Rochdale 1-0 Pilgrims
by Barbara Singleton
A disputed second half penalty spelled disaster for Boston United as they succumbed on their travels to a Rochdale side who effectively extinguished any relegation fears of their own with this result. For the Pilgrims, it was a hugely disappointing outcome and one which - in tandem with other results - plunged them deeper into trouble, now with just Swansea and Exeter beneath them in the table. The first half was generally a tame affair with neither side really creating any major problem for their opponents' rearguard. The Pilgrims asserted brief early ascendancy with a couple of corners. But neither amounted to anything as Dale easily dealt with some unimaginative deliveries by Simon Weatherstone and Mark Angel. The home side looked to carry some potency, notably in the guise of the purposeful Lee McEvilly. But Boston combated his threat quite well, particularly with Stuart Balmer and Paul Ellender turning in useful displays at the heart of the visitors' back line. The first chance of note took 28 minutes to arrive and yielded a shot from distance by Gavin Melaugh for Dale following a quickly-taken free-kick. But United keeper Paul Bastock gathered without too much trouble. Boston hit back with a brief flurry of pressure. However, Rochdale - with Gareth Griffiths an imposing presence at the back - cleared danger. At the other end, Bastock again showed a safe pair of hands when emerging from his line to claim a curling free-kick from Doughty. In reply, Boston had two near misses in the 32nd and 34th minutes - first when Ellender went close with a header from an Angel cross and then when Neil Redfearn saw a low shot from distance skim inches wide following good link-up play with Angel. Rochdale hit back again and McEvilly had a shot blocked while Bastock did well a few moments later to cut out a threatening centre by Melaugh. Then, from a home corner, David Flitcroft saw a feeble header drift tamely wide.
Just before the break Richard Logan showed good control and got in a shot from distance, but a deflection took it wide of Matthew Gilks' goal. The opening moments of the second half yielded no real change in the pattern of play. But then the match sprang to life around the 53th minute mark. First Paddy McCourt posed danger down the right. His cross was met by Griffiths whose header came back off the bar. Then, almost instantly in reply, Angel broke clear and eventually found Tom Bennett via Redfearn and his 20-yard shot was only just wide. The lively nature of the second period was maintained with McCourt and Angel in particular carrying the principal threats for their respective sides. On 60 minutes Dale threw on substitutes Paul Connor and Paul Simpson in a bid to lift their own tempo. But the next chance fell to Logan whose 62nd minute volley flew too high. In reply, Simpson then went close with a firm 25-yard drive. United made their first substitution in the 66th minute with Simon Rusk replacing Logan - the void in attack being plugged by Weatherstone being pushed forward. In the 68th minute Bastock did well again when saving superbly from a forceful Simpson free-kick. Rochdale eventually broke the deadlock in somewhat controversial circumstances when McEVILLY fired home from the penalty spot after a linesman had flagged for an apparent trip by Balmer on Connor just inside the area - much to the protestation of the United players. Shortly afterwards Connor burst through again, but Ellender managed to force him to shoot off target. Boston looked to find a way back into proceedings and threw on striker David Town at the expense of defender Matt Hocking. With Boston fully stretched in pursuit of an equaliser, Dale squandered a chance to settle the issue when Flitcroft broke clear, but he wasted what looked a golden chance. In the dying throes Boston battled hard to try and prise out a leveller. But Rochdale successfully held out to frustrate the Pilgrims.
United team: (4-4-2) 1. Bastock, 2. Hocking (Town 83), 3. Ellender, 4. Balmer, 5. Chapman, 6. S Weatherstone, 7. Redfearn, 8. Bennett, 9. Angel, 10. Duffield, 11. Logan (Rusk 66). Subs (not used): Price (gk), Greaves, Gould.