THERE is no masking the frustrating truth: United did not play well enough in attacking areas to justify a place in the second round of the FA Cup.
A poor game was plodding to a draw but Rochdale had other ideas, as late goals from Scott Hogan and Peter Vincenti sealed the Yellow gloom on a disappointing day at Plainmoor.
United boss Alan Knill stuck with the same starting 11 that roared to a brilliant 3-1 win at Bury seven days ago. The only change came on the bench, where Courtney Cameron returned from injury to replace Daniel Sullivan.
Rochdale manager Keith Hill was considerably more ruthless in his team selection, making four changes to the side beaten 2-1 at home to Wimbledon last weekend. Peter Vincenti, Andrew Tutte, Ashley Eastham and Scott Hogan were the new quartet, ousting Matt Done, Graham Cummins, Jamie Allen and Gary Dicker.
The first thing to notice was a tweak to the normal formation adopted by Rochdale, as three centre-backs lined up against United’s strike duo of Paul McCallum and Elliot Benyon.
Hogan was also deployed as a lone forward for the visitors but their lightening start showed it was hardly a negative move from Hill. Martin Rice made his first save on four minutes, blocking a Hogan shot to the near-post with his legs, as Dale piled on the early pressure.
Given the buoyant feel surrounding Plainmoor ahead of kick-off, the sluggish start was particularly baffling and the outstretched boot of Aaron Downes was needed to divert a decent effort from Dale full-back Joe Rafferty.
The swirling wind inside Plainmoor was another factor for both sides to consider, although Jak McCourt struck through the breeze with an arrowed 40-yard pass to Ade Azeez, but the man on loan from Charlton spooned his shot well over.
Rice was called into action again moments later, turning away a dipping free-kick from Matthew Lund and the siege continued with an Ian Henderson cross to the back-post missing the head of Eastham by a whisker.
United changed the pattern with determined work from Lee Mansell and Dale Tonge conjuring space for Azeez to try an audacious shot from a tight angle that Dale ‘keeper Josh Lillis could only beat away with his fists.
Gradually, the Gulls were growing into the game but Henderson, lingering on the right flank was a constant concern. The man who scored the only goal at Spotland in the league six weeks ago almost repeated the trick after a clever move on the half-hour, but Downes made a strong challenge in the box.
The mini revival ended before it had really begun, as United struggled to find any rhythm in their passing and Rochdale sought to take advantage when Tonge committed a foul on the edge of his own area.
A crafty routine had two Dale players shielding the ball from Rice but McCourt removed the problem by charging down the driven effort from Lund.
A fiercely competitive first period ended with both sides tussling for an advantage. Rochdale had probably played the better stuff but the Gulls had done well to limit the chances, and all to play for in the second half.
The industry of Mansell and McCourt was again to the fore after the restart, but United’s attacking quartet were struggling to make a real impression on the Rochdale defence. At the other end, however, a skidding shot by Hogan forced a decent low save from Rice.
A general lull in proceedings was hardly helped by some sloppy passing from players on both teams and as the game approached the hour-mark, it began to look more like one moment of brilliance or one mistake would decide the outcome.
A dazzling run from Hogan almost sparked that moment, as the impish forward brushed past Downes and Tonge, but his final effort was stabbed into the grateful arms of Rice.
A sedate second period needed an injection of fresh blood and Knill duly obliged with a triple change, introducing Cameron, Nathan Craig and Karl Hawley for Jordan Chapell, Azeez and Benyon.
All of a sudden, there was renewed energy in the crowd and Rochdale responded with a change of their own, removing Rafferty for Done.
The new man was involved in that one moment, which arrived on 86 minutes and it was down to a clever run in behind from Done, who then cut the ball back for Hogan to sweep into an unguarded net.
The simplicity of the goal was particularly painful for the Gulls and with that, the FA Cup dream was over for another year. Rochdale doubled the pain when Vincenti followed up to slam home from close range after Rice had blocked the initial header by Lund.
Game over and a bitter blow.
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 23 Ade Azeez (11 Courtney Cameron 78), 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 17 Jak McCourt, 12 Jordan Chapell (20 Nathan Craig 78); 26 Elliot Benyon (9 Karl Hawley 78), 19 Paul McCallum. Substitutes [not used]: 1 Michael Poke [GK], 5 Krystian Pearce, 21 Thomas Cruise, 36 Damien Mozika.
Rochdale [5-4-1]: 1 Josh Lillis; 2 Joe Rafferty (16 Matt Done 81), 5 Ashley Eastham, 6 Oliver Lancashire [capt], 22 Jack O’Connell, 25 Michael Rose; 7 Peter Vincenti, 8 Andrew Tutte, 12 Matthew Lund, 40 Ian Henderson; 11 Scott Hogan. Substitutes [not used]: 3 Rhys Bennett, 14 Bastien Hery, 21 Robbie Thomson [GK], 24 Jamie Allen, 38 Gary Dicker, 39 Joe Bunney.
Booked:Lancashire39, Rafferty 58
Referee: Keith Hill
Attendance:1,976 (136 away).