Rochdale 2-4 Swindon Town: Gladwin’s Play-Off Guarantee

Ben Gladwin slalomed to a first hat-trick for Swindon as Town did more than enough to get the point they needed to guarantee a top six finish at Rochdale, writes Scott Keith.

Ah the lazy, hazy, days of summer that mean even warmth round the greater Mancunia metropolis. It all felt rather relaxed initially as Town went to Rochdale looking to ensure a place in the top six and attempt to put unlikely pressure on MK Dons and Preston for a top two finish.

Mark Cooper made two changes from the side that edged past Peterborough – with Jordan Turnbull absent from the back three for the first time this season, Nathan Thompson returned – but on the right of defence, with Jack Stephens in the central sweeper role. Striker merry go round saw Michael Smith picked to partner Jon Obika.

The opening stages were fairly lively. Rochdale, with something like a 4-2-1-3, got the ball forward in a hurry – and one long ball down the middle nearly saw Swindon flat footed. Top scorer Ian Henderson picked it up, and laid it unselfishly to one of the wide forwards, Joe Bunney. Wes Foderingham, with customary calm, blocked the low shot from an angle.

And the Swindon ‘keeper again made the excellent look mundane, as he tipped Michael Rose’s well struck 35-yard kick on to the woodwork when the ball looked to be heading towards the top corner. In the aftermath, Swindon broke. Obika fed in Ben Gladwin, with Rochdale having piled forward. The pass allowed Gladwin to cut inside the last defender and run, and run, towards goal. As Dale’s defenders gasped like expiring salmon to get back, Gladwin calmly finished with his left foot from the edge of the area to put Swindon in front.

The second goal also carried the perfect weight of pass. Jack Stephens run from sweeper took him deep into the Dale half, and he released Michael Smith, to shift the ball on to his favoured right foot and score low from 15-yards. It was two goals inside four minutes.

Before number three, Dale hit the woodwork for the second time – again they worked an opportunity on the right of the Town defence, often criticised as the Branco area. The unmarked Ian Henderson’s chip came off the inside of the post.

The third Swindon goal was unusually route one. Foderingham’s long clearance was knocked forward to Harry Toffolo, and then Obika headed into Gladwin’s path. He loped into the area and finished into the same bottom corner where the fun started.

And Gladwin, still free to cause mayhem, completed his hat-trick inside 20 minutes by running into the penalty area and getting clumsily felled by Rochdale’s Rhys Bennett, or Rhys Gordon Bennett to give him his full name. Gladwin grabbed the ball and lashed home the spot kick to complete a festival of four goals inside 20 minutes against playoff contenders.

Gladwin came up with one negative first half contribution, catching Andrew Cannon clumsily inside the box. Ian Henderson’s penalty seemed to spin off Wes Foderingham to put Dale on the board, and then it was half-time where everyone could try and put what they’d witnessed into context. Or just bang on to whoever was next to them about how marvellous it was.

Inevitably, the second half didn’t match the first as a free-scoring festival. Michael Rose was subbed at half-time despite (whisper it) playing quite effectively in midfield. Gladwin almost set up a goal, as a courtesy, for Obika, but Jamie Jones produced two scrambling reaction shots as Obika side footed the midfielder’s low cross towards goal, and then thumped the rebound from a tight angle.

But Town were more content to be economical with possession, producing minute plus spells of keep ball in between the Dale attacks – Gladwin came off early to glory in his ovation, before phones became as important viewing as the last minutes being played out, in the hope that Preston and MK Dons might crack.

Just as Gillingham popped up with their equaliser at Preston, Rochdale scored to restore some form of cosmic karma. Sub Ruben Noble-Lazarus had produced a steady supply of left wing cross, the last of which Nathan Thompson managed to deflect down into the turf, then up and and over Foderingham to make it 4-2 at the end.

The tactical set up Mark Cooper produced really worked, with Massimo Luongo and Anton Rodgers an effective shield defensively in front of the back three, as well as having the ability to prompt attacks, while Obika’s forward play created for others. Getting such a big lead so soon also helped bring a renewed slickness to the team’s passing, which has been more sporadic recently.

And the plucky Gills, of all sides, kept the pot just about boiling for Paul Sturrock’s return with Yeovil at the weekend.

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