TWO survivors of Fleetwood’s Blue Square North days combined to pull Town back into this Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie only for Micky Mellon’s side to lose out in a penalty shoot-out.
Jamie Milligan and Jamie McGuire twice combined in the second half at Spotland to overturn a 2-0 deficit only for the hosts to win this entertaining first-round tie 4-2 on spot-kicks.
Bobby Grant, who struck the winning penalty, had already shown his prowess from the spot to give Town’s League Two rivals a half-time lead which was doubled by Ray Putterill’s stunning shot.
Mellon started with six players who had featured in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Aldershot, complying with the competition’s rules about fielding ‘regulars’.
However, League Two’s tightest defence was much-changed as Rob Atkinson and Alan Goodall, both former Dale players, made their first appearance of the season and there was a debut for centre-back Ashley Eastham on loan from Blackpool.
Town faced two of their former players in striker George Donnelly and midfielder Ian Craney, though a third, Peter Cavanagh, was missing through injury.
Goodall was prominent in attack in the early stages, making two strong runs. The second of these allowed Andy Mangan space to send in a low cross from the left which Steven Gillespie failed to exploit.
In the sixth minute, Donnelly showed his strength and pace to run at the heart of the Town defence but his route to goal was blocked by keeper Scott Davies.
An open game developed as both sides looked to attack, and Town had a good chance to take the lead in the 13th minute when Gillespie found fellow striker David Ball, but his shot was deflected wide by Smith for a corner.
Gillespie was anxious to make a mark on his first start, showing pace on and off the ball and sending a right-foot shot narrowly wide on the quarter-hour.
Dale came back in the 18th minute when Andrew Tutte ran on to a pass from Donnelly unleashing a right-foot shot which skimmed the far post.
Five minutes later, the home side made the breakthrough when Davies was adjudged to have brought down midfielder Ray Putterill as he jinked into the box.
The Town keeper was booked and protested vigorously to an assistant reforee, though he was unable to repeat his penalty-saving heroics of Saturday as Grant struck a sweet spot-kick to his left.
Town immediately exerted pressure and gave Dale’s defence some anxious moments up to the half-hour.
Alex Marrow, another making his full debut, headed narrowly over the crossbar from a Goodall corner as goalkeeper Smith was kept busy.
Putterill almost turned villain two minutes before the break but Town’s appeals for handball were turned down by referee Bond.
Despite going in a goal down, Town had looked the better side throughout the half. They dominated possession and Smith was by far the busier keeper.
However, Rochdale pinned the visitors back in their own half after the break and Mellon looked to Milligan’s creative spark, the veteran midfielder replacing Marrow in the 56th minute.
But before the former Town skipper had a chance to touch the ball, Dale went further ahead on 58 minutes.
Putterill cut in from the left before striking a 30-yard shot which bent past Davies at the far post.
However, Milligan was soon to play his part. His corner from the right picked out McGuire at the near post and the captain put his side back in the game with a firm header.
He collided with Smith in the process, the keeper coming off worse and needing treatment before play resumed.
Rochdale would have gone two goals clear again in the 69th minute but for a stunning save from Davies to deny Rhys Bennett.
And this appeared a crucial turning point three minutes later when the Milligan/McGuire partnership delivered again.
Milligan’s free-kick from the left side was met by McGuire on the back post and Town were level.
Milligan nearly delivered the goods himself in the 76th minute, swinging another free-kick across Smith’s goal and narrowly wide.
Rochdale were causing problems for themselves by conceding too many free-kicks in dangerous positions, and Town’s two midfield stalwarts almost punished them again as McGuire reached for yet another Milligan set-piece
Rochdale recovered their composure and threatened again, Davies saving from close range and Eastham making a diving lunge to deny Putterill a shot on target. Donnelly broke clear in added time but dragged his shot wide.
The match went straight to penalties with no extra-time. Davies’ save from Andrew Tutte was not enough as spot successes from Putterill, Phil Edwards, Kevin McIntyre and finally Grant sealed the 4-2 win.
Milligan and Barry Nicholson scored for Fleetwood, but McGuire and Mangan saw their efforts saved.
Rochdale: Smith, Bennett, Edwards, McIntyre, Pearson, Barry-Murphy (Rafferty 82), Tutte, Craney, Donnelly, Putterill, Grant; not used: Lillis, Byrne, Grimes, Adebola
Fleetwood: Davies, Beeley, Eastham, Atkinson, Goodall, Nicholson, McGuire, Marrow (Milligan 56), Ball, Gillespie (Titchiner 62), Mangan; not used: Maxwell, Kinsella, Barkhuizen.
Ref: Bond; Att: 1,256