Rochdale 1 Fleetwood Town 1: Verdict

Joey Barton greets the Rochdale staff
Joey Barton greets the Rochdale staff

Perhaps it was written in the stars that Fleetwood would receive yet another red card on Saturday– after the question was asked ahead of the game whether Town are a dirty team.

Perhaps it was written in the stars that Fleetwood would receive yet another red card on Saturday– after the question was asked ahead of the game whether Town are a dirty team.

But whatever the stats may say, anyone who was at Spotland or who has watched Town this season will know they are not.

Joey Barton’s men do not set out to bully the opposition or to harm them.

There might be a lot of time-wasting, and they are tough-tackling and competitive, but ‘dirty’ is not a word I would tar this team with.

But after Lewie Coyle became the seventh Town player to be sent off this term, it would be easy from the outside to look at that figure, at Town’s masses of bookings and at their position at the bottom of the Fair Play table and conclude they are a dirty team.

But they aren’t.

Coyle won the ball when he slid in on Joseph Rafferty and referee Geoff Eltringham did not even blow his whistle.

It was only when Coyle himself was then fouled that play was stopped.

Both Barton and defender Ash Eastham stated after the match that it was an assistant referee, who was stood near Barton in the dugout, who made the call.

It is alleged that the assistant told the referee that Coyle had gone over the top and committed a red-card offence.

Elringham appears to have trusted his assistant despite his own clear view of the challenge.

Coyle trudged off. He won the ball and in my opinion it was not a red-card tackle.

Town will appeal.

But if the decision is overturned, as was Ched Evans’ red at Bristol Rovers, then where is the justice for Town?

Fleetwood were 1-0 up at the time thanks to a sublime Paddy Madden header.

That 54th- minute decision changed the game and Ian Henderson levelled in the 76th minute.

Barton received a two-game touchline ban following his comments to referee Brett Huxtable about his officiating at Bristol. At Spotland, Barton simply stressed the decision was wrong and left it at that.

But are Fleetwood Town being punished because of Barton’s past, his reputation as a player and his past criticism of the FA?

This season he has raised valid criticism about refereeing in the third tier.

Barton hasn’t ranted in the way Darren Ferguson did 12 months ago but the fact is that time and time again I am writing about dubious decisions.

While reporting on Town I had rarely bashed the officials until this term.

But it has become a regular occurrence since Barton’s appointment.

I should be writing about Madden’s 16th goal of the season and how the Irishman is a delight to watch.

How that 36th-minute header might have looked simple, as he flicked on Ross Wallace’s cross from the right, but everything about the technique was wonderfully crafted.

Madden is now Town’s highest scorer in one EFL season.

Antoni Sarcevic’s 15 in 2013-14 has been passed by Madden, with more than a third of the season remaining.

A front three in which Burns and Ashley Nadesan were alongside Madden was impressive again.

Nadesan is a rough diamond, discovered in 2016 but stored away by previous regimes.

Barton has uncovered him and many of Town’s home-grown talents and has given them their shot.

Nadesan, on just his second league start for the club, should have nabbed his second assist but Burns blazed over with the net at his mercy.

Craig Morgan survived shouts for handball after Ian Henderson’s effort was cleared to Cairns.

But it looked at the break as though only one team would win... until the Coyle incident.

From then on it was all Dale. Fleetwood were fortunate the relegation battlers were wasteful.

A lack of quality in the final third showed clearly why they are where they are.

But one man who does have that quality Henderson. He did not need asking twice to nod home in the 76th minute.

He nearly won it too but Cairns showed why he has been dubbed the best in the division with a fine fingertip stop to ensure the point.

Against Oxford seven days earlier I was critical of some of Town’s senior professionals in the second half.

But at Rochdale they played like warriors when they needed to step up for 10-man Town.

Eastham, Craig Morgan, James Wallace and company put their bodies on the line to ensure that point.

That second-half performance showed us that this squad is willing to fight for the shirt – and within the rules of the game.