Rochdale 2 Stockport County 3: Dickinson strike sends Stockport into raptures

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The Independent Football

On this last day of the domestic English football season, Jim Gannon was able to claim a first of his own. In all four previous visits to Wembley in his decade as a Stockport player he had suffered defeat. Now, on this first appearance as their manager, the Irishman could claim his first win.

Two of those losses came in the play-offs, so this League Two play-off victory went a long way to putting some balm on those wounds, as he said: "The Wembley experience is nothing without winning." It also meant a return to the third tier of English football after three seasons for County who nearly dropped out of the league two years ago.

Yet only 10 years ago they had their best-ever season, when they finished eighth in what is now the Championship and that is where Gannon would like his side to continue to aim for.

"I don't know if we could get as high as '98 again," he said. "It'd be nice to keep these players together and get to the Championship. There are players here destined for great things. We're creating an environment where players will grow."

The Dale took the lead with 23 minutes gone when Rory McArdle headed past Conrad Logan from two yards for their first goal at Wembley in their debut at the stadium.

With that wait over, their manager Keith Hill must now convince his players they will not have to wait so long for another chance to win promotion. It was in 1969 that they last moved up from the bottom tier, but they have now been in this division for 34 years, the worst run in the league.

County drew level thanks to an own goal when Tom Rowe's cross was deflected in by Nathan Stanton 11 minutes before the interval. They took the lead four minutes after the break when Anthony Pilkington headed in off the underside of the crossbar, but it was the 22-year-old Liam Dickinson's goal that proved decisive. From Pilkington's cross he put County 3-1 up after 67 minutes with a first-time shot at the near post.

Adam Rundle gave the Dale some hope with a volley 13 minutes from the end which was every bit as good as Dean Windass's strike on Saturday for Hull but unlike the Windass goal, it will be forgotten quickly at the club from Spotland.

However, Hill was generous in defeat and looking forward to improving on this performance next year. He said: "No complaints with the result. But there's no failure from my point of view. We just have to build on this and this experience will make me stronger."

Goals: McArdle (24) 1-0; Stanton (og, 34) 1-1; Pilkington (49) 1-2, Dickinson (67) 1-3; Rundle (77) 2-3.

Rochdale (4-4-2): Lee; Ramsden, McArdle, Stanton, Kennedy; Higginbotham (Muirhead, h-t), Jones, D'Laryea (Buckley, 73), Rundle; Dagnall, Le Fondre (Howe, 57). Substitues not used: Holness, Doolan Stockport County (4-5-1): Logan; Smith, McNulty, Owen, Rose; Pilkington, Dicker, Gleeson (McSweeney, 75), Turnbull, Rowe; Dickinson (McNeil, 90). Substitutes not used: Taylor, Tunnicliffe, Proudlock.

Referee: S Attwell (Warwickshire)

Booked: Rochdale Stanton, McArdle. Stockport: Logan, McSweeney.

Man of the match: Dickinson

Attendance: 35,715

The season's ups and downs

Champions: Manchester United
Champions League: Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool
Uefa Cup: Everton
Relegated: Derby, Birmingham, Reading

Champions: West Brom
Promoted: Stoke, Hull
Relegated: Colchester, Scunthorpe, Leicester

Champions: Swansea
Promoted: Nottingham Forest, Doncaster
Relegated: Luton, Port Vale, Gillingham, Bournemouth

Champions: MK Dons
Promoted: Peterborough, Hereford, Stockport
Relegated: Wrexham, Mansfield

Champions: Aldershot
Play-off winners: Exeter
Relegated: Droylsden, Stafford, Farsley, Altrincham