NOT SO many years ago, Accrington Stanley fans could only dream about playing Rochdale in the Football League.
Now they won’t worry if the fixture never happens again as it is the stuff of nightmares for the Reds.
No one likes a local derby to disappear off the calendar but if Keith Hill’s side get promoted the Reds will give a sigh of relief that they are finally rid of their Rochdale demons.
Six times the pair have clashed in the last three seasons and Stanley have come away with just a solitary point out of the 18 up for grabs.
And Spotland is proving a jinxed place for the Reds.
They have made three visits to the Dale in League Two and have conceded 11 goals; Rochdale have been awarded a penalty in each of the Spotland ties and Dale striker Adam Le Fondre has scored at least one goal against Accrington on his home territory.
No wonder Reds boss John Coleman, whose side have lost five of their last six games, may even go as far as calling the priests in before any next meeting to end the hoodoo.
"If we don’t go down and they don’t go up, I might arrange for an exorcism before the next match at Rochdale.
"Or I might just send a video of the last three years as they are exactly the same game.
"Every time we come here we boss the game, concede a penalty, score and dominate some more, miss a hatful of chances, give a silly goal away and then let them run out easy winners.
"It is frustrating as it always seems to happens here."
Rochdale did get their customary penalty at home against Stanley - Phil Edwards tripped the highly-rated Will Buckley with the sure-fire Le Fondre converting the spot kick.
And while Coleman had few complaints about the award, Stanley do seem to be on the wrong end of spot kick decisions with four awarded against them in the last five games.
The Reds, meanwhile, have had just two given this season - both in one match - and should have had at least one at Spotland on Saturday.
Both sides had a number of strong hand ball appeals while it was hard on the Reds that Tyne and Wear referee Colin Webster said ‘no’ to a push on John Miles after he had weaved his way into the area - that seemed a certainty.
Then a nudge on Bobby Grant was a bit less clear cut but they have been given, as Stanley know, to their cost.
"It is a penalty for them but we should have had three. We have had a hell of a lot given against us this year (six) and not a lot given for us (two)," said Coleman.
"There was a stonewall handball, a stonewall penalty on John Miles and a stonewall push in the back on Bobby Grant. We get three turned down and they get one given. It is hard to take.
"It is easy to blame the officials that we haven’t won but they were certainly a contributory factor at Rochdale.
"We do not expect anything from the officials - we just want fairness.
"But the top and bottom of it is that we wasted chances, conceded a sloppy goal and went into our shell for the final half-an-hour. And it always seems to happen at Rochdale."
Stanley’s already wafer thin squad was tested from the start with John Mullin pulling up in warm-up with an ankle injury and 18-year-old Chris Turner making his senior debut on the right.
But it didn’t seem to hamper them as they started off well - wideman Grant, starting his first game since a knee operation in August, blazing into the side netting while Paul Mullin forced a superb save out of Dale keepr Sam Russell.
Stanley were on top against the play-off contenders with widemen Grant and Turner seeing a lot of the ball.
But then Dale teenager Buckley - chased by a host of clubs - changed the game. The 18-year-old raced forward, evaded three challenges but was then tripped by Edwards in the area on 22 minutes.
As Stanley know to their cost, Le Fondre doesn’t miss penalties and it was unstoppable with his sixth goal against the Reds in six games.
The visitors could have gone into their shell then, fearing their worst at a joyless place for them but they were back on level terms within two minutes. Grant was fouled on the edge of the area and Turner finished low into the net although referee Webster had already blown for a foul.
Coleman had every right to be furious that the ‘goal’ wasn’t allowed but his captain Peter Cavanagh made sure there were no complaints by floating an 18-yard free kick into the top corner of the net for his first goal of the season.
It was what Stanley deserved and maybe there could now be a change of fortunes at Spotland. Miles, playing just behind Mullin, made some mazy runs, then Mullin had a ball taken off his toes and the penalty appeals continued.
Cavanagh screamed for handball in the Dale area; then Rochdale shouted for an Edward’ handball and next Miles was bundled over by Rory McArdle in the area - all in the space of two minutes.
But the man in the middle ignored them all and Stanley will have felt aggrieved it wasn’t better than the 1-1 scoreline at half-time.
And there was no let up in incidents after the break with ex-Red Lee McEvilly forcing a good save out of Ian Dunbavin and Chris King’s superb cross just evading Mullin and Turner.
Another appeal for a push on Grant fell on deaf ears and then Stanley were caught out when the referee waved play on following an Edwards foul on McEvilly.
Winger Adam Rundle raced forward on the left, got the better of Miles, playing in a low cross and Buckley got ahead of King to poke the ball home on 56 minutes - the killer goal.
This seemed to deflate the Reds and chances were limited. Coleman tried to add more fire by putting on young frontman Andy Smith but the Reds chief was limited with two ‘keepers and two defenders his other alternatives on the bench.
Dale showed their strength in depth by adding livewire Chris Dagnall and ex-Red loanee Kallum Higginbotham and it was the latter who put the nail in Stanley’s coffin three minutes from time.
He latched onto Dagnall’s pass, made space for himself and fired a low shot under Dunbavin for another nil points for the Reds at Spotland.
"We have a thin squad and maybe I am to blame and I should have gone out and got someone in this week," added Coleman. "We didn’t have the experience to change it. But, saying that, we did make enough chances. The second goal was always going to be crucial and it was a stupid one.
"It is a recipe for disaster if you don’t take your chances and then give a silly goal away and that has happened too often this season."
But, while Dale got the points, their manager Hill was not a happy man. "We were rubbish. It was a lacklustre performance with no commitment, quality or endeavour."
How Stanley would settle for one of those performances at the moment - as long as the three points came with it.