WALSALL ROUT IS HILL’S PEAK
HE HAS managed Rochdale to two promotions and claimed some famous victories in two spells at Spotland – but Keith Hill said this mauling of League One leaders Walsall topped the lot.
The Saddlers had won five on the spin – three under new boss Sean O’Driscoll – to reach the summit but were completely played off the park by Hill’s men.
Calvin Andrew bagged a second-half double after Ian Henderson’s early opener to move Dale six points off the play-offs and leave Hill purring.
He said: “It was an unbelievable performance. I don’t think it was due to Walsall being off-colour – we were just absolutely superb in the execution of our game plan.
“It was as stand-out a performance, individually and collectively, as I have managed.
“Any team coming up against us would have struggled because we were excellent in every department.
“I remember beating Southampton away 2-0 when they were in League One, but to come here and perform as we did – that’s as good as it gets.
“We absolutely dominated the League One leaders and it could quite easily have been five or six. We could evolve into a very, very good side.
“The top six is our ambition. Are we capable? Yes. But we have to make sure we don’t make the mistakes we have made too regularly in the first half of the season.”
Hill also believes Walsall will stay the course despite this defeat, which saw League One’s joint meanest defence at the start of play fall apart early on.
Rochdale twice almost went ahead in the first minute but Henderson’s clever 30-yard lob was foiled by Neil Etheridge’s fingertips and Andrew’s half-volley flashed just over.
The opening goal did not take long to arrive, though, as Henderson swept home impressive full-back Andrew Cannon’s low cross three minutes in.
From there, only Etheridge kept Walsall in the game as he foiled a low Cannon strike and, early in the second half, made another cracking fingertip stop from a deflected Andrew shot.
The Philippines international also made fine saves to deny Henderson and Donal McDermott but Andrew’s double ensured Dale ran out deserved winners.
He made it 2-0 just before the hour with a glancing header from Cannon’s corner and tucked home McDermott’s cross for Dale’s third 13 minutes from time.
Walsall failed to register a shot on target in the entire game and were knocked off top spot as O’Driscoll’s perfect start to life in the hotseat was shattered. He said: “Credit to Rochdale. They were dynamic and they are a physically big team who asked us a lot of questions and we struggled to find the answers.
“It was one of those games where if we started it again, we would probably approach it a little bit different and the players would have a better understanding of what they needed to do.”
BEATEN ALL HENDS UP: Ian Henderson opens the scoring for Rochdale
GET IN: Calvin Andrew, left, beats Walsall keeper Neil Etheridge to make it 3-0