Rochdale's promotion party was rarely threatened as Cheltenham Town lost out to a 2-0 scoreline here at Spotland today.
Goals in the first half for Peter Vincenti and Ian Henderson secure all three points and promotion but Cheltenham could at least take some positives from their second half display.
The game couldn't have started much better for Rochdale with Peter Vincenti grabbing the lead after just 10 minutes and then it being doubled 6 minutes later through the busy and impressive Ian Henderson. Cheltenham rarely looked like a threat as they struggled to create any kind of threat going forward but they were much improved in the second half and one positive for the Robins was that Joe Hanks, a half time substitute, settled into the team well and had a good impact.
It was Rochdale's day however and they swamped the pitch to celebrate their promotion - a deserved promotion. The travelling fans would now hope that scenes like this would spur the Robins on next season as the 2013-14 season came closer to it's conclusion.
You would have been forgiven for thinking the Robins were merely party guests here at Spotland but Rochdale still had work to do and Cheltenham were keen to deny them a perfect end to their home campaign.
Cheltenham Town were of course safe following the 2-0 win at Mansfield but Mark Yates named an unchanged line-up for this fixture at promotion chasers Rochdale and was in no mood to roll over for a possible promotion party. The only real change in the team selection was that of Joe Hanks who was recalled from his loan spell at Gloucester City to take a place on the bench alongside two more young players pushing for a spot in the first team; Harry Williams and Zack Kotwica. The temptation to play his young Robins from the start would have been strong but the three points were still Mark Yates' full focus.
The noise inside Spotland was superb and you could sense that Rochdale were keen to make an impact early on to block out any early nerves. An initial wave of attack was handled well by Steve Elliott and his team-mates but Rochdale weren't letting up and the pressure began to build as they searched for a path round the back of Cheltenham's back line. That backline of Cheltenham held on for ten minutes before Spotland erupted with it's first goal. A slick counter attacking move found Henderson breaking down the left with the Robins defence sparse and his ball across the box found Vincenti in acres of space and his finish was composed as he brushed it past Scott Brown for the lead.
Rochdale could smell promotion and they were in the mood for goals with their second coming just six minutes after grabbing an early lead. Once again a swift attack caught Cheltenham on their heels and four Dale players were suddenly swarming on Scott Brown's goal. Again the ball was brushed across the face of goal with Henderson having the final touch to make it 2-0 to ignite an eruption of noise. Rochdale were comfortable and looked good but in truth Cheltenham Town had made it so easy for their opponents.
Cheltenham's first attempt at goal came when they finally found their way into Rochdale's box but Cureton's header from McGlashan's cross did little to threaten Lillis. They did have another good chance to find a way back into this game seconds later when Cureton's through ball found the run of McGlashan and his cross was met by the backheel of Harrison but again Lillis was equal to the chance. A brief glimmer of hope for Cheltenham but Rochdale were soon back on the front foot and a show of pinball inside Cheltenham's area did little to ease the frustrations of the travelling support with Scott Brown making a good low save before David Noble calmly disposed of the danger.
Cheltenham did begin to grow into the game at long last but they were struggling to create anything of note that would begin to challenge a Rochdale side brimming with confidence. Half chances for Byron Harrison were all the Robins could offer as the game approached it's 40th minute but they could have found themselves 3-0 had Vincenti found more direction on his close range header but instead it came off the floor before bouncing over the bar.
Half Time: Rochdale 2-0 Cheltenham Town
Something needed to change and at half time Mark Yates introduced Joe Hanks in place of Sam Deering. His recall on Friday had promised and now Hanks was making only his second appearance in the senior team. A long ball into Cheltenham's box early on by left back Rose almost led to another chance for the hosts however but Donnelly's heavy touch took him away from his intended target. Rochdale were keen on an early start in this half too and Jamie Allen came close with a leaping header. George Donnelly was yet another to come close to extending the lead but the Robins held on under pressure.
Joe Hanks had done everything right since coming on as a second half substitute and he came close to a memorable appearance when his long range effort on 57 minutes settled just wide of goal but it was positive from the youngster. A good effort from Jermaine McGlashan after the hour mark may have been over the bar again but it was much more positive from the Robins as they looked to find a foothold in a game that was quickly becoming all about Rochdale's success. George Donnelly had a shot well saved by birthday boy Scott Brown on 66 minutes as they looked to put the result beyond the Robins but Cheltenham proving to be a lot more stern than they had shown in the first period.
A double substitution after 72 minutes saw two more of Cheltenham Town's prospects brought on. Zack Kotwica replace Jamie Cureton and Harry Williams, who was offered pro terms on Thursday, was also brought on in place of David Noble. An Ian Henderson effort was well saved by Brown as the half progressed and it soon settled into a possession game with the odd half chance but Rochdale did come close through Bunney with a close range header but the back of Troy Brown's head denied the substitute.
If Mark Yates was to take any positives from today's game it would have been the positivity shown by the young trio introduced as substitutes with all three certainly not looking out of place. Zack Kotwica put in a teasing cross which Byron Harrison headed wide on 87 minutes and despite the clear improvement any kind of result for the Robins did look out of reach.
As the full time whistle blew it was of course Rochdale fans in full voice as they secured promotion into League One but Cheltenham were left to ponder two early goals conceded and what could have been had their resolve had stuck in what had been a poor first half.
Full Time: Rochdale 2-0 Cheltenham Town
Rochdale FC (4-4-1-1): Lillis (GK); Bennett, Lancashire (C), O'Connell, Rose; Vincenti, Lund, Allen, Henderson; Hery; Donnelly (Bunney 73)
Subs not used: Thomson (GK), Rafferty, Cavanagh, Eastham, Done, Cummins
Cheltenham Town FC (4-4-2 Diamond): S Brown (GK); Jombati, T Brown, Elliott (C), Braham-Barrett; Noble (Williams 72), McGlashan, Richards, Deering (Hanks 46); Harrison, Cureton (Kotwica 72).
Subs not used: Roberts (GK), Ihiekwe, Vincent, Gornell
Referee: Mr. Oliver Langord
Attendance: 4,372 (144 from Cheltenham)