finding chances down the wing, the final ball continued to elude the away side.

Eventually after more persistence the home team finally conceded from what was to be Rochdale’s only goal from a set play so far this season and securing Captain Massey’s first of the season. Set up for a first time strike, Close’s perfect injection was met with a solid stop at the top by Ahmed, with a slight push into the ‘D’ Massey struck a venomous shot toward goal striking a helpless defenders stick & flying high into the net. It was now 2-1 and Rochdale went to a full press for an equalizer with the 70 minutes fast approaching. Bombarding the home team looking for an equaliser during the last moments. Close delivering out wide for Morgan who turned the defender to only shoot wide, Hempsall-Jones delivering aerials trying to find a route down the channels and an excellent long ball out wide by Shakir finding Massey in the ‘D’ resulting in being the closest Rochdale were to finding the equaliser. The match was to end 2-1 and Horwich cementing the result they deservingly worked hard for, but on any other day the result could be much different.

Rochdale next host Lancaster & Morecambe Mens 2s on the 17th October 2020 for a 2pm push back at Oulder Hill hoping to bounce back from defeat to keep the pressure on a Horwich side currently leading the Division 3 north league after victory.

The Flying Horse Man of the Match – Dave Marlow