Rochdale will travel to Sunderland for one of their toughest challenges of the League One season this weekend.
Few would have forecast that Dale would be facing the Black Cats as part of a league campaign a couple of seasons ago, but Keith Hill’s ability to keep his side in third tier, combined with consecutive relegations from the Premier League for the Wearside outfit, will see the teams meet this weekend.
Jack Ross’ charges have not quite set the division alight thus far but are fourth in the division after the opening eight games, winning half of the matches, but remain five and four points adrift of the top two sides at this stage, Portsmouth and Peterborough United respectively.
Dale, meanwhile, have enjoyed a mini revival in form after a poor start to the campaign as a whole, despite having begun it with a victory away to Burton Albion.
Keith Hill’s men will take on another of last season’s relegated Championship teams in Sunderland on Saturday and once again relish the underdog status that comes with the trips to the larger stadia in the division.
As well as defeating Nigel Clough’s Brewers on the opening day, Dale have earned away wins at Coventry City and in the Carabao Cup at Grimsby Town along with a couple of league draws, their only loss on the road so far a narrow loss to Middlesbrough in the aforementioned cup competition.
Dale’s away form had been the shining light of their campaign before back-to-back home wins, over Bury in the Checkatrade Trophy and against Gillingham in the league last weekend, conspired to restore the form on home turf somewhat.
And the Ian Henderson hattrick which led Dale to the 3-0 win over The Gills last time out will give Hill’s men plenty of confidence heading to the North East.
Ross’ side, by contrast, arrive fresh from defeat – their first of the league season – having fallen 2-1 away at Burton last weekend. They will be without Charlie Wyke and Josh Maja for Dale’s visit.
Dale will take more than 1,000 fans to the Stadium of Light with Sunderland expecting more than 26,000 supporters overall, the biggest crowd before which a Dale side will have played in league action for some time.
The Black Cats should be confident of a win, despite Dale’s tendency to spring a surprise on bigger clubs away from home, with Ross’ men 13/12 favourites per Oddschecker.
The draw is priced at 11/4 and Hill’s side are 14/5 outsiders.
This is certainly a trip for Dale fans to look forward to though and they can be more expectant of a decent showing, having won three of their last four games, in which they are unbeaten.