HARRIERS saw their 2024 start with National League defeat after going down to 2-0 on a dour afternoon at the Crown Oil Arena.

Play-off chasing Dale netted twice in the second half to secure victory despite an injury crisis at the club, Harriers failing to trouble the hosts seriously and consistently on the day.

Russ Penn made three changes to the starting eleven that were beaten on home soil by Boreham Wood just before New Year.

The injured Gold Omotayo passed a fitness test sufficiently enough to be amongst the substitutes, but joined Krystian Pearce and the departed Ryan McLean in falling out of the team nonetheless.

There was also a spot on the bench for a new face in the form of Owen Hesketh who had signed on loan until the end of the season from Premier League side Wolves earlier in the week.

Harriers mustered what was pretty much the only chance of the first half for either side with a quarter of an hour played, turning on an Amari Morgan-Smith header inside the area, but firing wide under stern attentions from Dale defenders.

Rochdale utilised goalkeeper Louis Moulden as an outlet throughout the period and almost came unstuck when playing out from the back on a couple of occasions, but Morgan-Smith was blocked as he attempted to shoot, while Shane Byrne’s effort having won the ball on the edge of the box was similarly smothered.

A tepid start to the second half threatened to leave the game devoid of any kind of spectacle – it needed a piece of magic to bring things to life, and that duly arrived for Rochdale on the hour when Tyrese Sinclair spun on a simple ball up field, looping up and beyond the back-tracking Christian Dibble and into the top corner of his net.

That gave the game the impetus it so badly needed, but it acted as a real boost to the home side who promptly boosted their lead with 72 on the clock veteran Ian Henderson able to slam home at the far post after a pull-back ran unchecked along the six-yard area.

Omotayo and Hesketh were among the second half changes for the visitors but, ultimately, to no avail as the home side held on to see out their victory with minimum fuss.

Harriers put their National League exploits on hold for a week on Saturday (13th) as they welcome Altrincham to Aggborough in the Isuzu FA Trophy.