Reds remain in the League One relegation zone after Dean Saunders suffered his first defeat since taking over as Interim Manager.
First-half goals from Scott Tanser and Ian Henderson put the home side on course for only their fourth home League win of the campaign and they were denied a third when Lewis Price saved Matty Done’s penalty seven minutes into the second period.
Reds pulled one back with 15 minutes to go through midfielder Marvin Elliott’s close-range strike to set up a grandstand finish as the visitors pushed for an equaliser, but with three minutes to go Dale sealed victory when Henderson scored his second with the aid of a big deflection. There was still time for substitute Calvin Andrew charged down Price’s clearance in stoppage time to make it 4-1.
Dean Saunders made three changes to the side that drew 2-2 with MK Dons a week ago. Loan pair Price and Anthony Wordsworth came in while fit-again Ryan Dickson was preferred to Sonny Bradley at left-back. Injury ruled out Brian Jensen, Dean Leacock, Conor Henderson and Josh Simpson.
Referee Trevor Kettle finally gave the game the go-ahead at 1.45pm after three inspections of a pitch which was in good condition after fans had cleared snow off the covers. The operation to clear further snow off the surface continued right up until kick off but there was still as covering at kick off.
Reds started brightly and won a couple of early corners which came to nothing and apart from a booking for Gavin Tomlin, for bringing down Matty Done just outside the box, the first 20 minutes proved fairly uneventful as both sides adjusted to the conditions.
But Dale then began to up the tempo and Price made a smart save on 25 minutes from a shot by Done, who was as influential as he had been in their 4-0 win at Crawley in September.
Home appeals for a penalty when Joe Rafferty went down under a challenge by Gwion Edwards were ignored but Rochdale were now in control, particularly in midfield, and went ahead on 33 minutes.
Price did well to push out Done’s volley following a free kick but when the ball was only half-cleared to TANSER on the left-hand edge of the box he sent a low, skidding volley into the far corner with Price helpless.
Dale had their tails up and doubled their lead five minutes later. Full-back Rhys Bennett was allowed to advance and let fly from 35 yards and when Price could only parry his shot, HENDERSON reacted before anyone in a red shirt to tap the ball home.
By then Reds had changed to a 4-5-1 formation but they had struggled to get any sort of grip in the game during a disappointing first half.
They might have gone further behind seven minutes into the second half when Done was sent spinning again in the box, this time by Lanre Oyebanjo, as he latched onto Henderon’s pin-point pass. This time the referee did point to the spot but Price plunged low to his left to keep out Done’s penalty.
Reds responded with their first effort on goal on 55 minutes. Elliott met Smith’s inswinging corner but disappointingly directed a free header from eight yards wide of the right-hand upright.
Crawley then made a double change as Bobson Bawling and Lewis Young replaced Gavin Tomlin and Edwards but Price was called into action again when Dale sub Calvin Andrew fired straight at him from 12 yards after Done’s pass had opened the visitors up.
Izale McLeod squandered a great chance on the hour when he blasted the ball over from close range after Lillis had parried Jimmy Smith’s shot. With the substitutes offering a bit width Reds were starting to look a little more threatening as the game entered its final third.
Reds won a couple of corners that came to nothing then space opened up for McLeod on the break but he elected to hit a first-time shot which was never troubling Lillis in the home goal.
But McLeod did better with 15 minutes to go when the visitors pulled a goal back. He headed Ryan Dickson’s diagonal ball back across the six-yard box and Marvin ELLIOTT reacted quickest to stab home his third goal of the season.
Dale thought they’d made the points safe with 11 minutes remaining when Done’s corner was helped on by Henderson but Lanre Oyebanjo hacked the ball off the line.
Matt Harrold replaced Smith with seven minutes to go in time and Reds then forced two quick corners, the second of which dropped by Joe Walsh ten yards out but the defender was unable to keep his volley on target.
It looked as if Reds might get an equaliser but with three minutes to go Andrew pulled the ball back from the by-line and Done helped it back to HENDERSON whose side-footed shot took a big deflection off Ryan Dickson as it flew past the helpless Price.
Harrold missed a chance to score when he failed to get any connection onto Young’s cross shot in front of goal before Rochdale got a fourth in the final minute of stoppage time when ANDREW charged down Price’s clearance and the ball rolled into an empty net.