Looking at the league table, this North West clash arrived as somewhat of a mismatch, with Rochdale solidly rock-bottom in the standings and Stockport County topping the form tables.
The difference in league position, however, did not translate into an unassailable gap in quality on the pitch in the first half.
Against stronger opposition, County likely wouldn’t have been let off so lightly, with the only consistent attacking threat coming through Kyle Knoyle, looking too much to handle for his opposite number, 19-year-old Owen Dodgson.
Pre-match, Jim Bentley was keen to show his sights were set on taking all three points, but with seven losses and one draw in his side’s last eight games, he’d be forgiven for holding out for a draw.
The score at the halfway point probably wouldn’t have come as a shock to either side, with both only having an effort cannoned off the woodwork to show for their 45 minutes work.
County manager Dave Challinor understandably seemed the more frustrated of the two gaffers, sending his 11 men back out on to the pitch early for the second half.
Both teams came out from the break looking more up for the game than they had in the first, with County’s Wootton growing into the game and Rochdale asking some questions of their own through a nice build-up and ultimately blocked strike, orchestrated by Dale number 9 Bughail-Mellor.
Any hope taken from this passage of play from the home supporters was quickly quashed in the 54th minute, when County’s Myles Hippolyte managed to spin Dale midfielder Keohane in the box, leaving the Irishman no option but to drag the Stockport winger down.
Referee Carl Boyeson had no option but to point to the spot.
With talisman Paddy Madden sat in the stands through injury, County favourite Will Collar stepped up to take the penalty, sending a low, driven strike straight down the middle and past a diving Jake Eastwood.
With a growing County confidence following the opener, Hinchliffe received the ball just outside his own area, quickly picking out Wootton on the right-hand side of the park.
With a quick flick on from Wootton, it was none other than Will Collar again managing to get on the end of the flick, just outside the penalty area.
It looked like no angle to shoot from, but with only 2 minutes gone since his last goal and playing with an unstoppable confidence, Collar drives a shot from the end of the box at Eastwood, who’s beaten at his near post for County’s second goal.
Questions will likely be asked of the keeper, who looks to have got something on the shot but still couldn’t prevent it hitting the back of the net.
From here on out, County appeared to be cruising, until a late spanner in works following Challinor’s decision to make three substitutes all at once late in the day.
Dale man Lloyd, desperate to make something happen and involved in almost every part of the home side’s attacking play, had a strong half-volley blocked and ran over to take the corner.
Lloyd, floating the ball dangerously into the six-yard box from the corner flag, left it invitingly to be bundled by his Rochdale teammate. In a nod to the scrappy finish, there was some confusion whether ex-Hatter Devante Rodney or Dale defender Toby Mullarkey got the final touch.
Hinchliffe will likely ask his defenders why the Rochdale player was allowed so much space in the 6-yard box, others may wonder whether it was one for Hinchliffe to collect.
Within the three substitutions was County’s new signing, Jacob Davenport, who despite only have around ten minutes to put his stamp on the game, looked extremely comfortable on the ball. An exciting prospect for the coming games for Stockport.
In the end, County managed to avert what could have been a nervy finish to an otherwise rather uneventful game and take all 3 points back to Edgeley Park.
Based on their performance on the pitch, Rochdale’s league position may seem slightly unflattering. As many County fans have since remarked, they were by no means the weakest side that they’ve played this season.
However, the Dale will need to start picking up points from somewhere if they have any hopes of survival.
That result takes Stockport up to 4th position, with five wins in their last five games, and only a point of the automatic promotion places.
Unfortunately for Rochdale, another loss takes them one step closer to relegation to the National League and six points from safety.