KEITH Hill’s eagerly-anticipated return to his former club couldn’t have been packed with much more drama.
But the Barnsley boss was just thankful at the end that he eventually came out on top after a real roller-coaster ride at Spotland.
There were seven goals, two penalties, a straight red card for a head-butt, extra-time, a dislocated shoulder and a combined total of ten debutants on show for both clubs for one cracker of a Capital One first round tie.
And if it had not been for some heroics from makeshift keeper Bobby Hassell – thrust into the action when Ben Alnwick was given his marching orders at the death for a crazy head-butt on Dale substitute Ray Putterill – the Reds might have been dumped out of the league cup at the first hurdle for a third successive season.
Hill said: “Rochdale played some magnificent football but I thought we were in the ascendancy in the second half and it looked a routine 2-1 win for us until the 90th minute.
“But then Ben’s got the ball in his hands and, after that [the head-butt], well it’s unexplainable what happened.
“Ben’s looking at three or four-game suspension, and with Luke Steele injured we’ve got to find a new keeper now which won’t be easy.“I have to bring another keeper in because Lukas [Lidakevicius] is still young and he’s not ready.”
League Two Dale took a deserved sixth minute lead through a fine strike from midfielder Andrew Tutte.
George Donnelly cut the ball inside for Tutte wide on the right and the former Manchester City youngster curled a stunning shot over Alnwick.
Just 12 minutes later Hill was forced to shuffle his pack when winger Jim O’Brien was carried off with a dislocated left shoulder following an innocuous challenge with Dale left-back Kevin McIntyre.
The Reds drew level two minutes before the break when young right-back John Stones scored on his debut with a header at the back post from Jacob Mellis’ pinpoint free-kick.
Striker Craig Davies, impressive in pre-season for the Reds, bagged his first goal of the season with a clinical strike with 12 minutes to go.
But the drama had only just begun as Putterill collapsed to the floor in a heap after his clash of heads with Alnwick and Dale were handed a lifeline back into the contest.
With the Reds down to ten men defender Hassell went in net as Jason Kennedy stroked home from the spot to force extra-time. However, former Spotland favourite Chris Dagnall scored twice within the space of ten minutes to seemingly put the contest out of sight.
But at the end of the first period of extra-time Davies was penalised for a hand-ball in his own area and up stepped Kennedy to score his second goal from the penalty spot.
Reds skipper Jimmy McNulty made a brilliant block to deny Kennedy a hat-trick with eight minutes left, but it was fans’ favourite Hassell who saved the day with three fine saves in the final passage of play to secure his club a place in the next round.
Rochdale (4-2-3-1): Lillis; Pearson, R Edwards, P Edwards, McIntyre; Kennedy, Cavanagh; Donnelly (Putterill 75), Tutte, Grimes (Curran 85); Adebola (Craney 84). Subs: Smith, Bennett, Rafferty, Barry-Murphy.
Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Alnwick; Stones (Hassell 85), Foster, McNulty, Wiseman; O’Brien (Dagnall 18), Mellis, Perkins, Done; Etuhu (Cywka 70); Davies. Subs: Lidakevicius, Golbourne, Dawson, Digby.
Scorers: Rochdale 3 Andrew Tutte 6, Jason Kennedy pen 90, 105 for Rochdale; John Stones 43, Craig Davies 78, Chris Dagnall 94, 104 for Barnsley.
Referee: Gary Sutton (Notts).