Dale hero: We can finish job against Toon
AARON Wilbraham flew the flag for fortysomethings everywhere as he inspired a successful Rochdale revival against the Toon Army.
The veteran striker proved there’s no substitute for experience as he came off the bench at the start of the second half and cancelled out Miguel Almiron’s 17th-minute opener. In doing so, he set up a mouthwatering trip to St James’ Park for a replay and ensured Dale took their place in the hat for this evening’s Fourth Round draw.
Underdogs they might have been, but Dale were nevertheless disappointing in an underwhelming first half in which goalkeeper Robert Sanchez kept them in the game with saves from Joelinton and Yoshinori Muto.
But the second half was a different matter with Wilbraham providing a presence up the middle off which the likes of Ollie Rathbone and Jimmy Ryan were able to feed.
Wilbraham converted from six yards after a pass by fellow substitute Luke Matheson in the 79th minute.
“It’s massive for a club like Rochdale to draw against a Premier League club and get a replay at a great stadium like St James’ Park,” said Wilbraham. “It’s a chance for us to go up there and get a result.
“We have a great togetherness at this club, from the board of directors right down to the players, the kitman, everyone.
“Everyone keeps mentioning my age every day! But I feel okay, so I’ll keep going.”
Wilbraham’s inspirational second half performance sparked Dale into life after an opening 45 minutes in which they struggled to lay a finger on Newcastle.
After the break, the visitors found themselves in a real contest and were left to rue not making the most of their first half dominance.
Magpies keeper Martin Dubravka kept out ex-Manchester United youth player Rathbone.
Dale skipper Ian Henderson hit the post after another Rathbone shot was parried by Dubravka, before the impressive Rathbone was again denied by a smart stop from the Newcastle keeper after racing into the area to connect with Matheson’s square pass.
Rochdale earned a money-spinning replay when Matheson got in behind their backline yet again and this time his delivery was met by Wilbraham, who fired past Dubravka at the second attempt.
The travelling Geordie hordes were already calling out one or two of their underperforming stars and their displeasure was very nearly compounded in the 90th minute when Rathbone had a glorious chance to clinch the tie. But, having been neatly played in by defender Eoghan O’Connell, he dragged his shot wide from 10 yards.