Millwall v Rochdale: continuity
In modern football’s current climate, it is common for clubs to change their approach in order to gain instant results. Millwall and Rochdale are two exceptions to the rule.
They are both keen to develop their own young players and are reluctant to dip into the loan market. They have managers who have spent a combined total of 30 years at their clubs, and therefore share its footballing philosophy. Where those two clubs differ is the footballing philosophy itself. While Rochdale like to play out the back, Millwall have a strong belief in direct play.
Based on their goals scored and chances created this season, almost all attacking moves originate from a high ball to target man Steve Morison, possibly Byron Webster at set pieces.
87 goals in 54 League One games under Neil Harris would suggest the ‘get in the mixer’ approach has yielded some rewards. They posed an attacking threat while retaining some defensive balance last year but seem to have lost that now.
In recent games, we have seen too many players drawn to the ball and this opens up space in other areas. When you have two strikers ahead of the ball at all times, the shortage of numbers further back puts added pressure on midfielders to make the right decisions out of possession.
Two up top can work however, as Rochdale proved in the latter stages of last week’s 2-1 win over Fleetwood. Keith Hill’s substitutions changed the game as strikers Calvin Andrew and Steven Davies performed well, the latter scoring a headed winner from Joe Bunney’s cross to take Dale off the bottom.
Like the two forwards, Sanmi Odelusi made an impact in his 26-minute display. As well as being able to keep the ball, he offers Dale something different in his willingness to commit defenders. The team averages one goal per 76 minutes overall but one in 62 with Odelusi on the pitch, Hill’s men scoring in two of his four noteworthy substitute appearances.
The Wigan loanee may be used more prominently in future games, because Rochdale’s squad is getting stretched to the max. Midfielders Callum Camps and Matty Lund have picked up a few yellow cards, some for unnecessary dissent. Injuries to the back four have forced recent midfield arrivals Joe Thompson and Keith Keane to slot in at full-back as Hill has already used 21 players, just eight fewer than the whole of last season.
Amidst the challenges a relegation battle throws at a club, continuity is hard to find.
The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1