Rochdale 2 Darlington 1: Rochdale ready at last for 'giant leap'

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The Independent Football

Footballing glory is not a phrase readily associated with Rochdale, but history beckons for the Lancashire outfit in the Coca-Cola League Two play-off final against Stockport.

The club that has resided in the bottom tier of English football since 1974 - the longest unbroken run in the Football League's basement division - is dreaming of Wembley glory.

Keith Hill's talented young side beat Darlington 5-4 on penalties yesterday to finally give their long-suffering supporters something to cheer about.

They invaded the pitch in their thousands after the game and Hill is determined to see his men finish the job.

Hill, a journeyman defender who spent six years at Spotland as a player and took over as manager 18 months ago, turned 39 yesterday.

He was born in 1969 - the year Rochdale last won promotion.

"We've brought young, hungry players in who wanted to be given an opportunity in the Football League," said Hill.

"It's not been a question on changing their attitudes - we've had to change the mentality of the town and the people around the football club.

"You hear, 'same old Rochdale, falling at the final hurdle, never achieved anything except League Two status'.

"I'm sick of hearing it and it is difficult to change the mindset of some of the supporters, I must admit.

"But they're all believing now. The majority of the crowd probably came for the first time today but hopefully they'll come back for Wembley.

"The only good thing about going to Wembley is winning and that's what we've got to do.

"We know how to win and we've got an appetite for it.

"If we keep knocking on the door then nobody will knock us back and that's the mentality we've all got."

Clarke Keltie's 28th-minute penalty put Darlington 3-1 ahead on aggregate but Rochdale showed tremendous spirit to level the tie through Chris Dagnall and David Perkins, who was shown a red card in extra-time which Hill hopes to have rescinded on appeal.

Former Manchester United trainee Ben Muirhead, who stepped up to convert the winning penalty, said: "We're a young team but we're so full of confidence.

"Now we've got to make sure we go to Wembley and win promotion.

"We are aware of all the history. We've not promotion since 1969 and the gaffer was also born that year, so hopefully we can do it."

Goals: Keltie pen (28) 0-1; Dagnall (43) 1-1; Perkins (78) 2-1.

Rochdale (4-4-2): Lee; Ramsden, Stanton, McArdle, T Kennedy; Higginbotham (Muirhead, 88), Perkins, Jones, Rundle (Doolan, 110); Dagnall, Howe (Le Fondre, h-t). Substitutes not used: Holness, Thompson.

Darlington (4-1-4-1): Stockdale; Wiseman, White, Foster, Purdie; Keltie (Nelthorpe, 88); Joachim, J Kennedy, Ravenhill, Wainwright; Cummins (Ndumbu-Nsungu, 52). Substitutes not used: Kazimierczak (gk), Miller, Abbot.

Referee: R Beeby (Northants).

Booked: Rochdale Howe; Darlington Wainwright, Ravenhill, White.

Sent off: Rochdale Perkins (109).

Man of the match: Perkins.

Attendance: 9870