Rochdale will be hard to break down, warns Ward

COLCHESTER United manager John Ward has warned supporters that his side might have to be patient today against in-form opponents Rochdale.

The Greater Manchester club had spent 36 consecutive seasons in Football League’s bottom division prior to their promotion last season. They were therefore heavily tipped to be relegated straight back to what some had unkindly renamed ‘the Rochdale Division’.

Keith Hill has worked wonders at Spotland though. His side have now won four of their last five games and drawn with league-leaders Brighton on the other occasion.

It’s a run which puts them just two points off the play-off places and dreaming of a previously unthinkable second successive promotion to the Championship.

“With great respect I think they may have surprised themselves a little bit,” said U’s boss Ward.

“Whilst Gus Poyet at Brighton will probably get the Manger of the Year in our division, someone like Keith Hill has got to be running him really, really close.

“Sometimes you can do your stuff with a club like Rochdale and everyone starts telling you to move on, but credit to Keith he stayed where he was and has really put a football club on the map.

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“When the time is right I am sure he will get a move into the higher echelons, but at the moment he’s probably thinking he can nick another spot and take Rochdale into the Championship.

“He won’t say that publicly, but deep down there will be a thought and a dream that they could do that and why shouldn’t he?”

He added: “I saw them on Tuesday at Notts County (2-1 win), they were 2-0 up after 15 minutes and then defended it very stoutly. They’re very well drilled and will be tough opponents for us.

“Keith’s got a system (4-1-4-1) that suits his players. We will need patience and all our support because they’ll be hard to break down.

“They’ve got the second best away record for goals conceded in the division (just 20 from 20 games).

“That’s the level of opponents we’ve got, I’ve got big respect for them and know we have a tough game.”

Having gone 18 months with just five home league defeats to their name, Colchester suffered back-to-back home losses to Southampton and MK Dons respectively recently. They quickly bounced back with wins over Oldham (1-0) and Exeter (5-1) though prior to last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday.

U’s midfielder David Perkins misses out on the chance to play against his former club today after he limped off with a hamstring injury at Hillsborough.

“I’m really disappointed for him because he’s had a terrific season,” said Ward.

“He’s bubbly, he’s lively, he keeps everyone on their toes so we’ve missed him a bit around the training ground this week.

“Every injury has a different story to tell for somebody else though and opportunity knocks for someone else over the next six games.”

Lloyd James and John-Joe O’Toole are the men vying for Perkins’ place today. The latter has made five substitute appearances following a 10 month spell out with a knee injury, but when asked if he was ready for a start, Ward said: “Absolutely. He’s ready, but I’m sure Lloyd (James) would tell you the same.”

Hill has fielded an unchanged side for the last four games but could make a change or two today following a gruelling run of fixtures.

– For line-ups, half and full-time reports, plus reaction, keep an eye on this website.

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