Rochdale 4, Wycombe Wanderers 1.
AN INABILITY to defend corners cost Wanderers dearly as Rochdale unceremoniously ended their winning run with an emphatic victory.
Blues looked like they had laid that particular ghost from last season to rest, but the old problems resurfaced as they struggled to keep out a rampant Rochdale side who belied their poor league run to put Wanderers to the sword.
A side who had won once in 2013 easily brushed Blues aside despite falling behind to a first goal of the season for Stuart Lewis, which had a touch of fortune about it as the referee allowed play to continue despite a clear foul.
Substitute George Donnelly scored twice late on after Ian Henderson netted on his Spotland debut and a corner nicked into the net off a Blues player.
But the scoreline didn’t flatter Rochdale as the Blues backline couldn’t cope with what was thrown at them, and home keeper Josh Lillis was little more than a spectator for much of the game.
Before finding his shooting boots Lewis made his mark in more familiar territory as he produced an excellent clearance from off the line with Henderson poised to tap home Joe Thompson’s teasing low delivery.
Jordan Archer had to be at his alert best to tip away Dale skipper Andrew Tutte’s fizzing low drive, before he recovered to touch behind the follow-up from Bobby Grant as he produced a great double save.
It was a sign of things to come as the Wanderers keeper was a beaten man moments later when a stunning 25 yard free-kick from Grant crashed against the crossbar and hit Archer on the leg but somehow the ball spun out of the goal area and away.
Blues then went up the other end and opened the scoring in controversial circumstances. Dale felt Matt McClure committed a foul as the ball arrived into the area, and with everyone standing around expecting the whistle to sound Lewis pounced as he slotted home his first goal of the season.
He’d predicted pre-match that he would open his goalscoring account for the season but he wouldn’t have expected the lead to be so short lived. Barely three minutes later Rochdale were given a free-kick on the edge of the box, Blues couldn’t get it clear and Henderson scrambled home from close range to bring the scores level.
On the balance of play the goal was undoubtedly deserved but the struggling Lancastrians failed to build on it despite having far more of the ball.
Some strange officiating from referee David Phillips – who at one point left fans incredulous as he missed a clear handball from Donnelly – disrupted the flow of the play, although he waved away penalty appeals by the home fans who claimed Dave Winfield blocked Grant’s fierce shot with his arm.
Phillips then irked Wanderers fans by booking Dean Morgan for dissent and Josh Scowen – very harshly – for a foul in quick succession as Rochdale looked to step things up a gear.
Winfield was again in the thick of things as he blocked a Tutte effort, with Anthony Stewart also being called upon to make an excellent intervention to stop Henderson’s cross at source with Grant unmarked in the centre.
Wycombe needed the half time break to refocus and regroup – but instead it had the opposite effect as disastrous defending conspired to gift Rochdale the lead.
A breakdown in communication between Stewart and Archer led to the defender hurriedly clearing the ball out for a corner. It was played short to Tutte, whose delivery went straight into the net via a slight deflection off Michael Harriman.
Moments later Archer sliced Winfield’s backpass out of play for another set piece. This time Tutte played in Thompson from the short corner routine, and Lewis had to make his second goalline clearance of the afternoon as he hacked clear after the cross-shot evaded everybody.
Blues did not get a grip on the home side’s short corner routine and they were lucky not to make it a hat trick as Henderson’s effort smacked against the bar.
Gareth Ainsworth changed his front pairing as Morgan and McClure made way for Jo Kuffour and Junior Morias, but it was at the back that Wanderers continued to have problems as they again failed to deal with a corner and again they were relieved Rhys Bennett nodded inches wide at the far post.
Wycombe needed something to get back into the game but Rochdale continued to run the show as Jason Kennedy swept over from outside the area.
Ironically, given Blues’ inability to defend corners, Dale wrapped things up after an incisive breakaway from a set piece to Wanderers. The ball was cleared from Winfield’s header, Henderson hooked it out of the air after beating Lewis to it on the halfway line before breaking clear and squaring for Donnelly to slot home.
The striker, an early substitute for the injured Terry Gornell, bagged the second of his brace late on as he headed in Michael Rose’s deep cross, before Archer tipped Grant’s curling effort onto the bar and over.
Wanderers: Archer, Harriman, Winfield, Stewart, Dunne, Grant, Scowen, Lewis, Wood, McClure (sub Kuffour), Morgan (sub Morias). Substitutes not used: Harrison, Johnson, McCoy, Andrade, Oli.