Brian Barry-Murphy Impressing At Rochdale

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 13 August 2019, 10:07

When we last discussed Rochdale, following Keith Hill’s exit in March, we listed Brian Barry-Murphy as one of the contenders for the managerial vacancy.

On the one hand, he has first-hand knowledge of a thriving youth academy yet on the other, he was inexperienced – could he and Tony Ellis guide Dale to safety in last season’s relegation scrap?

The answer was an emphatic yes. We look at Barry-Murphy’s impressive work so far at the Crown Oil Arena (Spotland).

Fixing the defence

When Barry-Murphy took interim charge in March, Rochdale had conceded 74 goals in 35 games; 14 more than Scunthorpe and Bradford sides who were later relegated due to disorganisation.

With one or two smart additions combined with a conservative switch to 3-5-2 though, the organisation improved drastically.

Dale won 1-0 four times in their final six games and those dogged defensive displays were crucial to lifting them out of the mire and into a deceptively comfortable 16th placed finish.

Evolving the style

The slightly agricultural football Rochdale played at the backend of last season was, perhaps, more reflective of the severity of the situation than Barry-Murphy’s long-term blueprint.

The Irishman knew that, if the team set out to play like that at the start of this campaign, it would be difficult to get the same results – it might be why he added a ball-playing centre-back in Eoghan O’Connell to compliment the more battle-hardened Jim McNulty, as well as a durable, attacking left-back in Rhys Norrington-Davies.

For that reason, Barry-Murphy has got Dale playing on the deck with renewed positivity and that is reflected in promising early season performances; his side won 3-2 at Tranmere on day one, then were this week denied back-to-back wins on Saturday only by a 93rd minute Doncaster equalizer.

The build-up for the third goal at Tranmere last week, which saw Ian Henderson and Callum Camps heavily involved in combination play, before Norrington-Davies’ well-timed run from left-back saw him fire home, was indicative of the blueprint.

The aim for Dale is to get back to the free-flowing football they produced in their first three seasons at this level under Hill – the key will be Callum Camps.

Using Camps right

Between around 2014 to 2016, Camps was one of the brightest young playmakers below the Championship.

He had the right platform to show his technical talent due to being surrounded by willing runners in Matty Lund and Jamie Allen.

After box-to-box dynamo Lund and terrier Allen went to Burton in 2017, Camps stagnated for the last two years of Hill’s reign – perhaps this was due to a lack of competition, perhaps he didn’t have the same types of characters around him, perhaps the defensive support was not there or any combination of these factors.

Barry-Murphy, though, has moved utility man Jordan Williams into central midfield – something fans had called for in pre-season – along with the energetic Aaron Morley, with the dynamic Stephen Dooley coming in from the left to offer support.

Dooley, Williams and Morley seem to be giving Camps the right platform to express himself and that might have contributed to some bright early season displays.

Getting the best out of Hendo

There is reassuring familiarity about Ian Henderson’s League One brilliance.

The 34-year-old is the third-tier’s top goalscorer across the 2010s and, after an opening day brace at Prenton Park, needs to score just one more to hit a Dale century – and 20 more to match Reg Jenkins’ record 119 league goals for the club.

Henderson is indispensable as a goalscorer, especially for a modestly budgeted club at this level, but his inevitable inclusion can bring its own tactical challenges.

The stalwart skipper is not particularly strong or quick; yet play him deeper as Hill did and one limits the goalscoring potential.

Barry-Murphy though seems to have found a solution.

He has used a tall, mobile and aerially competent forward in Rekeil Pyke, initially, on the right of the attacking quartet in the 4-2-3-1.

Whenever the ball is played forward, though, Pyke breaks into a centre-forward position to be the one holding the ball up, allowing ‘Hendo’ to recline slightly and find space to poach.

Based on the combination play we have seen so far, Dale are playing with renewed positivity, a lot of confidence and - considering this is a team picking up a relatively new playing identity - a surprisingly inherent understanding of one another’s roles.

All of this shows that so far, we are looking at a team that is very well coached.

Early days, of course – but so far, this has been a strong managerial showing from Barry-Murphy.

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