United were beaten by a Scott Hogan hat-trick at Rochdale this afternoon. Hogan's heroics in a 17-minute period either side of half-time handed United just their second away defeat of the season as Dale underlined their promotion potential.
The two form teams of the division started at breakneck speed with the ball zipping across a Spotland pitch that stood in grassy contrast to the last two or three boggy surfaces United have had to contend with. Skipper Jake Wright, back in the side at left back, and Michael Raynes returning alongside Johnny Mullins in the centre, both crunched in to early challenges to help them settle while wingers Ryan Williams and Alfie Potter also had eye-catching runs in the first ten minutes as an open game developed.
Raynes flicked on a David Hunt throw on 21 to set up the first clear chance of the afternoon as Mullins raced in at the far post. Mullins fired at goal but keeper Josh Lillis saved well, with the rebound coming at Mullins too quickly for the centre-half to adjust his feet and guide the ball on target. If that had gone in then who knows, but it was to prove United's best opportunity of the afternoon.
Dale are a quick-breaking side who can catch you out if you commit too many men forward but United's midfield pair of Danny Rose and Nicky Wroe were diligent in tracking their men and that meant a quiet first 40 minutes for Ryan Clarke in the United goal. However, after doing well and matching their hosts United were 2-0 down by five minutes into the second half as Hogan struck twice.
The first came just before the break, in controversial fashion. After 40 minutes Wright sprinted back to intercept a wicked cross from the left and was relieved to see his sliding clearance fly to safety off the bar. Mullins was injured in that move and after treatment hobbled back on to try and run it off before the break. However Dale took advantage of that to take the lead as another left-wing cross came into the six-yard box. Mullins would usually mop up that danger but this time Vincenti rose highest and headed beyond Clarke. Top scorer Hogan was beyond Vincenti as he headed goalwards and seemed to touch the ball, but ref Eddie Ilderton and his assistant saw nothing wrong despite United's offside claims.
If that was questionable the second was not as Hogan picked the ball up four minutes into the second half and drove at the heart of the United defence. He tricked his way past one challenge, dummied beyond the last man then got a slice of luck as Clarke saved at his feet but the rebound went the way of the striker who tucked the ball home from a tight angle.
2-0 down against a side who love to counter left United up against it but they almost got a goal back on 58 as Mullins, the centre of everything, cracked a low shot across goal after a corner and saw Joe Rafferty just beat Smalley to the ball on the line. Rose smashed a volley over the top a minute later as United pressed but on the hour it was game over as Hogan completed his hat-trick.
This time it was simple enough as a free kick was lobbed into the area. Raynes kicked over the ball, Hogan swivelled and shot in one movement and the ball evaded the dive of Clarke to make it 3-0 and game over.
United refused to give up and Raynes almost reached a Rose free kick but Rochdale were ferocious in their closing down and content to wind the clock down despite United throwing on Dave Kitson and James Constable to try and find a way through the well-drilled Dale back line.
At the other end Clarke made a brilliant save at his near post to deny Hogan a fourth but by then the game was up and United were beaten.
No excuses, the better side won on the day. The return of Wright, Raynes and Kitson and the imminent return of Tom Newey, Andy Whing and Jon Meades will give United experienced options as we now go into the last 12 games of the season but this result gives Dale a cushion in the automatic promotion places. United have two home games in a row and the ideal opportunity to bounce back and regain some impetus as we go in to the sharp end of the campaign.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher Stats by OPTA
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