LOMAS ON STAGS: True depth of squad is underlined in cup thriller
Mansfield Town's miserable run in the League Cup may have continued last night on one of the wettest evenings ever to see a match completed at the One Call Stadium.
But the team performance and some of the individual showings gave off enough rays of sunshine to suggest to the few fans who turned out that there may be brighter times ahead.
The Stags have now not got past the first round for 11 years and were beaten last night by a goal of the highest quality.
But over 90 minutes they created the better chances against not just a League One side, but a top end League One side that almost made the play-offs last year.
Stags hit a post, missed a penalty and failed to take chances – the less said about Danny Rose’ spot kick the better.
But few, if any, sides in League Two this season will show the quality and ball retention of Rochdale, who defended well on the night.
It was a first chance for home fan to view several of the new faces signed over the summer and Omari Sterling-James was a name on many supporters’ lips as they left the stadium.
He was a constant threat with his pace, ambition and willingness to take players on.
Strike partner Jimmy Spencer almost opened his Stags’ account on his debut with a low first half finish and worked tirelessly, too often being roughed up by the Dale defenders with no protection from the referee.
Central midfielder Paul Digby was magnificent in the first half, at the heart of every Stags move and always available, and only faded as he tired.
At centre back Krystian Pearce reminded everyone how good he was last year as did Rhys Bennett, back in his old right back slot against his old club.
Paul Anderson showed his class and experience too and sent a volley thudding against a post which, had it gone in, could have seen the tide turn.
The Stags side showed six changes from the 2-2 draw at Crewe last weekend but, for once, it didn’t look in any way weakened like previous years – this was a genuine first team that could play a League Two game tomorrow.
So boss Steve Evans will have a few selection issues to solve for Saturday’s visit of Forest Green Rovers.
But maybe the biggest star of the night for Mansfield was the pitch.
Flat as a pancake and draining well, despite the barrage of heavy rain all day and throughout the game, it looks like a fantastic job has been done on it.
I am convinced that game would have been postponed or abandoned in past seasons.
As it was the pitch held up and both sides got stuck into a good old fashioned English cup tie with players skidding into powerful tackles along the surface and no sign of embarrassing Premier League histrionics.
Twice Rochdale players also took the ball in the face and barely blinked!
It’s a shame there weren’t a few more fans there to enjoy it but when the first home game of the season usually sees shirt sleeves and sunglasses, it was hardly surprising as the cold rain made it feel more like November.