Rochdale v Southend: play-off push on?

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Grant Holt – www.bbc.co.uk

There are clubs that some managers are just made for. Keith Hill has spent a combined total of eight years as manager at Rochdale, either side of a short stint at Barnsley, where he was perhaps less successful. He clearly loves working at Spotland, he has an affinity with the fans there and has done a good job sustaining Dale in the top half of England’s third tier, on gates of little more 3,000.

Similarly, there are clubs that some players are made for. Grant Holt has said that he regards his time at Rochdale as his major break-through, and one of the best times in his career. 10 years after leaving for Nottingham Forest, and later a spell in the Premier League with Norwich, Holt is back at his old stomping ground. The 34-year-old’s arrival has given Rochdale a massive lift, off the field as much as on it. He has not played 90 minutes for a long time, largely due to ongoing injury problems, meaning Hill has had use him sparingly. However, Carlisle-born forward has shown a professional attitude upon his return and a willingness to help the young players.

Another factor behind the team’s impressive form has been the return of Ashley Eastham. With the centre-back in the side, Dale concede on average just one goal per game, giving them a better defensive record than Walsall and Bradford. Partnering Easham is Niall Canavan, who joined on loan from Scunthorpe in February. Canavan had been criticized for poor distribution at Glanford Park and, in some ways, it is surprising that he has slotted so well into a team that likes to play out from the back.

In terms of playing style, Southend manager Phil Brown was criticized by sections of supporters last season for the one-dimensional football on show. However, there have been faint signs of that changing this term, with the former Preston boss finding a system to get the best out of Jack Payne. Following a 2-0 win at Barnsley, opposing fans were highly complimentary of the team’s display. They commented that the Shrimpers had the best attacking movement of any side they had played that season, that Payne put in the best individual performance from an opposing player.

The 21-year-old perhaps lacks the strength and tactical discipline to play in a midfield duo, where the defensive responsibilities are greater. However, when he is given the freedom to play just off a target man, in this case Tyrone Barnett, he can be great to watch. At the moment, he benefits from operating in front of an industrious midfield who give him the platform to play. In some ways, it would be better for him to stay at Roots Hall and have that type of freedom, rather than go to a bigger team where more discipline would be required.

Southend have benefited from the return of wide man Kevan Hurst and improved performances from tenacious midfielder Gary Deegan. These teams are hard to break down at the moment which could make for a tightly-fought game, as both look to keep alive their play-off hopes.