National League football will make a return this weekend when Oldham Athletic make the trip to the Crown Oil Arena to face Rochdale.
Both sides experienced different outcomes in the final round of qualifying in the FA Cup last weekend. Oldham reached the first-round proper of the competition after an impressive 1-0 win at Altrincham, which will see them face League Two side Newport County in just under two weeks' time.
Harrison McGahey snatched the win at Moss Lane, bundling the ball in from a deep corner from the left. Altrincham had much of the possession and territory in the first half whilst Latics were clinical with their opportunities in the game to secure the win.
The result saw Oldham continue their unbeaten run which now stands at seven without defeat whilst Latics will now be led by Micky Mellon who was appointed as the new head coach on Sunday. Mellon will look to kick off his tenure with a return to the winning column after Oldham have played out three consecutive 1-1 draws.
Oldham have scored first in each of their last seven fixtures, and though they have won four of them Latics have failed to convert their last three outings to wins.
It will meanwhile be consecutive trips for Oldham for the first time in October, and their second of three successive visits. The win at Altrincham was their first away clean sheet since the stalemate at Boreham Wood, though their first in a victory.
Mellon will hope both Brennan Dickenson and Devarn Green will be fit in time for the weekend’s clash after both picked up knocks during the win at Moss Lane.
The hosts meanwhile will hope their fortunes will turn around after a recent rut in form. A 1-0 defeat at National League North side Hereford in their final qualifying fixture saw that run continue, with Rochdale now five without a win.
The Dale were dominant for large periods of the game, Ian Henderson had a headed effort disallowed for offside inside 15 minutes whilst Ryan East and Jimmy Keohane both went close with just 20 minutes gone.
Louie Houlden did have one piece of business to take care of in the first half for the Dale, tipping over a fierce volley from Adam Rooney after the forward had latched onto a direct pass from deep.
Cian Hayes looked destined to open the scoring for the visitors after Keohane had found the wide man inside the box. Hayes jinked inside but was denied superbly by the feet of Curtis Pond in the Hereford net.
Ethan Freemantle had a hectic next ten minutes for the hosts. He first blazed a terrific chance over the bar from close range, before missing another opportunity minutes later after being denied a certain goal thanks to a superb Kwaku Oduroh block.
The 23-year-old wasn’t to be denied for a third time however, Alex Babos robbed Rochdale deep in their half before slipping the centre forward in on goal and Freemantle made no mistake, sliding the ball through the legs of Houlden.
The result would have left a sour taste in the mouths of the Dale faithful who would have felt they were the better side with many of the opportunities, though their wastefulness in front of goal was punished.
It means Rochdale won’t make an appearance in the FA Cup for the first time in five seasons, though with attention now back on league football, boss Jim McNulty will hope his side can get back to winning ways.
Without a win in their last four National League fixtures has seen Rochdale now tenth in the standings, whilst before that run they had previously enjoyed a four-game unbeaten streak that sat them just outside the playoff spots.
They do return to the Crown Oil Arena on Saturday after enduring an unsuccessful three game road trip in which two defeats were sandwiched by a 2-2 draw at Maidenhead.
Dale will also have to turn things around at home, without a win in their last two on their home turf means their last triumph at Crown Oil came in the impressive 4-2 win over second place Barnet in mid-September.
Just two wins from seven and eight points from a possible 21 must be something Rochdale improve on if they are to reach the playoffs, though they do remain well in the mix just two points off seventh.
A return to form could see Rochdale into the top seven for the first time since game week four, though they will have to rely on other results going their way. The Dale will be hoping for a draw between ninth place Aldershot Town and seventh place Hartlepool whilst Halifax (8th) host Kidderminster.
There’s no secret the man in form is 25-year-old Kairo Mitchell for Rochdale. The forward has scored four times in his last six appearances for the club adding to his tally of six goals so far this season since his summer move from Notts County.
That record is only bested by Tyrese Sinclair (8) this season for Rochdale, though the signs are positive for Mitchell to have his most fruitful campaign in front of goal yet in his seven-year career.
Just one shy of his most clinical year which came for King’s Lynn Town in the 2020/21 season where he netted seven times, Mitchell may have finally found his rhythm and the right environment to thrive as a centre forward.
He has already played the most minutes of his career in a season so far, starting in all 15 fixtures this campaign, proving just how important and impressive he has been for McNulty and this Rochdale side.
Mitchell certainly doesn’t lack a clinical edge in front of goal, the forward has proved he doesn’t need a flurry of opportunities to find the back of the net.
Epitomised by his terrific forward play in the draw with Maidenhead, where he latched onto a deep pass showing good strength to hold off the defender, before burying a wonderful left footed strike into the bottom corner. It was classic number nine play.
Oldham will have their tails up after their win last weekend, and whilst the clean sheet will give them confidence defensively, they will face a number nine that is on top form and one they must keep away from their box.
In the dugout
After taking on his first management role this season, McNulty has had a solid start to life at the Crown Oil Arena. If you had told the Dale boss that his side would be just outside the playoff positions after his first 15 games in charge, he would have snapped your hand off.
Initially McNulty took over Rochdale as caretaker manager early in the 22/23 campaign where he took charge of just three fixtures, where he was unable to pick up a win before returning in March the following year for the final seven fixtures where 11 points from a possible 21 weren’t enough to secure survival in League Two.
A 4-1 win meanwhile on the final day against Sutton United secured McNulty the permanent job at Rochdale which has seen him enter this season with a solid record in the National League.
Securing 20 points from 15 games, the Rochdale manager has steered his side to be well in the chasing pack for the playoff spots, whilst McNulty will have hopes of an immediate promotion back to the fourth tier of English football.
There has been promise during his tenure at the club so far, none more signified than a highly impressive 4-2 win over title hopefuls Barnet which came in Rochdale’s best run of form under McNulty.
The signs are there for this Rochdale side, who remain well in touch of the sides ahead of them, though they will need to get themselves out of this rut of form if they wish to remain that way.
Kick-off is scheduled at 15:00pm on Saturday 21 October at the Crown Oil Arena. The referee is James Westgate, who will be assisted by Scott Chalkley and Ryan McILravey. The fourth official is Luis Griffiths.
Match coverage and information
Live audio commentary is available on Latics Player, guiding you through the match.
Alternatively, supporters can also follow the game with live updates on the club's official Twitter account: @OfficialOAFC
As this game is being played within the blocked broadcast hours stipulated by UEFA, live streaming will not be available through National League TV for supporters in the UK. The game will be available overseas.
As always, we will endeavour to ensure confirmation of the line-up is published as soon as possible.
However, supporters should note that team sheets in the National League are exchanged 15 minutes later than in the EFL and as a result, the line-up is likely to be published slightly later than in previous seasons.