Rochdale 1 Sheffield Wednesday 2 match report: Stuart Gray is rewarded with a job after Owls triumph
Caretaker manager is confirmed in a full-time role shortly after victory
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Saturday 25 January 2014
Stuart Gray, a man who has had the word caretaker affixed to his name more often than Harold Pinter, guided Wednesday into the fifth round of the FA Cup, but only after a little too much drama in the second half.
It was enough to see him confirmed as head coach on a permanent basis after the game, but his last match as temporary steward was far from straightforward.
All was going according to script at Spotland, with the visitors leading 2-0 early in the second half. A couple of twists changed the plot-line, however and left Wednesday relieved to have survived.
The first came when the Rochdale captain, Michael Rose, lashed in a spectacular 25-yard volley, just as the rain turned to hail at this notoriously bleak stadium.
If that introduced an element of the unexpected to proceedings, then so too did the sending-off of the Owls’ left-back, Joe Mattock, for a second yellow card following a trip on George Donnelly on the edge of the penalty area.
“Joe’s a bit disappointed,” said Gray. “It was one of those 50/50 decisions that went against him.”
That added to the pressure as Dale tried to emulate the achievement of ten years ago, when they beat Coventry City to reach the fifth round. Hard though the current Rochdale side strove, they never quite looked like matching that.
Wednesday have been in prime form since sacking David Jones and putting Gray in temporary charge – the fifth club to have used him in that capacity – with a recent record that includes a 6-0 win over Leeds United.
But Dale themselves have been growing in confidence of late, rising as high as second in League Two and beating Leeds in the third round of the Cup.
They matched a club with rather more Cup pedigree than them in the first half, limiting Wednesday to a couple of unconvincing efforts on goal while always looking to hit back on the break.
The were kept at bay, however, by a well-drilled offside trap and the goalkeeping of Damian Martinez, currently on-loan at Hillsborough from Arsenal and preferred on the day to the former England international, Chris Kirkland.
His best save was from Scott Hogan’s header, but at the other end Dale sometimes found themselves struggling against the physical threat of the massive Albanian-Austrian, Atdhe Nuhiu.
When Wednesday made their double breakthrough, however, it was two defenders – and Dale’s failure to deal with two set-pieces – that they had to thank.
First Mattock had the moment of the match he will prefer to remember when he got the final touch on a corner flicked on from the left.
Then Oguchi Onyewu (pictured) fired in from six yards after the home side failed to clear one from the right.
The dramatic tension was still to come. “For us to go down to 10 men, suddenly it was an FA Cup tie,” Gray said.
Soon after he was confirmed in his full-time position on a two-and-a-half year deal. Given Wednesday’s excellent current form, that decision was something of a no-brainer.
Rochdale (4-4-2): Lillis; Bennett (Camps, 73), O’Connor, Eastham, Done; Vincenti (Cummins, 66), Allen (Donnelly, 60), Lund, Rose; Henderson, Hogan.
Sheffield Wed (4-4-2): Martinez; Palmer, Loovens, Onyewu, Mattock; Maguire, Lee, Semedo, Maghoma (Coke, 81); Lavery (Helan, 67), Nuhiu (Johnson, 80).
Referee: Simon Hooper.
Man of the match: Maguire (Sheffield Wednesday)
Match rating: 4/10
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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