UNITED created enough chances to waltz off with all three points at Rochdale but the failure to convert eventually left the Gulls with nothing.
The home side soaked up pressure throughout and even the Spotland natives would have struggled to justify a Rochdale win but football is all about scoring goals, especially when you are on top in a game.
United’s inability to follow that golden rule was eventually punished by Ian Henderson notching the only goal on 77 minutes and the Yellows must add a ruthless streak to their future armoury.
United boss Alan Knill made just one change from the side defeated 4-1 at Fleetwood last weekend, with Billy Bodin returning from international duty to replace Courtney Cameron.
It was on the Yellow bench where the most activity took place, as Ashley Yeoman was preferred to Niall Thompson and with Michael Poke and teenager Conor Thompson both injured, the reserve goalkeeper was 16 year-old youth-team stopper Daniel Lavercombe. Striker Elliot Benyon was another to miss out after picking up a foot injury in the midweek friendly with Plymouth.
Rochdale manager Keith Hill made two changes from the 1-0 win over local rivals Bury seven days ago. Peter Vincenti’s red card in the game earned him a suspension, giving Graham Cummins a chance to impress in midfield. The other switch saw Javan Vidal come in for Rhys Bennett at the back.
A tenacious start from midfielder Ben Harding earned the Gulls an early corner and the delivery from Lee Mansell was met powerfully by Aaron Downes, who was unlucky to see his header hacked clear by the home defence.
United continued their bright opening with another Mansell set-piece flashed in with pace and the faintest touch from Karl Hawley was directed straight at Rochdale ‘keeper Josh Lillis for a comfortable save.
A superb defensive header from Dale Tonge maintained the Yellow momentum after smart work out wide by George Donnelly and a fabulous move from the Gulls soon had Bodin in space at the other end, but his pass inside for Hawley was diverted a fraction wide.
After bemoaning slow starts on the road, Knill would have been delighted with his side’s improvement in early tempo but Rochdale had weathered the mild storm, and were now peppering the United area with a series of crosses.
Harding took the play back up at the right end for the Gulls, picking up an inside ball from Bodin but the former Northampton midfielder opted for placement when a more powerful strike could have troubled Lillis.
United’s next chance stemmed from a right-footed cross by Kevin Nicholson finding a flick from Hawley and Jordan Chapell had a snap-shot at the back post deflected wide. The subsequent corner was knocked back across goal by Downes and Harding just needed an extra inch to reach the ball for the opening goal.
Bodin was enjoying a hugely impressive afternoon, tormenting Vidal with his mercurial skill and Rochdale were grateful to Michael Rose for an excellent cover tackle just as the Welsh winger was about to pull the trigger.
The dangerous Scott Hogan then had the Gulls looking anxiously at the referee with a dancing run inside the area and Downes was mightily relieved to see his slightly clumsy challenge go unpunished.
Rochdale were still grumbling as Bodin went flying forward again and Lillis produced a super save to deny United’s young winger, and keep the scores blank at half-time.
The second period started in positive fashion for the home side and the Gulls needed some responsible defensive work from Mansell to help out Tonge when the full-back was exposed in a two v one situation.
United needed to rediscover their attacking impetus against a home side determined to make up for their own sluggish first half and Cummins came close to seriously testing goalkeeper Martin Rice with a shot that deflected wide.
The subsequent corner had Rice producing his very best to turn the ball over after Jack O’Connell found space at the back post. Hill then removed Vidal for Bennett in the first substitution of the afternoon.
The Gulls were suddenly under severe pressure and Rice was again the hero with a brilliant block to thwart Donnelly after the former Plymouth forward had latched on to a downward header from captain Oliver Lancashire.
When United did break the shackles, a whipped delivery from Nicholson almost found Hawley in the six-yard box, prompting another change for Rochdale, with Matt Done replacing Cummins.
The pressure had switched to the other end and Chapell was rightly miffed when nobody attacked his excellent cross from the right. The next delivery from Bodin was perfect for Downes but his header was straight down the middle for Lillis.
Henderson responded with an excellent break down the left and his cut-back for Donnelly had Rice again in the thick of the action with a smart save, and it was Donnelly’s last involvement, as he was then replaced by Bastien Hery.
Yellow hearts were broken as Henderson found space in the area after an unfortunate slip by Krystian Pearce and he converted the opening goal, despite a desperate attempt by Nicholson to clear.
It was a scarcely deserved goal for the home side and perhaps summed up the way United’s luck has gone in recent weeks. Callum Ball attempted to lift his team-mates with an ambitious drive from distance flying over the bar.
Knill turned to his bench for the final push, removing Chapell for Daniel Sullivan and then Thomas Cruise replaced Nicholson for the last five minutes.
United had no choice but to launch forward in numbers and a cross by Harding was crying out for a Yellow touch, but Rochdale’s narrow escape told the story of an infuriating day for the Gulls.
Rochdale [4-4-2]: 1 Josh Lillis; 15 Javan Vidal [3 Rhys Bennett 56], 22 Jack O’Connell, 6 Oliver Lancashire [capt], 25 Michael Rose; 12 Matthew Lund, 20 Brian Barry-Murphy, 29 Graham Cummins [16 Matt Done 62], 11 Scott Hogan; 9 George Donnelly [14 Bastien Hery 72], 40 Ian Henderson. Substitutes [not used]: 5 Ashley Eastham, 21 Robbie Thomson [GK], 28 Callum Camps, 39 Joe Bunney.
Booked: O’Connell 82
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson [21 Thomas Cruise 86]; 10 Billy Bodin, 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 8 Ben Harding, 12 Jordan Chapell [31 Daniel Sullivan 83]; 9 Karl Hawley, 16 Callum Ball. Substitutes [not used]: 6 Damon Lathrope, 11 Courtney Cameron, 14 Ashley Yeoman, 20 Nathan Craig, 34 Daniel Lavercombe [GK].
Referee: Mark Haywood