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Old 11-26-2014, 06:54 PM   #1
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
Paul Sanderson: A Football Life (FM14)

I'm going to try a different approach to this story, my latest Football Manager tale. Rather than a first person, "I am the manager" perspective, I'm going to tell the story in third person. I've read some excellent stories in the OOTP baseball forum that were written that way, and I think it will be fun to bring that style to the FM career dynasty genre, too.

I bought FM 14 two weeks ago (yes, I know I'm a version behind) and I've been enjoying a custom database that combines teams from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales into a fictional British League System. That's the footballing world into which I'll insert our protagonist.

While the clubs will be real, the players' names will be fictional. I sometimes enjoy immersing myself into a football world with "fake names," and hopefully you'll enjoy getting to know the heroes of the BLS along with me.

Please feel free to post in my thread. Ask questions, comment, join in. I enjoy interacting with anyone who might be reading.

So, now it's time to let the story begin......

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Old 11-26-2014, 07:43 PM   #2
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
5 July 2013

"We've been frugal, at least compared to a lot of your teammates, Paul. We've invested well. Don't let the salary be a deciding factor."

Paul Sanderson smiled at the woman he'd married 15 years ago, not long after he broke into the first team at Derby. He and Leanne had moved from Derby to Hearts, with their toddler son, and while they were in Edinburgh their daughter entered the world.

In 2008, Paul was thirty-two years old, not young for a footballer. He'd taken care of himself, however, and he hadn't lost much of the pace which had been his calling card as a young central midfielder. Now he also possessed a more mature understanding of the game, and it was that combination that attracted the attention of the staff at Everton. The Toffees purchased him from Hearts, and Paul was living a footballer's dream: joining the club he'd supported passionately as a young lad growing up in the Lake District town of Kendal.

Paul could never secure a spot in the first team, but he loved every minute of his time at Goodison Park. It was Robert Roberts, the curiously named Head of Youth Development, who first told him he ought to give management a try when he hung up his boots. Paul began studying for his coaching badges, and by 2011, he was splitting his time between playing and assisting with the Under 21 team.

The 2012-2013 season saw Paul make only seven appearances for Everton, only two in league play. He--and everyone else with the club--knew his playing days were done. He didn't merit a testimonial, but he left the pitch with his head held high--a respected professional who had served his clubs well and who had made a number of friends around the game that could help him make the transition into management.

Jobs weren't easy to come by, however. Paul had been on 12,500 a week as a player-coach at Everton, and to make that kind of money now, he'd have to be hired to manage a club in the Championship. No club at that level wanted to take a chance on a boss with no managerial experience.

Paul was about to surrender his dream of staying in football when he got a call from John Broome, the director of Rochdale A.F.C. The Dale played in the Royal First Division, the sixth level of the British League System pyramid. Rochdale's Spotland Stadium was only 70 kilometers away from Goodison Park, but in another sense, it was a long, long way away.

Rochdale offered Paul their manager's job, at a salary of 1,500 a week. Paul liked the club, got on well with the interview committee, and was ready to sign his contract...except for the fact he'd be taking home exactly 12% of his former salary.

He discussed it with Leanne, and she put his mind at ease. The kids, Chris and Gemma, liked the idea, too--as long as they could keep supporting Everton, too.

"I don't think Rochdale will be playing Everton very often," Paul reassured them.

"They will once you get Rochdale promoted," Chris replied, with the confidence of an eleven-year-old who thinks his dad is the greatest football mind in the Western Hemisphere.

So, with the backing of his wife and family, Paul Sanderson accepted the offer, and became the manager at Rochdale Association Football Club.
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Old 11-26-2014, 09:32 PM   #3
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013

1 August 2013

Paul had been on the job for almost a month now, and he felt like he was beginning to settle in at Spotland Stadium. He hadn't cleaned out the existing backroom staff; for one thing, it wasn't as if dozens of the most accomplished coaches in football were pounding on the door.

He liked his assistant manager, Louis Johnson, a lot. Nearly 39, Louis was almost two years older than Paul. The two men shared a preference for attractive football, featuring crisp passing and a quick tempo. Louis was also extremely good with young players, and he had a knack for motivating a team.

When Paul learned that the board would allow him to hire two new scouts, he did so promptly, adding Irishman Ryan Conlon and Scot Stuart Muir to join Englishman Adam James, the club's head scout. Conlon, who won an Ireland cap, gave the staff its only international experience, and Muir, a veteran of five decades in football, lent an additional air of gravitas to Paul's otherwise youthful backroom team.

The new manager made more significant changes to the playing squad. Given a transfer budget of just under 8,000, Paul had brought in three new players without spending a penny.

Charlie Baird, a 22-year-old who could play anywhere in the attacking half of the pitch, was his first signing. Charlie was unemployed, looking for a club, and the supporters were already lauding him as quite a catch.

Adam White, who had also been out of contract, was being touted as a future star; a center back, the 19-year-old was already making a case for a spot in the first team.

A potential weak spot in goal was hopefully solved yesterday when Stavros Molloy arrived on a free transfer from Margate. Stavros wasn't getting any younger--he was 38--but his presence would hopefully allow young Adam Kearney more time to develop before he was thrust into a regular role.

Two other players arrived on loan: central midfielder Matt Leonard from Burnley and full back Ger Dykes from Reading. Both were in their late teens, and both were quick and technically adept--the kind of players Paul needed to play the style of football he wanted.

These players, added to the ones already in the team, had Rochdale off to a promising start. A 1-3 loss to Yeovil Town, a League 2 club, was the only negative result from four early-season friendlies. Otherwise, the Dale saw off Bangor (4-1), edged Barrow (3-2), and clipped Newcastle Reserves (1-0). Craig Wilkinson, a powerful striker with a 6'2" frame, led the team with two goals.

Two more friendlies, away to FC United and Morecambe, remained before the Royal First Division campaign opened.

Last edited by Greyfriars Bobby : 11-26-2014 at 09:33 PM.
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Old 11-26-2014, 10:59 PM   #4
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Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Osaka, Japan via Honolulu, Hawaii via Birmingham, Alabama
Originally Posted by Greyfriars Bobby View Post
I've read some excellent stories in the OOTP baseball forum that were written that way, and I think it will be fun to bring that style to the FM career dynasty genre, too.
It's been a long time since I've been in the OOTP forums, but I totally agree with this. No offense to the people here, but they had the best dynasty writers I've seen. I did a short-lived Haiti Baseball Dynasty there years ago, and I drove myself crazy trying to match what they did.

I'll be following!
U of Hawaii | U of Alabama | Montreal Impact | Montreal Canadiens | West Ham | West Indies cricket | Portland Trail Blazers
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Old 11-27-2014, 09:12 AM   #5
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
Originally Posted by bbgunn View Post
It's been a long time since I've been in the OOTP forums, but I totally agree with this. No offense to the people here, but they had the best dynasty writers I've seen. I did a short-lived Haiti Baseball Dynasty there years ago, and I drove myself crazy trying to match what they did.

I'll be following!

Some of the best stories on the OOTP forum were based on fictional players or teams, and that's one reason I decided to write about the British League System. This gives me a chance to tell everyone a little more about the BLS.

The teams are real, but the league setup isn't; clubs from the other countries of the United Kingdom are given spots in the pyramid corresponding to their prestige in their own league. The British Premier League contains clubs like Celtic and Aberdeen from Scotland, Linfield from Northern Ireland, and Cardiff from Wales. Three levels down, you see that British League Two has Dunfermline, Carmarthen, and Ballinamallard along with Preston, Sheffield United and Swindon Town.

Since the league setup is fictional, changing to "fake names" seemed like the right thing to do. I'll also be more comfortable incorporating a player into the story if he has a fictional name--especially if his character turns out to be a jerk.

Thanks for following along, and thanks for the comment!
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Old 11-27-2014, 10:14 AM   #6
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
31 August 2013

As soon as Louis Johnson closed the door behind him and left Paul Sanderson alone in his office, the manager put his head in his hands. Louis's visit hadn't been unpleasant or stressful--it was a routine post-training chat--but the last few weeks hadn't been good ones for Rochdale, and Paul was feeling the stress a bad run of form can bring.

The last two friendlies had been fine. Rochdale beat FC United, 2-1, and drew, 1-1, with Morecambe. But once league play began, The Dale couldn't find the net. In four league fixtures, Rochdale had yet to score a single goal, losing to Scottish clubs Formartine United (0-2), Forfar (0-1), and Annan (0-2) before managing a goalless draw with Bristol Rovers at home. The supporters were upset, especially with the Annan result, and Paul couldn't blame him.

The transfer window closed yesterday, and Sanderson had been busy until the end. The first new arrival was Robert Shillito, a 17-year-old striker who, like most of the other new men Rochdale had brought in, was a free agent signing who cost the club nothing. Shillito had loads of promise, however, and the fans were happy to see him arrive at Spotland.

Yesterday Paul experienced for the first time the buzz of activity that Deadline Day brings to the life of a football manager. From 6:00 until midnight, Paul was constantly moving--checking scouting reports, watching video, talking to reporters, talking to players, making deals and watching deals collapse.

His first target was Graham McGhee, a veteran defender whom Port Vale was willing to release on a free. He wouldn't remedy the lack of goals, but Paul liked his technical skills and his mental strength. McGhee was a tough negotiator, though, and it was going to take some effort on Rochdale's part to secure his signature on a new deal.

Meanwhile, Paul secured the services of attacking midfielder Dave Gale on loan from Preston (League Two). Gale, age 26, had the skills to be a dynamic offensive force in the Royal 1st Division, and he'd be in a Rochdale shirt all year for the bargain price of 275 a week--the amount of Gale's contract the Dale was contracted to pay.

At 21:15, Rochdale received the news that McGhee had accepted a contract, and was on his way to his new club. By then, Paul was mulling over a decision he'd had in the back of his mind for some time.

His scouts had raved over a central midfielder called Josh Moore since his first week on the job. No player on Rochdale's squad could match Moore's all-round game. He was rock-solid defensively; he was creative and skillful offensively; he had the attributes of a team leader. Now 33, he had been capped seven times by England at the U21 level. He seemed like a perfect fit, but was he worth the 1,200 a week he was requesting?

Had Rochdale opened the season with four wins and a spot in the promotion places, Paul probably wouldn't have kept thinking about Josh Moore. But, with the club sitting second bottom with one point from four matches, the manager felt something had to be done. Rochdale had room in its salary budget--not much, but some--so Paul decided to take a shot at signing Moore.

Then Paul took a call from Matt Jacobs of the Rochdale Daily Observer. Apparently there were rumors of Rochdale's interest in David Jones, a center back with Rotherham who was available on loan. Sanderson knew the name; his scouts had been watching him, but he wasn't a Rochdale target...

...but perhaps he should be? Paul thought.

Jones was a big, strong man, the type of rugged center half who was known years ago as a "hard player." He was a full Jamaica international, with 22 appearances for his country, although at age 34 he was retired from international play. With McGhee now on board, Sanderson was happy with his back line, but Jones was an intriguing player, and Paul decided to make an offer.

As the clock wound toward midnight, Josh Moore announced he'd accept a contract with Rochdale for 1,100 a week. He was now among the club's highest earners; at his age, would he retain the skills that made him worth that salary?

Almost immediately after Moore's news, David Jones agreed to come to Rochdale, with The Dale paying 175 of his weekly salary.

The 25-man team Paul registered for the Royal First Division, therefore, contained no fewer than eight players who had not been with Rochdale when he arrived two months ago, and new youngsters Adam White and Robert Shillito were suiting up for the reserves.

It might take some time to for all these new players to gel, to mold themselves into a club that would play well together. Hopefully the board would give Paul the time to make that happen.
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Old 11-27-2014, 10:28 AM   #7
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
Meet the Team: Goalkeepers

I thought it would be good to introduce you to the cast of characters, so here's a look at the Rochdale club, position-by-position. We'll start with the goalkeepers.

First Team: Stavros Molloy (age 38)
Father Time is breathing down on Stavros' neck, but for now he's still the best bet between the posts. He is a well-rounded goalkeeper whose cat-like reflexes were once the talk of the British lower leagues. He's still plenty quick, and he's also very good on penalties--both stopping them and taking them.

In the Wings: Rob Rutherford (age 25)
Had he started the season in better form, Rutherford would probably have locked down the starting job, and Stavros Molloy would be looking for a job. Rutherford has the physical tools to be a top keeper at this level, but his mental game leaves something to be desired. He might be moving on in the January transfer window.

The Future: Adam Kearney (age 20)
This Irish custodian has the potential to go a long way in the game. He's not quite ready for full-time duty in the Royal First Division, but Sanderson is hoping to get him some first team action this season.

None of the keepers in the youth system are considered top prospects.
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Old 11-27-2014, 01:18 PM   #8
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
Meet the Team: Defenders

Left Back: Mike Staley (age 30)
Staley is a complete wing back in the mold of Sam Courtney, Everton and England's left back. He is responsible defensively, but he is at his best when he's moving forward, hitting precision crosses and making sharp passes. Staley is also extremely good at hitting corners and free kicks.

Center Backs: Andy Carr (age 22) and David Jones (age 34)
Carr can play all along the back line, but the best way to get him into the first XI is to slot him in at center half. He has the ability to distribute the ball to more creative players up the pitch, a skill Sanderson values highly. You've met Jones already, and when paired with Carr, he gives Rochdale 12'7" and 380 lbs. worth of physical presence in the central defense. Jones is a particularly fearsome stopper.

Right Back: Craig Robertson (age 20)
Robertson, like Staley, is capable of getting forward and joining the attack. He has better-than-average pace, but his ability to accelerate quickly makes him seem even faster than he is. His youth, and the upside that accompanies it, give him an advantage over some other good options here.

In the Wings: Ger Dykes (age 18), Graham Somers (age 21), Luis Cassama (age 25), and Graham McGhee (age 32).
Dykes provides a defense-first alternative at left back, and can also fill in for the central defenders. Some of the backroom staff believe Somers is a better player than Jones, and he'll get plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his ability. Cassama, the team's vice captain, is very athletic and is extremely good in the air. McGhee is a smart, technically sound alternative at any defensive position.

The Future: Jack Robinson (age 15) and Stephen France (age 18)
Robinson, who plays mostly left back, has four-star potential as a defensively-minded full back. France probably wouldn't be overmatched right now, but with more skilled alternatives ahead of him, he is developing his game with the reserve and U21 sides.
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Old 11-27-2014, 01:46 PM   #9
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
Meet the Team: Midfielders

Left Midfielder: Dave Gale (age 26)

A stylish player with the ability to run either wing or play as a attacking central midfielder, Gale can score goals or set them up. If he plays well, the Rochdale attack becomes much more potent. His Achilles heel is defense, which potentially leaves the team vulnerable to attacks down his side of the pitch--especially if Staley is also dashing forward.

Central Midfielders: Josh Moore (age 33), Paul Webb (age 22) and Matt Leonard (age 19)
Sanderson will rotate these three players through the central midfield spots. Moore, as described above, is the team's best all-round player. Paul Webb is a deep-lying playmaker with the requisite passing, tackling, and technical skills, and he likes to unleash powerful shots from long range. Leonard is a box-to-box midfielder who likes to control the tempo of the match. He can take a more defensive role when he's paired with Webb.

Defensive Midfielder: Lee Mason (age 32)
Mason is the club's captain. He provides a secure defensive anchor in the midfield, and he can get the ball forward with short, simple passes. Lee is a good player, but he's every bit as valuable in his role as captain, helping Sanderson manage the team's morale as it suffers a poor run of form.

Right Midfielder: Joe Webb (age 28)
Joe Webb is the club's most versatile attacking player. He can move up and lead the line or slot in at any attacking midfield position. Joe is the best alternative at right wing, however, where he offers the same kind of offensive threat as Gale, but with more defensive awareness.

In the Wings: Alan Foster (age 25), Kyle Radcliffe (age 21), Andy Barron (age 27), and Lee Bates (age 21)
Foster is better as an AM(L), so he will start when Rochdale uses that formation. His big paycheck (1,500/week) means that he will have to be very productive to remain in the club come January. Radcliffe is a talented advanced playmaker with very good pace. Barron is the team's best AM(C), and he is comfortable playing all over the middle of the park. Bates can deputize for Joe Webb when Joe is playing striker, and he can move up to play forward himself in a pinch.

The Future: Andy Funnell (age 17)
Funnell is Mason's heir apparent at DM(C). His technical abilities are advanced for a youth player, and his future is extremely promising.
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Old 11-27-2014, 02:01 PM   #10
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
Meet the Team: Strikers

First Team: Craig Thompson (age 21) and Charlie Baird (age 22)

This position appears to be Rochdale's weakest spot. Thompson has all the attributes to be a decent pacey striker, but he hasn't found the net in a month. Baird is a more natural AM(R), but the club needs his talent at forward, and when Sanderson plays with a single striker, Joe Webb pushes Baird to the bench.

In the Wings: Craig Wilkinson (age 25) and David Hyland (age 35)
Wilkinson has the size (6'2", 185 lbs) and strength to be an effective target man, but his other attributes make him better suited to the Advanced Forward role...which is also Thompson's best spot. If Wilkinson doesn't start generating some goals, he'll yield his spot among the registered players to Hyland, a veteran who was put on Earth to be a Target Man. Not including Hyland on the 25-man registration list looks like Paul Sanderson's biggest personnel mistake.

The Future: Robert Shillito (age 17) and Tom Smith (age 15)
Shillito is already 6'3", 191 lbs, and he's got the potential to become a powerful front man in the Royal First Division one day. Smith is, understandably, less polished, but he has very good pace, and he's developing a surgical touch in front of goal.

The first item on Paul Sanderson's Christmas list will probably be a top-of-the-line striker.

Last edited by Greyfriars Bobby : 11-27-2014 at 02:01 PM.
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Old 11-27-2014, 05:28 PM   #11
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
14 September 2013

Gemma Sanderson was eight years old, and she followed football closely enough to realize that when a club had a stretch of games against teams who were down toward the bottom of the table, it was time to gain some ground.

It was Gemma who pointed out to her daddy that, after drawing with Bristol Rovers, Rochdale had three matches against teams who were struggling just about as much as Rochdale were.

First, the Dale were away to Stenhousemuir. With Joe Webb moving up to forward and scoring twice, Rochdale sent them off 2-0.

Three days later, Rochdale went back up to Scotland, to the town of Galashiels to face Gala Fairydean Rovers. This time it was a brace from Craig Thompson, and another 2-0 result that put Rochdale far enough up the table to escape the relegation playoff spots.

And, tonight in Wales, Rochdale saw off Prestatyn Town, with Charlie Baird scoring a penalty in another 2-0 victory.

The nine points Rochdale secured from those three away fixtures catapulted them from second bottom up to 14th in the 22-team Royal First Division. Sanderson's club were far from the top, but at least they were also safely off the bottom.

Dave Gale had been unable to contribute much to his club's recent success. He was recovering from an injury to the cartilage in his knee, and was struggling to build his fitness. Left back Mike Staley was now sidelined, too; he hurt his hamstring against Gala Fairydean Rovers and was expected to miss about a month. Ger Dykes was periodically away on international duty with Ireland's U19 side, so Sanderson had to be creative with his player selections on the left side of the pitch. "I can play Lee Mason back there," he explained, "and I've been rotating Gale with Alan Foster in midfield. It's been working, so I don't suppose it's been too bad."

Gemma had been right. A chance to play some less potent opponents had been just what her daddy's club needed.
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Old 11-27-2014, 08:36 PM   #12
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
1 October 2013

As September turned into October, Paul Sanderson still didn't feel like he should unpack all the boxes he'd put into the attic of the family's new home outside the town of Rochdale. His club hadn't quite reverted to its horrible form of the first weeks of the season, but it hadn't built upon its successful run in early September, either. A frustrating inability to get results at home was keeping the supporters from falling in love with him, and the board was beginning to show its first signs of losing patience with him, too.

Chesterfield, a very good side, saw The Dale off, 1-3, at Spotland on 21 September. Rochdale was run off the pitch, outshot 18-2.

Three days later, they played a Second Round match for the King's Trophy, which was contested by clubs in the Royal Premier and Royal First Divisions. Rochdale drew a tough opponent, Cheltenham, but at least they could face them at Spotland. Ninety minutes passed without a goal. On 99', Craig Thompson put Rochdale ahead, but in the closing seconds of extra time, Cheltenham equalized.

On the seventh round of penalties, Cheltenham keeper John Jenkins turned Alan Foster's attempt around the post. Sergio Filipe Almeida, who'd scored the goal that made the shootout necessary, then put his penalty past Rob Rutherford, and just like that, Rochdale were out.

Rotating his squad as the fixtures came hard and fast, Sanderson sent out a makeshift lineup to face Clyde, a less formidable opponent on their best day and an even softer one when their players were tired. Craig Wilkinson and Joe Webb were the scorers in a 2-0 victory--a fairly uncommon happening when Rochdale were at home.

By now, Rochdale were up to 13th, edging closer to the middle of the table. Tonight, they took on Northampton at home, and at first, it looked like they might win in a canter. Paul Webb and Craig Wilkinson had Rochdale up 2-0 within the half hour, but then things got ugly. By half time, Northampton had equalized, and Sanderson let the club have it in the changing room.

"He had every right to lay into us like that," said Josh Moore, who was wearing the captain's arm band. "We can't let a team back into the match like we did."

Were it not for Stavros Molloy, who made a terrific save on a penalty from Simon Mulcahy after David Jones hacked down a Northampton player in the box, the match might have slipped completely away. And Rochdale blew a chance to steal the result back when Wilkinson fluffed an easy chance as full time drew near.

"I'm still looking for the winning formula," a weary Paul Sanderson said after the match, as he ran his fingers through his thick brown hair. "We're making progress, and the players believe in themselves." It was true; morale remained fairly high, despite the up-and-down pattern the club had been stuck in for weeks now.
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Old 11-27-2014, 09:50 PM   #13
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
8 October 2013

Some were saying Paul Sanderson might have just saved his job, at least for the time being.

The murmurs of discontent had grown louder, after another home loss--this time a drab 1-2 setback to Bury, a club three places above them in the table. "Of course, I was feeling the pressure," Sanderson admitted. "Accrington Stanley sacked Thomas O'Brien that same day. He's a good manager, and if i could happen to him, it could happen to me, too."

That was three days ago. What nobody outside Spotland Stadium knew was that Paul and his backroom team had been working on something for a week now, something that would hopefully start Rochdale A.F.C. on the road to better days.

Lars Nielsen was from Denmark. A right back, he was playing for Bristol City, in League Two. At age 25, Nielsen was said to have Championship potential...but things weren't going well for him at City.

Lars had clashed with his manager, Kingsley Hill, and had lost his spot in the first team. He asked to be transfer listed, and to his surprise, Hill released him outright on 25 September.

Scout Adam James was the first to realize what had happened to Pedersen. "You won't believe this, Paul," he said as he showed his boss the news.

"Let's see if we can get him to come here," Paul quickly replied. "What do we have to lose?"

Nielsen was surprisingly interested in signing for Rochdale, and his demands were very reasonable: 650/week, for the next two seasons.

Paul and his backroom team weren't done, either. They offered a contract to Steven Jackson, a 27-year-old free agent from Scotland who looked like he might solve the club's need for a powerful striker. Today, Jackson agreed to a two-year deal for 450/week.

"For just over a thousand quid per week, we've strengthened our squad considerably," assistant manager Louis Johnson said. "When we get these lads registered after Christmas, we'll be even more ready to roll."

But would the board give Paul that much time?
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Old 11-27-2014, 11:10 PM   #14
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
18 October 2013

Paul knew better than to pay attention to the tabloids. The Daily Mirror was hardly a pillar of journalistic excellence, and he'd been blasted in its pages plenty of times, especially during his years with Everton.

Why did it sting so much this time?

Today, the Mirror had offered the opinion that with one more poor result, Paul would be sent packing. It was the second negative story in a week. had printed a story last week that alluded to the "little public support" Paul was receiving from the Rochdale brass. The next day, which was last Saturday, The Dale had a tough fixture, away to Oxford, who were top of the league. They emerged with a 2-2 draw, an outcome which satisfied the supporters and quieted down the critics for a few days.

Paul sighed deeply. How much should he believe what he was reading about his job being on the line? Was someone with the Mirror talking to one of the directors?

Paul had just tossed the Mirror into the wastebasket beside his desk when he heard a knock on the door. "Come in," he said.

It was Stavros Molloy. The goalkeeper smiled as he entered the room.

"What can I do for you, Stav?"

"I read that crap in today's Mirror. I'm not sure where they're getting it, but I can tell you it's not coming from us players. We're behind you, Paul."

Paul's face visibly relaxed. "I didn't think it was, but I appreciate you saying so."

"There's one way we can shut them up, boss. We're going to win tomorrow. Count on us."

"Thanks, Stav." Paul reached out to shake the goalkeeper's hand.

"If they don't score, we can't lose. They won't score." Molloy released his manager's hand, nodded his head, and left the office.

I wish it were that easy, Paul thought. Still, if his team were actually playing for his job tomorrow, Paul was glad to know his goalkeeper was determined to do all he could to make a very crucial save.

Molloy is the first player to list Sanderson as a "favourite personnel," so I gave him the starring role in this story.
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Old 11-28-2014, 08:49 AM   #15
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
Join Date: Sep 2013
19 October 2013

If this were truly a "do or die" match for Paul Sanderson as the manager of Rochdale, he could have been placed in a much more forgiving scenario.

Rochdale were away to Cheltenham, the side who eliminated them from the King's Trophy last month. That match, decided on penalties, had been played at Spotland. Cheltenham were particularly tenacious on their own grounds, where they had played six matches without a loss: three wins, three draws.

Before the match, Paul reminded the players how good it would feel to exact some revenge on Cheltenham. This seemed to fire many of them up, and they played with energy and determination. At the half, the game remained scoreless, although Chelthenham was winning the possession battle, 55% to 45%, and had six shots to Rochdale's two.

On 55', Charlie Baird hit a high cross for Craig Thompson, who leaped and headed the ball powerfully past the keeper and into the goal, just inside the far post. The away supporters cheered wildly, and in his technical area, Paul Sanderson grinned and pumped his fist. If you looked closely enough, you could see his shoulders begin to relax.

But the match was far from over. Baird limped off with an injury on 72 minutes, and Paul replaced him with Lee Mason. He changed the Dale's shape from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1, moving Joe Webb from striker to Baird's spot on the right wing, and directing Mason to play an anchor man role in front of the back four.

There was no dramatic comeback for Chelmsford today. The final minutes passed without a shot rattling off the crossbar, and the only saves Stavros Molloy made all evening were routine ones. Thompson's single goal held, and Rochdale left the pitch with a 1-0 result.

Molloy shook Paul's hand, grinned, and simply said "Told you." The gaffer's job was probably safe, at least for now.
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Old 11-28-2014, 09:40 AM   #16
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2 November 2013

Autumn had settled in to the foothills of the Pennines, and as November began, the top and bottom of the Royal First Division table were settling into place. At least that was true in Group A, the half of the division in which Rochdale were placed.

Rochdale played two league fixtures in four days in late October, playing promotion candidates Mansfield to a scoreless draw at home and winning 1-0 away to 15th place Wrexham on a late goal by Craig Thompson.

The Dale's perplexing pattern of better results away from their own grounds continued; they had compiled 16 of their 23 points in away fixtures, and were 1-4-4 at Spotland. "No wonder our supporters are a little disillusioned by that," Paul Sanderson said behind closed doors in his office one morning as he looked at that statistic.

Every point mattered to clubs who, like Rochdale, found themselves in the middle of the table, where the teams were tightly bunched.

Tonight, the club had a break from the league programme, traveling to Hereford for a British Cup match. This competition was open to every club in Britain, from the smallest minnows to the richest Premier League teams. Rochdale's opponent was in the Qualification Groups, the lowest tier of the British League System pyramid, but they were enjoying a good season and had high hopes of promotion to the Royal First by season's end.

The Cup tie gave Paul the chance to hand Rochdale debuts to several players who were not registered for League play, and he could do so without weakening his lineup in the least. Dave Hyland started at forward alongside Craig Thompson. Player-coach Dermot Doyle and young striker Robert Shillito were dressed and ready to go as substitutes. And, most exciting of all, Lars Nielsen was in the starting eleven, lining up at right back.

Nielsen quickly made his presence felt. Hereford took the lead on a Guy Green goal, but three minutes later, the Dane was the first to react when Hereford keeper Chris Baker pawed a Josh Moore shot back into the penalty area. Lars simply pushed the ball past Baker for the equalizer.

Just past the hour mark came one of those moments that cause a manager to pull his hair out. For the second time this season, David Jones conceded a penalty when he cut David Watson's feet out from under him in the area. Matt Nesbitt converted from the spot and Hereford were in front.

"David is an aggressive player," Sanderson said after the match. "That's part of his game, and part of the reason why he plays for his country. He's been letting his aggression get the better of him lately, though, and this is the second time it's cost us a goal. That can't keep happening."

Fortunately for Jones, his teammates bailed him out. Joe Webb and Alan Foster scored within three minutes of each other and Rochdale held on for the result. Both Doyle and Shillito got into the match, too. Doyle, a defensive midfielder, was a perfect choice when Paul went to a more defensive mentality. Shillito, too, was a good fit, since he was a more defensively responsible forward than Hyland.

"The board expects us to get to the Third Round, and that's exactly what we've done," said Sanderson as the team's bus rolled back toward Greater Manchester, taking a satisfying, come-from-behind result back with them.

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Old 11-28-2014, 04:07 PM   #17
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25 November 2013

After Craig Thompson closed the door to Paul Sanderson's office, the manager shook his head.

"Craig is the third player who's come to see me about the way we're playing," Paul explained. "Yes, I think we're underachieving, too. I'm beginning to wonder if it's me..."

His voice trailed off, and he took a long sip of tea. "I've been thinking about making some personnel changes, but will that turn things around? I guess we'll have to see."

A 1-0 victory home to struggling Lisburn Distillery of Northern Ireland was sandwiched between a heavy 1-4 defeat at York City and a heartbreaking 2-3 loss to Southend at Spotland. Joe Webb had the equalizer in his sights, having eluded the last defender and fooled the keeper, but banged the ball harmlessly off the upright.

Here's how the league table looked today:

(There are 24 teams in Group A of the Royal First Division. The whole table won't fit on my laptop screen at once.)

"We've been busy signing new players," Paul said. "Just the other day, we signed another lad who was looking for a club. He's called Sam Dawson. He's 20, and he's going to be a very good player. He's versatile, and he can push several players for a spot in our first team.

"We're also talking to Ronique Linton. He's older than I am (40), but he's been playing well for Tranmere, when he's had the chance. He won't be cheap, but we've got some room in our wage budget.

"We'll have even more room, if we can sell a few of the guys I'm hoping to move..."

Paul smiled, shaking his head. He wouldn't reveal who those players were. "We have a few guys who aren't earning the wages they make," he explained. If we're going to get out of the middle of the table, we have to be better. If our current team isn't going to get us there, well, we need to find the players who will.

"We could have a very different team on the pitch for the New Year."

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Old 11-28-2014, 07:24 PM   #18
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10 December 2013

Connah's Quay is a Welsh town, located near the English border where the River Dee empties into the Irish Sea. When the wind blows and the sleet is flying on a night when the temperature drops to freezing, a night of football there can be a very unpleasant experience.

Unless, however, you're romping to a 6-2 victory over the home side, like Rochdale did tonight. The festival of goals featured a hat trick from Joe Webb, a brace from Craig Thompson, and a goal from Charlie Baird.

"We've been scoring more goals lately," said Webb, and he was right. The Dale put in four away at Institute on 30 November, winning 4-2. A 1-1 draw at Montrose came next, and then tonight's six-goal haul. "It feels good to know we don't have to hold the other side without a goal to win."

Leanne, Chris, and Gemma Sanderson didn't brave the cold and wind to see Paul's match. "We streamed it online," Leanne admitted with a smile. "Let's see...a nice, warm fireplace, hot cocoa, and a blanket, or a freezing cold stand, cold tea, and a sleet-soaked parka? Which would you choose?"

Every one of the goals mattered, too. Rochdale were now 11th in the table, their highest position since the first weeks of play. They were tied with Forfar on 33 points, but they edged out the Scottish club on goal differential. Their +4 mark was the exact margin of tonight's result.

The Christmas lights sparkled just a little more brightly tonight, and the wintry evening didn't seem quite so cold.
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Old 11-28-2014, 09:09 PM   #19
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14 December 2013

Tonight, the club faced Coventry City, a bigger club from the Royal Premier Division (one level higher than Rochdale) in the Third Round of the British Cup. The pundits considered Coventry a comfortable favorite, and so did the bookmakers, making the Sky Blues 4-7 favorites. Even the Rochdale supporters were pessimistic in the days leading up to the match, as reported in the Manchester Daily News.

This time, Paul Sanderson wasn't buying it. "I'm going to put a very good side on the pitch tonight," he said.

Here was Paul's lineup sheet:

GK: Stavros Molloy
D: Mike Staley, Luis Cassama, Andy Carr, Lars Nielsen
M: Dave Gale, Sam Dawson, Matt Leonard, Joe Webb
ST: Craig Thompson, Steven Jackson

Paul smiled as he pointed out the more unfamiliar names. "Lars Nielsen just won his first Denmark cap. Steven Jackson is going to make his debut up front. You might not have ever heard of Sam Dawson, but he's going to be a very good footballer."

It was another cold night, with some kind of frozen stuff falling on Spotland Stadium's battered turf all match long. The 1,578 brave souls who were in attendance, bundled together in the Main Stand and the Pearl Street End, shouted and stamped their feet gleefully when Thompson caught Staley's long free kick on the half volley and drilled it home. They gasped when Coventry's quick equalizer was waved off; the scorer had drifted offside. They roared and hugged each other when, a quarter hour from time, Jackson took a diagonal pass from Webb and calmly slotted home, a goal on his debut.

And they sang and shouted happily as they made their way home, delighted with the fact that their lads were still in the running for the British Cup.
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Old 11-29-2014, 10:53 AM   #20
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21 December 2013

The halfway point of the season found Rochdale among the hottest teams in the Royal First Division. Here's how the table looked with 23 of 46 league matches completed:

Today's 3-0 victory at home to Stirling Albion gave The Dale 10 points from their last four league matches. Forfar, who were also climbing up from the middle of the table, had done as well, but no club in the division had done better. Paul Sanderson had every reason to feel optimistic, as he settled in for a relaxing Christmas with his family.

The Sandersons traditionally gathered at Paul's parents' home in Kendal. A Lake District Christmas was quiet and reflective, with the sounds of happy children replacing the noise of greater Manchester.

It wasn't such a happy Christmas for Duncan Laird. On the 18th, he was sacked by Manchester United, whose position in the middle of the Premiership table was unacceptable for their directors or their supporters. Rumor had it that Benjamin Lindner, manager of Bayern Munich, was interested in coming to Old Trafford. At any rate, Laird, who had been on the job less than half a year, was out.

"It says a lot about the nature of this business, doesn't it?" asked Paul as he sipped his tea in front of his father's hearth. "Getting a job with a big club like Man U might be a dream job. I know it was for Dunc. But there's never a moment's rest, unless you're winning a bunch of trophies every year. I feel sorry for Duncan, but I suspect there will still be presents under his tree. He was on thirty thousand a week, or more. I bet he has a little bit saved up."

The Rochdale manager laughed softly. "Two months ago, it was me who was on the hot seat. Fortunately our recent form has taken some of the pressure off."
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Old 11-29-2014, 12:03 PM   #21
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28 December 2013

The transfer window opened once again for clubs in the British League System, and players who were signed during the autumn can now be registered for league play. Some of the new men at Spotland are somewhat familiar already, since they've appeared in cup matches, but let's take a closer look at them now.


Lars Nielsen (age 25)
made his Denmark debut this fall, and he's already helped Rochdale advance in the British Cup. He epitomizes the "complete wing back" role, tracking back to defend his wing and moving forward to join the attack. Nielsen's game shows no real weakness, by Royal First Division standards, and there are few players in Britain who can cross a football like he can. He will be a fixture at right back, and he can play on both sides of the midfield, too. Lars also has Sri Lankan heritage, and he speaks six languages.

Ronique Linton (age 41) might look like an unusual signing, given his advanced age. Maybe that's why Tranmere Rovers were willing to release him on a free transfer. Linton is a sublime ball-playing defender who can move the ball out of the back with precise passes. As you might expect of a veteran with 50 Jamaica caps, he is a smart, technically adept player, and he's taken good care of himself. He will be a regular at center back.

Sam Dawson (age 20)
has one quality that jumps out at you immediately: his pace. Dawson is fast. Very fast. He is possibly the fastest player in the Royal First Division, and one of the faster footballers in Britain. Most of his other skills need some work, but he isn't overmatched at this level. Sanderson likes his players to be good passes, and Dawson has some ability here. He is also extremely versatile, with colored circles all over his position grid. At worst, Sam will be a decent rotation option. At best, who knows? The backroom staff give him four stars for potential ability. He's recovering from a rib injury and will return to action in early January.

Steven Jackson (age 27)
is a 6'3", 206 lb. striker whose size and strength make him a prototypical Target Man. He is an effective finisher, but he's even better with his back to the goal, finding teammates in dangerous positions and getting the ball to them. Jackson is also very responsible defensively. He will make an ideal strike partner for Craig Thompson, and he can play AM(R) and AM(L), too.

These four players will cost Rochdale less than 2,000 a week in base salary. The club gained almost that much back by taking the salaries of two players off their books. Goalkeeper Rob Rutherford was sold to Celtic for 50,000 and disgruntled forward Craig Wilkinson went to Luton for 5,000.
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Old 11-29-2014, 09:50 PM   #22
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11 January 2013

Today Rochdale hosted Forfar Athletic at Spotland. The Scottish club, managed by venerable Russell MacKenzie, had been playing very good football lately. Their quick, short passing style was drawing raves, and the results were impressive. In August, Forfar had beaten Rochdale, 0-1, and everyone in Rochdale blue wanted to even the score.

The Dale did that, and then some.

Ronique Linton arrived with a reputation as a good passer, and it was his nifty ball to a streaking Adam Foster that set up Rochdale's first goal. Foster slipped the ball back to Craig Thompson, whose scuffed shot had just enough on it to elude the Forfar keeper.

Two of the goals were largely the work of Lars Nielsen. His inch-perfect cross left Charlie Baird with nothing to do but tap the ball into a wide-open net. His pass to Foster, who lost his mark and slotted home, was just as impressive. "It's going to be a lot of fun playing on a side with Lars," Baird said after the match. "No offense to the rest of the lads, but I've never had a teammate who could pass like he can."

The final goal was a rifle shot of a free kick from 28 yards out by Mike Staley. Forfar spoiled Stav Molloy's clean sheet with a harmless late goal, making the final score 4-1.

There was a new face in the Rochdale changing room, celebrating with his new teammates. Mark Spiers was another example of what was becoming a specialty for Paul Sanderson and his staff--a free transfer whose ability to fill a particular need made him a good, inexpensive fit.

Spiers was 35, and he wasn't getting much football with Birmingham City. His most natural position was M(C), but he could cover any spot on the right side of the pitch, and he was a particularly good defensive player. He was a Northern Ireland international with 16 caps to his credit, too. Right now, Mark was recovering from broken ribs, which he had suffered in training back in Birmingham, but the Rochdale physios promised him he'd be back on the pitch by the end of January.

"We probably won't add any more players," Sanderson said. "I'm happy with our current squad, and I want to give them time to learn to play together.

"Of course, if we get a lead on another player like Lars Nielsen...."

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Old 12-01-2014, 11:40 AM   #23
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29 January 2014

Yesterday was the close of the January transfer period. Paul Sanderson didn't expect it to be a busy day, and he was right.

"We're playing well right now. We've put together a solid squad, with players who understand how we want to play the game at Rochdale. They're becoming more and more familiar with our tactics. There's also a really positive vibe around the team right now."

The manager had been tinkering with tactics and formations in an effort to maximize the benefits of adding players like Lars Nielsen and Steven Jackson to the squad. "I used to always play a flat back four," Paul explained. "Lars is a natural wing back, and Mike Staley, the left back, can play higher up the pitch, too. We can move the left and right wings up into attacking positions and apply a lot of pressure to the opponent's defense." Dave Gale and Alan Foster were both well-suited to play AM(L), and Joe Webb was better at AM(R) than at M(R). All in all, the new shape seemed like a good fit.

Using this new formation, Rochdale won 3-1 away to Annan Athletic on the 18th and 3-1 against Stenhousemuir at Spotland. The Dale benefited from own goals in both matches, but Sanderson was quick to give his lads some credit. "Against Annan, Nielsen put a corner right on Steven Jackson's head. He hit it, and it caromed off their defender into the goal."

Nielsen's ability to deliver the ball to teammates in position to score had been a huge, huge plus. In four league matches, Lars had five assists--one fewer than the team leaders, Charlie Baird and Alan Foster.

Rochdale had risen all the way to ninth, and the board had noticed. Paul's job was now more secure (54%) than it had ever been. No wonder there was no need for drastic action on Transfer Day.

That's not to say nothing happened, however. Blackpool (League One) made Sanderson an offer he couldn't refuse: 80,000 for young midfielder Lee Bates. "I wasn't eager to sell Lee, but that was quite an offer," Paul confided. The money could be put to good use. The pitch at Spotland was in terrible shape, and now Paul was in a good position to ask the board to relay it over the summer holiday.

The loan periods for David Jones and Matt Leonard expired, and they returned to the clubs that owned their contracts. Leonard's loan spell had been successful for all concerned; the experience of Jones, who demonstrated an alarming tendency to give away penalties with reckless fouls in the area, was less positive.

One new player joined the club: right winger Adrian Martland, on a three-month loan from Brighton & Hove Albion (League One). Martland, 20, was a lot like a younger, more athletic version of Joe Webb and, like Webb, he could play any attacking midfield position or at striker.

"I get along well with Antonio Gonzalez [Brighton's manager], and we arranged for Adrian to come here and get some playing time. Antonio expects us to use him in the rotation, and as talented as Adrian is, that won't be a problem," Paul said.

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Old 12-03-2014, 02:19 PM   #24
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8 February 2014

Competitions like the British Cup can provide some of the most thrilling moments in football. The story of a David going up against the Goliaths of the British League System offers a story line that no other competition can match.

There are smaller clubs than Rochdale, and bigger ones than Doncaster Rovers, but most football fans would consider a result for Rochdale to be a classic upset. That's exactly what happened at the Keepmoat Stadium tonight, as Rochdale saw off the home club on penalties and advanced to the Sixth Round.

Doncaster took the lead through Iulian Martin on 43 minutes, and David Kiely, up from the reserves, equalized on the hour mark. That scoreline held until deep in extra time, when Mike Staley hammered in a free kick to put Rochdale ahead. Two minutes later, the sides were level again, on a goal by Michael Kirkpatrick.

Paul Sanderson paced his technical area, trying to remain calm while his heart raced like a steam engine under full power. He sank to his knees when Kirkpatrick drew a bead on an open goal, keeper Stavros Molloy having moved the wrong way as the striker approached him. The manager looked to the heavens as Kirkpatrick banged the ball off the upright.

On to penalties. Molloy denied Doncaster's second shooter, and kept Rochdale's advantage by scoring from the spot himself. After one more save from Molloy, Staley had the opportunity to win the match, and that's exactly what he did.

The victory brought with it a check for 100,000, not a small amount for a club like Rochdale. It continued an unbeaten run that had begun on New Year's Day, kept alive with a 1-1 draw at Bristol Rovers on 1 February and a 2-0 result over Gala Fairydean Rovers on the 4th.

"We had to rotate our squad quite a bit this week, but everyone we've sent out has played well," Sanderson said.

"Everyone feels like he's contributing, and that is good for our morale," said captain Lee Mason. "We're enjoying our football right now."

With 50 points from 30 matches, Rochdale remained ninth, but the gap between them and eighth spot was now down to three points.

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Old 12-05-2014, 09:55 AM   #25
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1 March 2014

Rochdale's good form continued through the month of February, but they couldn't gain a spot in the standings and still stood ninth as March began. Meanwhile, a classic battle at the top of the table, which featured four clubs on 69 points and a fifth on 66, had Royal First Division fans paying close attention to every match.

"We've played some of the stronger clubs in the league," Paul Sanderson pointed out. "We were away to Chesterfield and Northampton, and we drew both times. In both matches, we came from behind to grab a point, and the players demonstrated a lot of resilience."

In both matches, Rochdale's opponent scored all their goals first, and the visitor came up with just as many goals as they needed to equalize. "That's thrilling from a supporter's standpoint, but I wish we didn't dig ourselves into such a hole before we start scoring goals," Paul said with a smile and a shake of his head.

The Dale's other match, home to Prestatyn, featured a hat trick by Steven Jackson in a 4-1 victory. Jackson was a perplexing figure. He seemed disinterested in team talks and demonstrated some complacency on the pitch, but his morale remained high, and he responded very positively when Sanderson complimented him on his outstanding form. "Steven is not an easy man to manage," the manager confided. "I gave him hell for a poor performance at half time in the Northampton match, and it got him fired up. Maybe he needs his manager to get in his face from time to time."

Dave Gale was close to being ready to play again, after twisting his ankle in the Cup match against Doncaster. His projected return to the first team was 8 March, when Rochdale would face Stoke City in the Sixth Round of the British Cup. Paul's old club, Everton, was out of the Cup, losing out in the Fifth Round to Merseyside rival Liverpool.

First, however, the Dale had a league match with Clyde, who sat in the relegation zone. "We'll have to rotate our squad for that one, but I think we'll have enough quality to see Clyde off," said an optimistic Sanderson. A run of eleven matches without a loss would tend to make a manager see the bright side of life.
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Old 12-06-2014, 10:12 AM   #26
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17 March 2014

After seeing off relegation candidates Clyde, 3-1, on 3 March, Rochdale next faced Stoke City in the Sixth Round of the British Cup. The Dale had already managed results against bigger clubs in this tournament, but the Potters were different. Sixth in the British Championship table, Stoke were among the most storied clubs in British football.

Almost 7,000 people came out to Spotland on a cool, drizzly evening, and they saw Paul Sanderson's side put up a good fight. Stoke won the match, 0-2, both their goals coming off set pieces.

Unfortunately, the reversal of form didn't undo itself when Oxford United came to Spotland on the 15th. The Us scored within three minutes and went on from there, spanking Rochdale 0-3 and moving top of the table. "It was an embarrassing result," said Sanderson after the match."

On a more positive note, a new crop of youth candidates joined the club. Among them were several about whom the staff were already raving. Head of Youth Development Ben Ferguson had a shrewd eye for talent, so his evaluations carried a lot of weight with the manager.

Among the most promising youngsters:

GK Paul Flitcroft (age 16). His quick reflexes, sure hands, and ability to control the air make him a prime prospect. Potential: 4.5 stars.

D(C) Francis Green (age 16). Plenty of pace; the toughness of a first-rate stopper and the ability to pass the ball out of danger. Potential: 4.0 stars.

D(R, L, C) Ollie Mallinson (age 15). A set of very strong mental attributes should enable him to make the most of his considerable talent. Is there a captain's arm band in his future? Potential: 4.5 stars.

AM(L)/M(L)/D(L) John Hollyoak (age 16). Dynamite in a small (5'4", 116 lbs) package. A slick passer with speed to burn. Potential: 4.5 stars.

ST John Sumner (age 16). Already a deadly finisher, he's good with both feet and, like several of the other youngsters profiled above, he has great wheels. Potential: 4.5 stars.

Add these youngsters to a group of 18-year-olds like MC/DM Andy Funnell (4.0 star potential), ST Robert Shillito (4.0 star potential), and AM(C) Robert Jordan (4.5 star potential), and Rochdale supporters have reason to believe the next few years will be good ones.

"I believe a team should develop its young players," said Sanderson. "The bond that forms between a team and its supporters is that much stronger when the players have come up through the youth program."

He smiled when it was pointed out that he'd been very active in the transfer and loan markets since he arrived at Spotland Stadium. "If I want to be around in several years to watch the young players develop, I have to put together a team that can win right now."
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Old 12-07-2014, 08:48 PM   #27
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1 April 2014

With the sour taste of the big loss at Oxford still in their mouths, Rochdale went away to Bury on 22 March. "The supporters took the loss to Oxford really hard," observed left back Mike Staley. "We're anxious to turn things around and see if we can move up a few spots before the end of the season."

Staley and his teammates took a step in that direction with a 2-1 result away to Bury, grabbing three points on a late goal by Craig Thompson.

A day later, the club announced the signing of a talented young center half from East Kilbride called Stuart Maguire. A day away from his sixteenth birthday, Maguire had the pace and athleticism Paul Sanderson looked for in young players; what set him apart were his marking and tackling skills, which were highly developed for a lad his age. Maguire cost the club 9,250, about half of the remaining transfer budget, but Sanderson thought it was money very well spent. "Our scouts think Maguire has League Two potential," the manager claimed.

Before the team's next game, away to Mansfield, someone pointed out the disparity between Rochdale's performance against the stronger and weaker clubs in the Royal First Division. Against teams in the top half of the table, the Dale were meek as lambs, with a 3-8-2 record. Against the bottom half, they were fierce as lions: 14-2-3. Since Mansfield were fourth, the smart bet might have been on the home team.

Sanderson's lads battled hard on a rutted, muddy pitch, grinding out a 1-1 draw. Dave Gale, his bad ankle now healed, got the goal.

With nine matches remaining, Rochdale were ninth, on 62 points--two below Bury. Their next fixture was home to Cheltenham, who were right on their tails. "Don't forget, Cheltenham were the club who knocked us out of the King's Trophy," said Joe Webb, who clearly still had scores to settle. "We beat them in the league back in October. Let's see if we can take two of three."

The morale was good, the dressing room was harmonious, and Sanderson's job was looking considerably safer. "Hopefully I'll hear from the board about a contract for next season fairly soon," the manager mused. "I'm happy here and would like to stay on."

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Old 12-12-2014, 07:35 PM   #28
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22 April 2014

Paul Sanderson's smile was that of a man who had just felt a weight lifted from his shoulders. He had just penned his name to a new contract that would keep him at Rochdale for the 2014-15 season.

"We're very happy with the way Paul has settled in with us," said chairman John Broome. "There is a very positive atmosphere around the club, and especially since the first of the year, Paul has them playing very good football."

Paul's new deal would pay him 1,700/week, a 200/week raise from his current salary. If Rochdale were promoted, he'd see a 15% raise; if they were relegated, he'd be cut 35%.

The way the club was playing recently, promotion was the better bet. They had secured six points from their last three fixtures, with victories over Cheltenham (1-0) and Lismore Distillery (3-1) and a loss at home to Wrexham, in which they had rallied back from a 3-0 deficit with two goals in the second half.

One of the reasons Paul wanted to continue at Rochdale was the quality of the young players the club had on its books. He added another talented man to that group this week, when he engineered the purchase of central midfielder Simon Roberts from Afan Lido, a Welsh club in Group B of the Royal First Division. Although Lido were bottom of the table and almost certain to be relegated, Roberts, 20, had played fairly well. He'd started 21 matches, scoring two goals and posting a 6.58 average rating.

Head scout Adam James said, "Simon is a box-to-box midfielder with very good offensive skills. We think he might develop into an attacking player who scores a lot of goals. He's not ready for our first team yet, but we think he'll be there before long." James, as well as the other Rochdale scouts, all considered him a four-star potential talent.

Simon would join Rochdale on 1 July, but there was a chance his new boss might not be there to greet him. With England safely qualified for the World Cup and a new contract in his hands, Paul surprised his family with a trip to Brazil. They would watch England face Chile, South Korea, and Holland in Group H, and there was a possibility the family could stay longer if England got through to the knockout stage.

Leanne, Chris, and Gemma were all delighted. Two of Chris and Gemma's favorite Everton players--defenders Thomas Tate and Sam Courtney--were England regulars, and a third Evertonian, promising young goalkeeper Dave Brooker, might be picked, too. "I like Twan Janssen too," Chris admitted, "even though he plays for Holland and Man U."

Leanne was looking ahead to a more demanding workout regimen in the weeks to come. "If I'm going to wear a bathing suit by the pool in Brazil, I better do something," she said with a playful smile.

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Old 12-13-2014, 01:21 PM   #29
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1 June 2014

Rochdale were secure in the middle of the Royal First Division table, with no chance at relegation or promotion. Paul Sanderson's status as the club's manager was secure for another season. For those reasons, the last weeks of the season were relatively uneventful at Spotland.

The side continued to play well, despite a rash of injuries and several international call-ups that caused Sanderson to make some changes to his lineup. Rochdale lost away to in-form Southend on 26 April (1-2) and away to Stirling Albion on 31 May (2-4), but swept the four matches in between--gaining results against York (4-2), Montrose (4-1), Institute (3-1), and Connah's Quay (1-0).

Steven Jackson, who scored six goals in May, was named the Royal First Division's Player of the Month. He finished the season with 14 goals in 21 league matches, and with a 450/week contract that would keep him at Spotland for another season, he was one of the league's biggest bargains.

Sanderson extended the loan agreement with Reading for 19-year-old defender Ger Dykes, who played well in an injury-plagued season. Astute observers wondered if the decision to keep Dykes meant the club might part ways with expensive veteran left back Mike Staley. On this point, Sanderson remained silent, for now.

Another veteran backliner, Ronique Linton, brought honor to the side when he was picked for Jamaica's World Cup squad. Linton, who had played 51 times for his country, was deeply honored by his selection. "I'm 41 years old," he admitted. "I've always dreamed of playing in the World Cup, and now I've made that dream come true." He would be playing another season of club football, too, as his 15 appearances for Rochdale triggered a contract extension for 2014-15. "Ronique is a mentor for young players," his manager said. "He's currently tutoring Steven France, one of our young center backs."

Paul was also excited about the strong finish Everton enjoyed in the Premiership. The Toffees qualified for Europe with a sixth-place finish, good enough for a spot in the Europa League. Five Evertonians would be playing for their nations in the World Cup. Goalkeeper Ryan Brooks was the United States' number one. Defenders Thomas Tate and Sam Courtney would represent England. Striker Souleymane Kouame would play for Ivory Coast, while midfielder Nikos Gerakaris was set to earn his 60th cap for Greece.

Before Paul and his family headed for Brazil, he had a lot of football matters to handle. Highest on his priority list were a series of personnel decisions, which would affect the future of several of the team's biggest stars.

Striker Craig Thompson's outstanding season--24 goals in all competitions--attracted the attention of several bigger clubs. Five of them made transfer bids for the 22-year-old star, offering up to 300,000 for him. And he wasn't the only Rochdale player for whom other teams had come calling. Bradford City and Dundee offered 275,000 and 250,000, respectively, for Alan Foster. Joe Webb attracted interest from Bradford, too, but their 50,000 offer was rejected out of hand. "No way we're selling Joe for that," Sanderson said with a shake of his head.

The offers for Thompson and Foster were another matter. The manager was seriously considering them. "Craig's an ambitious lad," Paul said. "He's flattered by the attention being shown to him. We have a couple good young players who could play on top, guys like Charlie Baird or Craig Ennis. Even Robert Shillito might be ready for the first team.

"Alan is a Manchester lad, a Rochdale supporter for years. He's very happy playing here. If I had to make a decision right this minute, I'd probably sell Craig on and keep Alan around," Sanderson confided.

The club banked 95,000 for finishing seventh in the league, and another 400,000 for a selling-on fee when Nigeria international defender Abdul Azeez went from West Bromwich Albion to Newcastle. Rochdale pocketed 15% of Azeez' 2.4 million fee.

"That's more than enough to pay for the new pitch," Sanderson pointed out. "Maybe the board will invest more of it in facilities, or something else to bring the club forward."
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Old 12-13-2014, 02:38 PM   #30
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10 June 2014

Paul Sanderson decided to accept transfer offers from a half dozen clubs for striker Craig Thompson. Bradford City, Heart of Midlothian, Ross County, Hamilton, Rotherham, and Swindon all made bids of 300,000 for Thompson; Hamilton and Ross County offered Rochdale 25% of the profit from the sale if Craig were to be sold on from their clubs.

"Those offers were too good to refuse," Sanderson admitted. "We turned down offers for Alan Foster, though. Alan is unquestionably one of our team's leaders."

His leadership might become more important to the club in the wake of an exchange between Sanderson and captain Lee Mason at the team's season-ending talk. Sanderson sent the players off on holiday with an exhortation to work for another top-half finish next season. "I want to give some of our talented young players some first team football," the boss explained. "Otherwise, I'd say we could mount a real challenge for promotion."

Mason surprised everyone in the room by saying he believed Sanderson was being too optimistic. The remaining players sided with their manager, though, and Mason left the meeting in a huff.

"That lack of support bothered me," Paul admitted. "Lee doesn't have a contract for next season, and I don't think we're going to pay him over a thousand quid a week to sit in team meetings and complain." Mason hadn't managed to remain in the first team, which made him a rather expensive substitute.

The promotion and relegation playoffs concluded today. Royal First Division champion Chesterfield would be going up to the Royal Premier, to be joined by playoff winners Southend United and Oxford United. Five clubs were relegated to the Qualifying Groups: Clyde, Lismore Distillery, Prestatyn Town, Gala Fairydean Rovers, and Connah's Quay.

"Did you notice that none of the English clubs were relegated?" assistant manager Louis Johnson pointed out. Nuneaton, Aldershot, and Ebbsfleet--all English clubs--won promotion from the Qualification Groups, but nobody knew which of the groups they'd be assigned to, now that they were in the First Division.

Likewise, six clubs--Alloa Athletic, Arbroath, Dungannon Swifts, Ballymena United, Bala Town, and Newtown--were all dropped from the Royal Premier. And none of them were English.
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Old 12-13-2014, 08:08 PM   #31
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13 June 2014

The attention of the football world turned to Brazil, as the World Cup kicked off today.

Here are the groupings for this year's tournament. The teams are listed alphabetically.

Group A: Brazil, Ghana, Japan, Ukraine.
Group B: Germany, Jamaica, Nigeria, Sweden.
Group C: Australia, Italy, Peru, Russia.
Group D: Cameroon, France, Spain, Mexico.
Group E: Belgium, Croatia, Iran, Paraguay.
Group F: Argentina, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Switzerland.
Group G: Egypt, Greece, United States, Uruguay.
Group H: Chile, England, Holland, South Korea.

Group C, which contained #1 ranked Spain and a traditionally strong French side, along with #14 ranked Mexico, was considered by most pundits to be the Group of Death. England was expected to go through, with Holland joining them from Group H.

The Sandersons were scheduled to arrive in the coastal city of Porto Alegre on 16 June, two days before England played Chile at Arena Gremio. They would stay in Porto Alegre rather than flying over 2300 kilometers to Recife, where England would play South Korea, because England's match with Holland was also scheduled for Porto Alegre. In the eleven days between the matches, Paul, Leanne, and the kids would enjoy the beaches, and they could see Ronique Linton's Jamaica team play against Sweden.

Then it would be back to the business of football, as Rochdale prepared for the new season. For now, however, Paul was going to enjoy a well-earned vacation with his family.
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Old 12-13-2014, 10:10 PM   #32
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4 July 2014

Paul Sanderson returned to Rochdale from Brazil rested, tanned (although it was autumn there) and ready for the start of the 2014-2015 campaign. The players returned to Spotland Stadium on the 1st, minus a few lads who had moved on.

Most notable among them was left back Mike Staley, who made 29 appearances for the Dale last season. Staley was 31, and while he was a good player, Sanderson believed he could find one nearly as good for half as much money as Staley earned. Mike signed with York City (Royal First Division) who were happy to pay him 1,100 a week.

Andy Barron was gone, too, and Sanderson justified the decision to let him go on the same terms. He'd made only eight appearances last year, and 1,200/week was far too much to pay a 28-year-old player for that amount of first team football. That's how much Luton Town, another Royal First Division club, was going to pay Andy this season.

Luis Cassama, who featured 11 times on Rochdale's back line, moved up a level and signed with Port Vale. Lee Mason, whose tenure as Rochdale captain ended when he, alone among his team, challenged his manager's goals for the upcoming season, wasn't resigned either. Between them, Mason and Cassama earned nearly 1,900 last year.

Sanderson had already used some of that money to bring in reinforcements for his defense. He'd had his eye on center back Jamie Bennett, whom he knew about through his Everton connections. Bennett, now 19, spent last season on loan at Swindon Town, where he made 20 appearances. Everton let him go on a free, and Sanderson quickly signed him to a two-year contract on 650/week. Right now, Bennett would provide cover for Andy Carr and Graham Somers, but his potential guaranteed he'd get plenty of playing time.

Even younger than Bennett, and potentially even more talented, midfielder Max McKenzie joined the club after Blackburn Rovers let him go. Max was best at AM(C), a position Paul hadn't used very often. "I might think about it now," the gaffer said with a smile. At 230/week, McKenzie might be the bargain of the year.

The Dale's third signing was more than twice as old as McKenzie. He was Jack McGrath, who would be coming on board as a player/reserves manager. He had served as player/manager at Notts County the season before, and Paul was shocked to see him sacked after he led the Magpies to an eighth place finish in the Royal Premier League.

Jack, 36, appeared 31 times in the central midfield for Notts County and, although he had lost some pace, his understanding of the game and his technical skill were superb. Paul quickly offered him a contract at 650/week, and Jack accepted it with a smile.

With McGrath on board, Paul felt much more comfortable accepting the transfer offer he'd been made for Kyle Radcliffe, whom Glentoran, a Championship side, had been coveting. "It was going to take a lot of money to persuade us to let Kyle go, and Glentoran offered us 300,000. Kyle is only 22, and I'm taking a chance that our staff is right when they say he's about as good as he's going to get. If we're right, then we're getting a great deal for him."

The board had approved a wage budget of 34,344 a week, and a transfer budget of 156,000. For that expenditure, they expected Sanderson to build a team that could contend for a league title.

"That's an ambitious goal, but I'm ready to take it on," said the manager.

Meanwhile, England continued on in the World Cup. They won their group with two wins and a draw, and saw off Uruguay, 2-1, in the Second Round, earning a quarterfinal match with Croatia. The biggest surprise of group play was Cameroon, who emerged from the Group of Death...eliminating Cup holders Spain in the process. Les Lions Indomptables lost to Russia, 1-0, in the Second Round, but their story was still compelling.

"I wish we could have stayed and watched England play," confessed Paul. "I know Leanne was enjoying the beach, too. She's got the tan to prove it," he added, with a sly wink.

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Old 12-14-2014, 02:04 PM   #33
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9 August 2014

The Royal First Division season began today, with Paul Sanderson's Rochdale side at home to Montrose. A very busy preseason, which saw Sanderson taking significant steps to build the kind of club he wanted, therefore came to a close.

Rochdale played five friendlies during July and early August. They routed smaller clubs like Boston United (6-2) and Porthmadog (6-2), were routed in return by Nottingham Forest (0-5), edged a similar Vauxhall Motors side (2-1), and lost a close one to Barnsley (0-1). The Barnsley friendly looked like it would be an annual event, as the League Two club was now Rochdale's parent club.

Last month, host Brazil won the World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Germany in the final. The winning goal was scored by Paquito, who played his club football at home, with Fluminense. England, too, delighted their supporters, advancing to the Semi Final with a 1-0 result over Croatia. Their hopes of a championship ended when Germany saw them off, 0-3, but they won the third place match, 3-2, over Paraguay.

Rochdale found themselves in Group B this season, as it appeared the Royal First Division re-sorted its clubs every year. The Dale would face familiar opponents such as York City, Morecambe, and Cheltenham and new foes like Cambridge United, Luton Town, and Accrington Stanley.

Some pundits were tipping Rochdale as the best bet to win the championship. Sanderson didn't play up this prediction, but he didn't discount it, either. "We're certainly strong enough to contend this season. We proved that with our play during the second half of last year. We had 36 points at the halfway point of the season, and we finished on 80. That's a fifty percent increase."

Rochdale's 54 second-half points were best in the league, two more than champions Chesterfield and four more than Bristol Rovers, the other club who had reversed their fortunes after Christmas. "If we can pick back up where we left off, we will be in great shape."
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Old 12-14-2014, 02:22 PM   #34
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Here's a look at the Rochdale club, position by position. It will be our first introduction to a number of new players who came on board during the summer.


Senior Team
Father Time has begun poking 39-year-old Stavros Molloy with his sickle, robbing him of his athleticism and, almost overnight, making him seem like a shadow of the player who saved so many points for Rochdale in 2013-14. He is still around, but he's been dropped from the registered squad for the fall. Sanderson is hoping Stav, with whom he has a very good friendship and who has a desire to become a coach, will stick around and join the back room staff when he puts away his boots.

Two new keepers will be sharing the position, at least for the time being. Sakari Kinnunen (age 21) is on a three-month loan from Fulham. He is 6'6", and controls the air as well as you'd expect a man his size to do. Kinnunen, a Finn, is also surprisingly athletic.

Kinnunen might never have arrived at Spotland had Morten Pedersen (age 25) and his agent not taken so long before they agreed to a contract with Rochdale. Pederson is from Denmark, and he is the same kind of keeper as Kinnunen--tall (6'5"), agile, and smart. He is now the club's best-paid player, on a two-year contract that pays him 2,500/week.

Some of Sanderson's staff think Kinnunen is the better player, while some prefer Pedersen. Since Pedersen is in the team permanently, it's fair to say he'll have an edge.

Adam Kearney (age 21) is the third keeper. When he's been given a chance to solidify himself in the first team, he's been maddeningly inconsistent. He has potential, however, so he'll enjoy more grooming with the reserves. Molloy will also see time in the reserves' goal, which will give that youthful team a steadying veteran presence.

Paul Flitcroft
(age 16) is the goalkeeper of the future. The staff believe he's talented enough to keep goal in the Championship one day.
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Old 12-14-2014, 02:55 PM   #35
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Senior Team

Depending on the formation, Sanderson's wide defenders play as either wing backs or full backs.

Left Back
Sanderson's connections with Everton enabled him to secure an agreement that brings Danny Clements (age 21) in for a year-long loan. He should immediately give Rochdale a dynamic presence on the left side, who can contribute to the attack or drop back and cover opposing wide players. Ger Dykes (age 19) returning for another year on loan from Reading, provides cover both on the left side and in the central defense.

Center Back
Graham Somers (age 22) and Andy Carr (age 22), last year's first team pairing, are back for another least for now. Cliftonville (Championship) has offered 600,000 for Somers and Sanderson is tempted by the offer. Jamie Bennett (age 19), formerly of Everton, would step in if Somers is sold, and he'll play a lot at any rate. Keep an eye on Adam White (age 20), a promising future stopper.

And say "so long" to Ronique Linton, who was allowed to go to Cliftonville on a free. There, he's pulling in 24,500 a week...almost TEN TIMES as much as Rochdale's top earner. At age 41, could Roni really be worth that salary?

Right Back
After a torrid start at Spotland Stadium last winter, Lars Nielsen (age 25) was less spectacular over the season's final weeks. And, instead of being the leader that a player of his quality should be, he's recently become involved in a conflict with Ollie Mallinson, a 16-year-old lad who plays the same position. Nielsen is still an outstanding player, but he's "considering his options," so could a sale be in the works? Craig Robertson (age 21) would be Sanderson's next choice here, and he was good enough to make 25 appearances last season. Losing Lars, therefore, wouldn't be the catastrophe it might otherwise appear to be.


Dave Gill (age 20), who was impressive in a loan spell at Chester last year, is the most ready to step in on the left side. Anthony Murphy (age 16) has more long-term upside, however. In the middle, Hungarian Laszlo Vass (age 18), Stuart Maguire (age 16), Francis Green (age 16), Kevin Jones (age 16), and Jamie Barker (age 18) give Sanderson a number of prospects with League One potential. On the right, Ollie Mallinson (age 16), Richard Pickering (age 18), Switzerland's Daniel Salis (age 18), and Ireland's Barry King (age 17) are the most promising youngsters. Pickering is almost ready for senior duty.
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Old 12-14-2014, 03:20 PM   #36
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Senior Team

On the Left
Alan Foster
(age 26) is the clear choice if Sanderson plays an AM(L), and he'd be the first pick if the formation calls for a deeper-lying winger, too. He scored eight goals for Rochdale last year, and he's taken the captain's arm band for this season.

In the Middle
Gifted Sam Dawson (age 20) seemed to take his game to a new level during preseason. He's always been lightning fast, but now the rest of his game appears to be catching up. His partner in the middle of the park might depend on Sanderson's tactical choices for any given match. Paul Webb (age 23) offers more offensive flair. Jack McGrath (age 36) is a defensive stalwart. Josh Moore (age 34) is a balanced, heady player. McGrath is the team's vice captain, and he doubles as reserve team manager.

When Sanderson uses an AM(C), look for Austrian newcomer Johannes Scherrer (age 18) or Max McKenzie (age 17) to shine. McKenzie is an elite athlete, while Scherrer, a youth international, is already a slick technician.

Dawson and McGrath are both good defensive midfielders, and will play there when that position is called for.

On the Right
Fan favorite Joe Webb (age 28) returns here, after knocking in nine goals and adding nine assists last year. He is versatile, able to play AM(R), M(R), or even striker in a pinch. Scherrer and McKenzie can also play well in these spots.

John Hollyoak
(age 16) and German import Florian Schlegel (age 17) are the most promising talents on the left wing. Veteran Mark Spiers (age 36) will start in the center of the pitch for the reserves, with youngsters Andy Funnell (age 19), Anthony Cox (age 19), Simon Roberts (age 20), Brian Speight (age 17), and Andrew Whatley (age 16) providing hope for the future. Norway's Herman Barstad (age 17) adds to the depth on the right side.

Scherrer, McKenzie, and Dawson aren't exactly greybeards, either.
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Old 12-14-2014, 03:35 PM   #37
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Senior Team

The sale of Craig Thompson means Sanderson might use a single striker more often this season than he did last year.

Taking up the mantle as the side's top scoring threat will be powerful target man Steven Jackson (age 27). Big Steve has proven he can find the net, with 14 goals in 21 appearances last season. Versatile Charlie Baird (age 22) will be Jackson's most common partner this season. Baird fired in seven goals in 2013-14, although he almost never played as a striker. Craig Ennis (age 20), who scored two goals in preseason after knocking in 22 for the reserves and U21s last year, and Barnsley loanee Emmanuel Koffie (age 20), a product of Ghana, will also play up front. Baird is best as a false nine or an advanced playmaker, while Koffie is best suited for the role of advanced forward.

There is no shortage of young talent here. Jack McDonald (age 18), Robert Shillito (age 18), Stuart Try (age 17), Isaiah Murphy (age 18), and John Sumner (age 16) are all top prospects. Shillito bagged 20 goals for the apprentice teams last year, and Sumner had a brace against Porthnadog this summer--and a third shot hit the crossbar. David Kiely (age 22) is away on loan to Bishop's Stortford this season.
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Old 12-14-2014, 03:56 PM   #38
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I'm stepping out of third person mode to explain a little bit about what I'm trying with this dynasty. I've been fascinated with developing young players since I discovered Football Manager. I come by that fascination naturally, since I enjoy seeing players rise from a club's youth program to take their place in the first team in the real Premier League, too.

My philosophy with Rochdale will be based on finding talented young players that bigger clubs might have given up on and seeing if I can develop them into first team regulars. I spent a good portion of Rochdale's wage budget on teenagers who were released from Premier League youth teams. Here are the players I've brought into the team this way, along with the club where they were youth candidates:

Player Youth Club Jamie Barker Everton Herman Barstad Manchester City Jamie Bennett Everton Anthony Cox Bolton Wanderers Kevin Jones Everton Barry King Liverpool Jack McDonald Chelsea Max McKenzie Blackburn Rovers Anthony Murphy Arsenal Isaiah Murphy Crystal Palace Brian Nelson Preston Robert Owen Manchester City Richard Pickering Liverpool Daniel Salis Manchester City Johannes Scherrer Manchester City Florian Schlegel Derby County Brian Speight Manchester United Stuart Try Southampton Laszlo Vass Liverpool Andrew Whatley Manchester United

The other youngsters in the club were Rochdale lads from the beginning, with the exception of Robert Shillito, whom I signed in fall '13.

Note: I didn't use the "search" function or any of the editors to track these players down. My scouts found them, or I learned about them from news stories I received in my inbox.

Perhaps one day we'll be reading about the "Class of '14" that led Rochdale to greatness. Or, the experiment will fail miserably and I'll be sacked. Either way, it will be fun to see how it turned out.
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Old 12-15-2014, 09:02 AM   #39
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19 August 2014

"This isn't the way I envisioned this season starting out, I can tell you that."

The look on Paul Sanderson's face said it all. His Rochdale team was bottom of the table after three matches. A season-opening 2-3 defeat at home to Montrose, a 1-1 draw at home to Fleetwood Town, and a surprising 0-3 thrashing away to Stirling Albion meant the Dale had managed only a single point so far. For a club that had championship aspirations, this was unexpected, and unacceptable.

"We've battled injuries," Sanderson said, but it was clear he was not offering that fact as an excuse. "We have enough talent that we ought to be able to cover for an injury or two."

Graham Somers was only now back in training, and he had yet to make his first apperance in the league. Jamie Bennett, who was covering for him, had struggled, and so had his partner in the center of the defense, Andy Carr. Neither of the new goalkeepers, Morten Pedersen or Sakari Kinnunen, had been stellar, either. Kinnunen suffered the worst luck, pawing a Stirling Albion shot into his own net and allowing the visitors to steal a point.

"It's not the young players' fault," Sanderson added. "Johannes Scherrer is the only teenager who's been starting, and he's been fine."

Rumors of increased transfer activity were already starting up, with the deadline less than a fortnight away. The papers were speculating that Lars Nielsen might be sold, and there were offers being made for Steven Jackson already (Jackson wasn't going anywhere, though). And Rochdale had already signed one new player, a familiar face to Royal First Division fans.

Andy Sim was the league's second high scorer in 2013-14, netting 25 goals for Peterhead. His scoring feats weren't enough to keep the Blue Toon from the drop, and Sim didn't relish the prospect of playing in the Qualification Groups. He wanted a bigger challenge, and Sanderson was willing to offer that to him. For 21,000, Andy was now sporting a Rochdale shirt.

"Andy can pair with Steven Jackson, or with Charlie Baird, or play as a lone striker," Sanderson explained. "And he is only 22, so he's still got time to grow as a footballer. We're glad to have him here."

The manager leaned back in his chair and sighed. "It's still early days, but we need to turn this around in a hurry."

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Old 12-15-2014, 09:19 AM   #40
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23 August 2014

The bad luck kept coming for Paul Sanderson and his Rochdale side.

Sanderson had sent Jack McGrath in as a substitute in the 85th minute of the match against Stirling Albion, replacing an exhausted Paul Webb, who was also on a yellow card. McGrath promptly came in, studs up, on a Stirling player and was sent off with a red card. McGrath took his discipline from Sanderson like a man; he knew he'd face a mandatory one-game ban for his behavior. Then the league tacked on an additional two matches.

Charlie Baird needed some match fitness, so he was allowed to turn out for the reserves...and he twisted his ankle badly enough that the physio predicted he'd be out of action for 7-8 weeks.

"Good thing we signed Andy Sim," said a resigned Sanderson.

Today, his side was away to Ballymena United, a Northern Irish club who had been relegated from the Royal Premier after a ghastly season that saw them finish with only 28 points and a -48 goal differential. They had the same record as Rochdale this time around, a draw and two losses, and Sanderson saw the match as an opportunity to turn things around.

"We need a result."

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Old 12-15-2014, 12:03 PM   #41
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30 August 2014

Life was looking better from the manager's office at Spotland Stadium. A 4-1 victory at Ballymena United and a successful Transfer Day worked wonders.

Andy Sim celebrated the first start of his Rochdale career with a brace. Alan Foster and Steven Jackson got the other goals, and Jackson assisted on all three of the goals he didn't score. The result lifted Rochdale all the way to 14th, not where anyone in blue wanted them to be, but a lot better than the bottom.

Several clubs came calling with offers for Jackson, but Paul turned them all down. "Linfield offered us 85,000 at the very end of the evening, but I honestly didn't consider it. Steven is one of our key players."

The club did sell one player. Lars Nielsen had made it clear that he wasn't going to sign another contract with Rochdale, saying the club wasn't good enough to match his aspirations. So, when Barnsley offered 100,000 for Lars's services, Sanderson shook his hand and wished him good luck.

"It's never a bad idea to do business like that with your parent club," Paul reasoned. "It wasn't easy to sell Lars; he's a fine player, but he didn't plan on staying here after the end of the season. He understood that it was better for us to get the fee for him than for us to let him leave on a free in June."

Paul hoped he had found a good replacement for Nielsen in John Spendlove, age 29, whom he bought from Sheffield United (League Two) for 22,000. He'd appeared in 33 matches there last season, mostly on the right side of midfield, but he didn't appear to be part of their plans anymore.

"John can play right wing back or right full back, even though he didn't play much in those positions with Sheffield. If it turns out he's not a good fit there, we can always use Craig Robertson."

As the transfer window closed, Paul registered his squad for the first half of the season. There were no surprises on the squad list; here's how it looked. Loan players are shown in blue type.

Goalkeepers: Sakari Kinnunen, Stavros Molloy, Morten Pedersen.

Defenders: Jamie Bennett, Andy Carr, Danny Clements, Ger Dykes, Craig Robertson, Graham Somers, John Spendlove, Adam White.

Midfielders: Sam Dawson, Alan Foster, Adrian Martland, Jack McGrath, Max McKenzie, Josh Moore, Johannes Scherrer, Joe Webb, Paul Webb.

Strikers: Charlie Baird, Craig Ennis, Steven Jackson, Emannuel Koffie, Andy Sim.
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Old 12-21-2014, 01:38 PM   #42
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25 December 2014

As the season reached the halfway pole, Paul Sanderson's Rochdale side found itself right where the pundits thought it would be: in the middle of an exciting, pitched battle for the championship of Group B of the Royal First Division. Rochdale were riding a 15-match unbeaten streak--10 wins, 5 draws--and the crowds at Spotland were steadily growing. They had spent some time on top of the table, exchanging places with Fleetwood and Burton nearly every week.

The supporters were coming out to watch a club that had scored the second most goals in league play in all of Britain. Andy Sim (15 goals in all competitions) and Steven Jackson (11) were the most productive strike partnership in the league, and players like Joe Webb and Andy Foster were also firing in goals with regularity.

"I like attractive, attacking football, and I know the supporters are enjoying it, too," said Sanderson.

Despite these positives, it hadn't been a smooth ride for the young manager. In early October, the team stood fifth, but many believed Sanderson was underachieving; he had assembled a squad with enough talent to top the table, said the experts. In fact, one paper claimed that unless the Dale got a result against Burton on 4 October, Sanderson might get the sack.

The lads responded with a stirring 4-0 victory, and since then, nobody had called for Paul's dismissal. In fact, clubs in higher divisions came calling for him. Port Vale and Exeter City both asked Paul for interviews, and the press called him the front-runner for the job at Tranmere Rovers.

"I'm flattered, but I'm not interested," Sanderson said. "I'm very happy here with Rochdale. We're putting together a group of exciting young players, and I see a very promising future unfolding at Spotland."

Joaquin Ruiz's future was going to unfold somewhere other than Everton. He was sacked in late November, with the Toffees floundering just above the drop zone. Only a year earlier, Ruiz had finished third in the Premier League Manager of the Year voting. His replacement, Jose Guedes, had the club playing a little better, but for a club that was predicted to finish seventh, a spot well in the bottom half of the table was a real disappointment.

Paul signed another of the youngsters Ruiz had sent packing from Everton: 19-year-old Mark March, a Welshman who could play anywhere on the right side of the pitch. Similarly-named Marc Malcolm, released from Rangers, also joined the club. He was 17, and he was comfortable in a variety of defensive roles. Neither youngster would be turning out for the first team yet, but their versatility made them part of Sanderson's plans for the future.

But, as the holidays brought a festive air to the foothills of the South Pennines, Rochdale supporters were more interested in the outcome of a promotion battle that showed every sign of continuing all season long.

I plan on continuing this story for years, or as long as Sanderson's career continues. So I don't burn out, I'm going to update only a few times a season, unless something truly remarkable happens.
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Old 12-21-2014, 07:53 PM   #43
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28 January 2015

Transfer Day

Paul Sanderson used the final days of the mid-season transfer window to address two potential problems for his Rochdale squad.

The first was their relatively porous defense. "I realize the formation I use will make it more difficult for us to hold teams scoreless," Paul explained. "Our wing backs, Danny Clements and John Spendlove, are expected to take part in the attack, and they are doing exactly what they're being coached to do. That means the center backs have a lot of responsibility, maybe more than they would if we played a flat back four."

Injuries had forced Sanderson to rotate Andy Carr, Graham Somers, and Jamie Bennett at center back, with Adam White also seeing some playing time. Carr had been very good, but Somers' injuries and Bennett's youth had rendered them less effective. So, when scout Stuart Muir tipped his boss about a Lithuanian center half called Tomas Juozaitis, who was out of contract after his release from Leeds, Sanderson decided to take a closer look.

Juozaitis, 26, was a rugged, muscular presence in the central defense. "He's not afraid to mix it up with anyone," Steven Jackson said after contending with him in training. Juozaitis was a full international, with 23 caps to his credit, and after some negotiations with his agent, he signed a contract that would pay him 2,000/week through June 2016.

The second problem arose on Deadline Day. As Paul explained it, "As we're negotiating contracts for next year, some of the players are asking for more than we can afford to pay them. They've served us well, but there's only so much we can do."

Josh Moore wouldn't even discuss a contract. He was sold to Bristol Rovers for 7,000. Paul Webb's agent demanded more money than the Rochdale board would come close to paying. Before Sanderson could offer him around, he accepted an offer from Carlisle for next season. "We could have sold Webb for 75,000 if we'd been willing to do it last summer," Paul sighed.

Captain Alan Foster was the next to be courted. Linfield made a move to sign him, but the captain accepted a 1,800/week contract that would keep him at Spotfield for two more seasons. Charlie Baird, however, chose Linfield's offer over the 1,100/week deal Rochdale put on the table. And, when utility man Mark Spiers was sold to Fleetwood, it meant the Rochdale midfield corps would be down two men immediately, and down four men by 1 July.

One of those holes was filled by Dean Pirie, age 19, who arrived from Barnsley on loan. Pirie was definitely a work in progress, not ready to unseat either Sam Dawson or Jack McGrath in the Rochdale first eleven, but good enough to give them a break. Sanderson also signed veteran Peter Lindsey, 33, from Dungannon to provide cover at any of 12 different places on the pitch.

"It's going to be very important for our young players to develop over the next year or so," Sanderson pointed out. "That's the only way we'll be able to stay within our wage budget and keep a competitive team on the pitch."

Last edited by Greyfriars Bobby : 12-21-2014 at 08:46 PM.
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Old 12-31-2014, 10:00 PM   #44
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1 March 2015

A good run of results over the first two months of 2015 had Rochdale back on top of the league, with Burton Albion and Fleetwood Town right on their heels, two points behind. With the exception of the shock defeat at home to Nuneaton Town on 28 February, Sanderson's club were playing much better defensively, and the goals kept coming. Andy Sim, with 20 league goals, was the second high scorer in the Royal First Division, and Steven Jackson, on 16, was also among the leaders.

"We're struggling a little with injuries right now," the manager said. "We're thin on makes it hard for us to give our back four a rest, and they need one." Craig Robertson, Graham Somers, and Ger Dykes had all missed at least a month, and they were only now returning to anything close to match fitness.

Craig Jackson, too, was jaded and in need of some time off, so Sanderson was thinking about using Sim as a single striker. Young, talented Max McKenzie might get some extended action, playing in the hole behind Sim. "We tried that in a game back in the fall, and it worked pretty well," Paul recalled.

With a league championship looking like a more and more realistic aspiration, expectations around Spotland were starting to become higher. Sanderson was fine with that. "We're a good side, and we're going to be in the fight for the league all spring long," he predicted.
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Old 01-04-2015, 12:10 PM   #45
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10 March 2015

Morale was a funny thing. The mood in the Rochdale changing room was as gloomy as it had been back in October, and when Paul Sanderson asked the captain, Alan Foster, about it, he told the manager that the lads needed a run of good results to boost their spirits.

True, the Dale had lost to Nuneaton Town, shipping four goals--the most they'd allowed in a competitive match all season--and followed it up with a drab 1-1 draw against Aldershot Town. Still, the team had gone five matches without a defeat immediately before, so why was their morale so fragile?

Looking back, it seemed that Aldershot's goal, as well as at least two of Nuneaton's, had been the result of a lack of defensive support by the central midfielders. "We were missing Jack McGrath, who hurt his elbow in training two weeks ago," Sanderson pointed out. "Jack is excellent in a holding role, and without him, I think we lacked some defensive continuity." McGrath, who'd been brought on as much for his coaching skills as his talents on the pitch, had been a success at Spotland. He'd already appeared in enough matches to trigger an automatic renewal of his contract, which Sanderson would have wanted to do anyway.

Hopefully Jack would be fit enough to play on Saturday, when Rochdale traveled away to Burton Albion. The Brewers sat third in the table, and their roster was every bit as talented as Rochdale's, if not more so. The lads would need to be at their best to secure a result that might lift their mood a bit.

This week, a fresh group of youth candidates arrived at Spotland. Sanderson and his staff were very impressed with several of them. Sean Wynn, age 15, was as fast as anyone on the squad with the exception of Sam Dawson, who might be the fastest player in England. Wynn was a center back with considerable promise. Matt Tinker, also 15, a right wing, was almost as athletic as Wynn, and looked very comfortable with the ball in training. Both Wynn and Tinker were drawing raves from the older players for their professionalism. Goalkeeper Jason Robinson, attacking midfielder Simon Aspinwall, and right back Matthew McGregor had also opened some eyes in their first training sessions.

"Matter of fact, all the kids look like they could make footballers," youth development head Ben Ferguson said.
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Old 01-04-2015, 01:54 PM   #46
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14 March 2015

Rochdale at Burton Albion

GK: Samari Kinnunen
D: Danny Clements, Tomas Juozaitis, Andy Carr, John Spendlove
M: Sam Dawson, Jack McGrath
AM: Alan Foster, Joe Webb
ST: Steven Jackson, Andy Sim

Paul Sanderson hoped he'd have close to a full squad ready to go into this tough match at Pirelli Stadium. Jack McGrath had returned to training, and while he wouldn't be at peak fitness, he was close enough--especially for a match as big as this one. Steven Jackson, who had taken two weeks off after starting 30 matches, was ready to go, too.

Burton Albion was clearly among the better sides in the Royal First Division. They held their shape defensively, not allowing Rochdale's patient passing game to unravel them. When a Rochdale player got a crack at the goal, keeper Andrew Jenkins was there to make the save.

Andy Sim put Rochdale on the scoreboard first, taking a pass from Joe Webb, slipping between two defenders and tucking a shot into the left corner, just out of Jenkins' reach. Burton equalized on the half hour, when young center back Sam Froggatt picked the ball out of a scramble in front of the Rochdale goal and volleyed it in. That was all the scoring, as Rochdale looked much more solid in the back and allowed Burton only two clear chances--both of which Kinnunen handled.

Final score: Rochdale 1-1 Burton Albion

Fleetwood Town drew with AFC Wimbledon, so they and Rochdale remained level on 67 points; Sanderson's side had a 12-goal advantage, so they claimed the top spot.

Matt Tinker scored in the U21 side's 4-1 victory over Mansfield, and was rewarded with a professional contract offer. Tinker, who grew up supporting Rochdale, would hopefully agree to terms quickly.

Luciano Barreto, the manager at League One Peterborough, was in the stands, reportedly watching Sam Dawson. The press speculated about Barreto's interest in signing Dawson, who despite considering both Sanderson and Steven Jackson to be "favoured personnel," was nevertheless considering his options.

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Old 01-04-2015, 06:03 PM   #47
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A busy week at Rochdale A.F.C. began with the signing of several youth players to professional contracts:

AM(R) Matt Tinker
D(C) Sean Wynn
GK Jason Robinson
D/WB(R) Matthew McGregor
M/AM(R) Phil Yoffe
D/WB(L) Matt O'Neill

Paul Sanderson's staff considered each of these lads talented enough to play at least one level higher and, in most cases, two or three levels up. Tinker, for example, was touted as a Championship-level talent, and McGregor--if he could overcome a slightly devil-may-care attitude--was at least as promising.

One indication of Rochdale's growing reputation was the number of players who were called for duty on their national teams. In late March, the following Rochdalers would be leaving for international duty:

Under 19
Germany: Florian Schlegel
Wales: Jamie Barker
Republic of Ireland: Barry King

Under 21
Austria: Johannes Scherrer
Switzerland: Daniel Salis
Hungary: Laszlo Vass and Tibor Karacs
Wales: Robert Owen and Kevin Jones

Senior Team
Finland: Sakari Kinnunen
Lithuania: Tomas Juozaitis

Scherrer, Kinnunen, and Juozaitis were all in Rochdale's registered squad, and Barker and Schlegel were on loan. "It's wonderful to see our players represent their nations," said Sanderson. "We'll miss them when they're on international duty, but I'm confident we have the depth to cover for them without missing a beat."

21 March 2015

Rochdale vs. Hereford United

GK: Morten Pedersen
D: Ger Dykes, Tomas Juozaitis, Graham Somers, John Spendlove
M: Dean Pirie, Jack McGrath
AM: Alan Foster, Johannes Scherrer
ST: Craig Ennis, Andy Sim

Sanderson made use of some of that depth, calling on several deputies to fill out the team sheet for the Hereford United match. One of the changes was necessary rather than optional. Midfield engine Sam Dawson was diagnosed with a sports hernia that would probably sideline him until early May. Dean Pirie, loaned in from Barnsley, would now be a fixture in the first team.

Craig Ennis made his presence felt quickly, with a pass that put Foster through for a goal on 17 minutes. It was the captain's 11th goal of the season.

Ennis was in a difficult position. Nearly 22 now, Ennis was a better player right now than any striker in the team except Sim and Steven Jackson, but several younger players, such as Robert Shillito, Souleymane Kouakou, and Jack McDonald, had more promise. Ennis was somewhat unsettled, wanting more playing time and asking to go out on loan. No club wanted to take him on, so he was stuck on the Rochdale bench for now.

"It was good for Craig's morale to make that play," Sanderson pointed out. "He's got a role on the team, and I hope he will be patient and keep working hard."

Hereford equalized before the half, and the score remained level until 72', when another reserve--center back Graham Somers--scored his first goal in nearly two years with the club. It wasn't a work of art; Spendlove's corner ping-ponged around the area before Somers got a boot on it and slid it past the Hereford keeper. "They don't ask how, they ask how many," a smiling Somers quipped.

The mood in the Rochdale camp darkened somewhat when Jack McGrath limped painfully off the pitch. The physio report was gloomy--McGrath had torn his hamstring. The player/reserves manager would be concentrating on the latter duty for the remainder of the 2014-15 season.

Final score: Rochdale 2-1 Hereford United

A victory for Fleetwood Town kept them on pace with Rochdale atop Group B of the Royal First Division.

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Old 01-05-2015, 05:42 PM   #48
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I'm stepping out of character here to post about the formation and tactics I've been using with Rochdale.

In the past, I've almost always gone with the basic 4-4-2, figuring there was only so much I could do to mess up if I used a very, very standard tactic. I discovered there were plenty of things I could mess up. Before I learned how different roles and duties complemented each other, I would put together my starting eleven like this:

1. Pick the most talented player at each position, using the star ratings from my assistant manager. Since I've almost always managed teams at the lower levels, my assistant manager was often very poor at judging talent.

2. Assign each player the role and duty my assistant manager believes he's best suited for. The only exception to this rule: If two players at very similar positions are best suited for the same role/duty, give one of them his second best role/duty. I knew better than to have two strikers who were both Trequartistas, for example.

As you might guess, this didn't work well.

I've enjoyed watching matches on TV and reading about the tactical side of the sport, along with reading about Football Manager online. And, why I might not have learned nearly enough to call myself a tactical expert, I've learned enough to recognize just how crappy I used to be.

Here's the basic formation I use most often:

Steven Jackson usually plays the Target Man role, teamed with Advanced Forward Andy Sim. I signed Jackson specifically to play this role, and he's worked out extremely well.

I had never used formations with either an AM(L) or an AM(R). However, two of Rochdale's best players, Alan Foster and Joe Webb, were much better advanced midfielders than they were at M(L) and M(R). So I decided to play to their strengths. Having the left wing (Foster) on Attack duty and the right wing (Webb) on Support duty seems to give my side a better offensive balance, since the more attack-minded striker plays on the right.

I'd also never used wing backs; I'd always played a flat back four. With my wide midfielders playing higher up the pitch, I decided to try moving my wide defenders up, too. The formation looked more balanced on my screen, and it's worked well in matches, too. John Spendlove plays on the right side, and he's playing the Complete Wing Back role, which is automatically on Attack duty. Danny Clements, whom I've brought in on loan, starts on the left. He's on Support duty, playing behind Foster, who's on Attack.

One of the central midfielders needs to be on Defend duty, or my central defenders are way too exposed. I play Jack McGrath in this holding role, since he's the best defensive player among Rochdale's midfielders, by far. Sam Dawson starts in the Box-to-Box Midfielder role, and I put him on Support duty.

Center back Tomas Juozaitis is best as a Stopper, moving up to challenge attackers. That's why I need his partner, Andy Carr, to take a Defend duty (if he's on Cover, he's playing too far back, and leaving too much space between him and TJ). When Graham Somers plays, he's always on Cover duty, since he's so much better in that role--that means I pair him with Carr, or shift Juozaitis to Defend.

I also occasionally use a 4-5-1 formation, which looks like this:

Both Sim and Jackson are decent at the Complete Forward role. Max McKenzie or Johannes Scherrer play the AM(C) position, and they both work well as Shadow Strikers. The other starters are the same.

I wish I hadn't taken so long to discover how important it is to balance roles and duties. At the same time, I've had a LOT of fun learning the tactical side of the game.
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Old 01-05-2015, 06:04 PM   #49
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28 March 2015

Rochdale at Dagenham & Redbridge

GK: Morten Pedersen
D: Danny Clements, Andy Carr, Graham Somers, Craig Robertson
M: Dean Pirie, Paul Webb
AM: Alan Foster, Joe Webb
ST: Steven Jackson, Andy Sim

Dag & Red were a solid, mid-table side, who were in good form when they hosted Rochdale. Paul Sanderson had to replace three regulars--injured midfielders Sam Dawson and Jack McGrath, and Tomas Juozaitis, on international duty. It wasn't surprising, then, that this contest looked like a "trap game" for Sanderson's lads.

That it was, Dag & Red scoring two first half goals to knock Rochdale off the top of the table.

Final score: Dagenham & Redbridge 2-0 Rochdale

Alan Foster (6.0) and Steven Jackson (5.4) played their worst football of the season. Sanderson sat Jackson down at the half, and discovered later that Cliftonville boss Jason Furlong was in the stands, supposedly to watch Jackson with an eye to a possible transfer offer.

"It's a complicated situation," Sanderson said later. "As a manager, you hate to stand in the way of a man's opportunity to move up in the sport. Cliftonville is a rich club. They can afford to pay players many times what we can here at Rochdale. They're bottom of the table (in the Championship), and they're trying to improve their side.

"Look at Ronique Linton. We sold him to Cliftonville, and he's making 24,500 a week now! That's ten times more than any man in our team. It's more than I made at Everton. If Ronique, or Steven, or any of these lads, has a chance to earn a salary like that, who am I to put an obstacle in his path?

"But at the same time, I have an obligation to our club to put the best possible team on the pitch. If I sell a player like Steven Jackson, I better have a replacement who can do the job, or I'll be looking for another position."

Nobody had made an offer for Jackson yet, but Sanderson was already wondering what he'd do if a good one came along.

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Old 01-05-2015, 08:05 PM   #50
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The week began with interesting news from international play. Three Rochdale players met at Liberty Stadium in Swansea when Wales and Austria played a goalless draw in a U21 friendly. Robert Owen and Kevin Jones started on the Welsh back line, with Johannes Scherrer playing in Austria's midfield.

Tomas Juozaitis wore the captain's armband for Lithuania in their 0-0 draw against Romania. "It was a great honor to captain my country," said Juozaitis, in a press meeting at St. Darius and St. Girenas stadium in Kaunas. The match was Juozaitis' 24th full international cap.

Prior to Rochdale's match with Wrexham, Paul Sanderson supported embattled Wrexham boss David Wainwright. "I'm firmly of the opinion that patience in football will be rewarded. The turnover of managers at the minute is getting ridiculous and I'd urge the board at Wrexham to give David more time because he's a very capable manager," Paul told Nic Thurgood of the Manchester Evening News.

4 April 2015
Wrexham at Rochdale

GK: Sakari Kinnunen
D: Ger Dykes, Tomas Juozaits, Andy Carr, John Spendlove
M: Dean Pirie, Paul Webb
AM: Alan Foster, Joe Webb
ST: Steven Jackson, Andy Sim

Paul Sanderson's side didn't make David Wainwright's job any more secure. Rochdale scored three times in the first 12 minutes, were up 5-0 before the hour mark, and coasted to a 5-2 victory.

Steven Jackson had a brace, and so did wing back John Spendlove. Spendlove's second goal was an early candidate for Goal of the Month--a whistling 20-yard strike that found its way between Wrexham keeper Jim Blake and his far post.

Andy Sim got the other Rochdale goal, his 23rd in league play, one fewer than Stuart Warren of Kidderminster Harriers.

Final score: Rochdale 5-2 Wrexham

Fleetwood United won again, so Rochdale remain three points off their pace with eight matches remaining. Two teams automatically earned promotion to the Royal Premier League, and Rochdale held the second spot by three points over York City.
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