REPORT: Rochdale v Wanderers

Wanderers made sure of qualification for the knock-out stages as they delivered the perfect Papa John’s Trophy tonic.

A draw would have been enough to guarantee progress after wins in their opening two games.

But boss Ian Evatt wanted to advance with a 100 per cent record and the confidence of a first victory since putting four goals past Liverpool’s Under-21s in their last Group D fixture.

Wanderers had lost four of their five League One games since in a dip in form and fortune and so this was the perfect antidote ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup opener against Stockport County.

Dapo Afolayan set Wanderers on their way with a goal that would have graced any competition to move within one of double figures for the season.

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Declan John’s first of the campaign quickly afterwards inside the opening 20 minutes effectively sealed the deal.

And the Whites then had the added bonus of seeing Eoin Doyle make a welcome return to the scoresheet via the penalty spot before cruising through the second half to secure a first clean sheet in almost two months.

Evatt’s determination to try and secure a positive result was evident in his team selection as he made just three changes to the side beaten at Portsmouth at the weekend.

One of those saw a return to starting duty for Alex Baptiste, who clocked up the 600th appearance of a prodigious career.

There was to be no basking in the moment for the defender as Wanderers’ back line experienced one or two anxious moments in the opening minutes as Dale skipper Matty Done fired just wide and Danny Cashman directed a shot too close to keeper Joel Dixon.

But a moment of magic from Afolayan with a quarter of an hour gone changed the momentum and allowed Wanderers to relax.

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It’s one thing knowing what Afolayan is going to do but it’s another trying to stop it.

And after collecting a lovely sweeping pass from MJ Williams, the Wanderers’ wideman cut inside before curling an absolute beauty into the top corner from 25 yards out.

Afolayan ran over to celebrate in front of the travelling fans and three minutes later they were on their feet again as John doubled the lead.

Doyle was unfortunate not to end his barren run with a shot that was blocked but when the ball dropped for John, the left-back didn’t break stride in firing first time into the bottom corner to open his account.

Elias Kachunga had provided the ball into Doyle and the winger was a lively presence throughout the first half, teeing up George Thomason for an effort he couldn’t quite steer goalwards.

Doyle then tested Dale keeper Jay Lynch as he glanced a John free-kick goalwards and in first-half stoppage time the striker finally saw his hard work pay off to put Wanderers 3-0 up.

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It was a superb cross-field pass from Doyle that gave Afolayan a run at goal and when he was tripped in the penalty area by Lynch, Doyle accepted the chance to claim his first goal since a spot-kick at Ipswich 10 games ago.

Dale still had qualification hopes of their own and the League Two side – unbeaten in their last four games – started the second half positively in a bid to repair some of the damage to their goal difference.

But they almost conceded again with an hour gone when a superb passing move from Wanderers ended with John crossing deep for Lloyd Isgrove, whose knock-down just eluded Doyle.

The striker was then a toe-end away from converting Afolayan’s low cross before almost teeing up Kachunga for a fourth as Wanderers again began to punch holes in the Dale defence.

The home side didn’t wilt, though, and it needed a missed chance from substitute Abraham Odoh to deny Dale a consolation and the chance to take the tiniest bit of gloss of Wanderers’ near ideal night capped by Liam Edwards return from close to two years out as a late substitute.

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Wanderers: Dixon; Isgrove (Edwards 90), Santos, Baptiste, John; Williams; Kachunga, Thomason, Sheehan, Afolayan (Delfouneso 72); Doyle (Henry 90). Substitutes: Gilks, Johnston, Aimson, Gordon.

Booked: None

Rochdale: Lynch; O’Keefe, Taylor, Graham, Dorsett, White; Broadbent, Dooley; Cashman (Odoh 44), Done, Grant. Substitutes: Coleman, Morley, Newby, Keohane, Kelly, Dunne.

Booked: Cashman

Attendance: 1,116 (493 Wanderers)

Referee: Andrew Kitchen

Read Time: 4 mins