Mark Perrow reports from Spotland
City were held for the second time in two games as a second-half equaliser pegged them back at Spotland.
All was running smoothly for the Robins when Luke Freeman drilled in the opener from the edge of the box with his first goal in a City shirt after 16 minutes, only for Ian Henderson to level the scores 11 minutes into the second half for a resurgent home team.
In truth it was Rochdale who enjoyed the better of the play after the interval, with the visitors having to be content with counter-attacks and set-pieces, but the unbeaten record remains intact thanks in no small part to an outstanding Frank Fielding save in added time.
Steve Cotterill reverted to the same line-up who won back-to-back league games at the start of the season, with Greg Cunningham and Freeman returning to the fold after the midweek stalemate with Leyton Orient.
There was a good tempo the action early on, with both teams in confident mood; City having picked up seven points from a possible nine, Rochdale coming off the back of a 5-2 away win at Crewe in midweek.
Plenty of early crosses flashed across both boxes, including a dangerous low ball from Dale’s Matt Done which required a sharp interception from Derrick Williams.
But it was City who struck first as two summer arrivals combined to deadly effect, as Mark Little’s already trademark surge down the right carried him infield before his square pass found Freeman in plenty of space.
It was to prove costly from the hosts’ point of view, as Freeman
was afforded time to take a touch, take aim and fire an accurate low drive into the bottom corner beyond unsighted keeper Conrad Logan, once of Bristol Rovers.
The celebration that followed, with all ten outfield players recreating the baby rocking celebration made famous by Brazilian pair Bebeto and Romario at USA ’94, was a real show of unity from the rest of the squad towards substitute Marlon Pack, whose partner gave birth in the week.
Rochdale’s response was not slow in coming, as Peter Vincenti peeled away at the back post and nodded down invitingly for Henderson, only for the striker to snatch at the bouncing ball which veered well away from goal.
Dale’s mobile frontline was requiring the City back three to keep their wits about them, with the home side not fielding any recognised strikers, but the visitors looked relatively comfortable.
At the other end, chances to increase the lead were few and far between. Sam Baldock turned sharply on the edge of the box and looked for Wade Elliott who was only stopped in his tracks by an excellent last-ditch tackle, before Elliott’s free kick was headed over by Aden Flint.
But if the first half petered out, the second started with a bang. A barrage of early corners had City under pressure and the home crowd baying for blood.
Flint threw himself in the way of a Done shot and Fielding made a point-blank stop from Vincenti before Henderson
levelled the scores 11 into the second period, getting across the front of his man to convert Done’s low cross from six yards.
Cotterill responded soon after by replacing the tiring Freeman with Scott Wagstaff, who almost profited from a chance out of nothing when Wilbraham’s flick on just left him stretching and unable to lift the ball over the advancing Logan.
City came close again when Derrick Williams’ downward header was well held, but Dale responded through a low cross from Joe Bunney which threatened to produce a carbon copy of Henderson’s equaliser, only for the striker to shoot against the crowd of bodies in front of Fielding’s goal.
And City had Fielding to thank right at the death, as a tremendous one-handed stop from Henderson’s stooping header somehow maintained parity.