Date: 26th May 2008 at 1:13pm
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Forget Premiership sterility, forget hype. League 2 is where it`s at. A place where just surviving is success in itself. A place where Brit Grit holds sway over Eastern European Entrepreneurs and cosy Carlos Kickaballs. Ok we may not pack the stadiums but passion is neither found wanting on the pitch nor on the terraces. You certainly earn your money in our league. A crowd of fifty thousand plus is expected, not a bad eraner even if you’re still after the Football League snouts in the pecking order. Though there are no official figures both places will be ghost towns today.

And at Wembley today you will see a proper game of football. A northwest derby that pits Rochdale against Stockport. True Brit Grit with some old fashioned centre forwards and central defenders that guarantee thrills and spills. County have made four unsuccessful visits to Wembley previously; and a win would be just for league 2`s most passionate fams (Imps aside of course). Rochdale are gracing the hallowed turf for the first time. Dale have only gained promotion once in their history, 39 years ago when current manager Keith Hill was born. They have completed 34 successive seasons at this level, longer than any other club. It would be equally fitting for them to go up in their centenary season.

For Stockport, defender Matty McNeil will get a surprise start after six months out with a knee injury. Gareth Owen will do the man in the iron mask routine to protect a broken cheekbone. Dominic Blizzard has recovered from a calf injury, but Michael Raynes (hamstring) misses out. Rochdale midfielder David Perkins will miss the game through suspension after seeing red in the semi. They are otherwise at full strength bar striker Lee ‘the Mangler ‘ Thorpe who is still recovering from his (arm) wrestling injury and has now done his leg. We dare not ask.

Current form
Stockport finished fourth on 82 points, Dale fifth on 80. County are unbeaten in four having won two and drawn two. Their defence is so mean that all four can peel an orange in their pockets. Dale meanwhile have 1 win 2 draws and 1 defeat, though they were unbeaten in last 10 league games (7 wins 3 draws). Have also bagged 77 goals this season which makes them the third highest scorers in League 2

The mangers two penneth

Jim Gannon reckons today will be a classic encounter. Gannon is a bloke that likes to give youth its head. The Stockport team averaged just 22 years of age against Wycombe.
‘It’s going to be special because it’s two great footballing sides who play the game in the right manner,’ he said. ‘Rochdale play open, expansive football and I’m expecting a very even contest. The fact it’s a local derby, it’s at Wembley and the huge prize of League One football all contribute to make it a fantastic finale to the season.’

Keith Hill could really crown Rochdale`s centenary season.
‘There is a wow factor to it so it’s important we get there early so they can get that out of their system. It’s just another game, our last game of the season. The lads know it’s a cup final and a winner-take-all situation. We’re going to Wembley, we’re playing in a final. We know that and so do Stockport. It brings its own pressure but we try to take that away from the players as much as we can. Once the whistle goes it’s up to the players. They have 100% belief in what they’re doing. They’re ready now and the lads are focused on what we want to achieve. We’re hungry for success and that is key. We’ve got hungry young players.’

Vital Verdict 3-2 Stockport