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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Up The Dale

After they win their first promotion in over 40 years, Nobes salutes Keith Hill and Rochdale's success in League Two.

Rochdale players celebrate promotion to League One at the weekend

The last time Rochdale won promotion, man had yet to step foot on the moon. Now, after the Lancashire club's 1-0 win over Northampton secured a place in League One, they're just over it.

To put it into context - the kind that will have Nick Clegg salivating even more - the last time Rochdale played outside the basement division was also the last time Britain had a hung parliament - 1974.

Since then, they've been marooned in League Two - or the other various names it's been called over the years. So much so, it became known as the 'Rochdale division.'

As the ecstatic Dale fans sang on Saturday though: "It needs a new name, it needs a new name - the Rochdale division, it needs a new name."

It's this kind of self-deprecating humour amongst long-suffering support which makes this promotion so popular with neutral fans all over the country. No team has deserved promotion more than Rochdale.

It is a promotion - only the second in the club's history - which owes much to the work of manager Keith Hill and his assistant David Flitcroft. Their success is a sign of how, given time, a manager can find the formula for success.

When the duo took over at Spotland in late 2006, Dale were struggling at the foot of the table, nervously looking over their shoulder at relegation.

They needn't have worried for long - the team were transformed in the matter of a few whirlwind months. Playing the kind of enterprising, attacking football that all fans want to see, Dale rocketed up the division.

Thirteen wins in 22 games saw them finish 9th - just five points off the play-offs. It was a dramatic turnaround in form that hinted at brighter things to come.

In the following campaign - the club's centenary - Hill's men again began slowly, but another strong conclusion to the campaign earned them 5th place and a shot in the play-offs.

A dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Darlington in the semi-finals took them to their first ever appearance at Wembley. It wasn't to have the dream ending though, narrowly losing to Jim Gannon's young Stockport side.

They picked themselves up from the floor and went at it again - never wavering from a commitment to playing attractive, positive football. Again, they finished in the top seven - this time missing out in the semis to Gillingham.

Manager Keith Hill has written himself into the history books at Rochdale

It's a sign of how starved of success the Spotland faithful have been though that successful play-off finishes - albeit both ended without winning promotion - represented some of the club's best years.

Now, this season, they have led from the very front. Despite having to sell striker Adam Le Fondre to rivals Rotherham, Hill has crafted a strike partnership between Chris Dagnall and Chris O'Grady that has plundered 41 goals between them.

Centre half Craig Dawson, a revelation since signing from Non League Radcliffe Borough, has caught the eye of Premier League teams such has been his performance this term.

Dale hit top spot at the beginning of December with a 2-0 win at Bradford - part of an 11 match unbeaten run in the middle of winter.

It was a position at the summit they only relinquished last week to a Notts County side who have been relentless since the appointment of Steve Cotterill.

The pair meet this evening at Meadow Lane, with the winners in pole position to secure the title. Hill is not too fussed about adding silverware to their promotion success, advocating his players celebrating their achievement over the weekend.

In a thinly veiled attack on County's overspending this season he claimed that "if we don't catch up with Notts County - the taxman will."

The odds are against Dale ousting in-form Notts and securing the title. If the neutrals had their way though - there'd only be one winner.

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