For once in my life, a Virgin train journey to Manchester actually went to schedule - arriving at Piccadilly in just over two hours - which meant I could get a train from Victoria so that I was in Rochdale by 11am. Why don't they always work like this?
(left) Rochdale Town Hall
The weather was all bright and beautiful, blue skies and lots of sun, so I took the slighty more scenic route into town via the park overlooking the town hall - not at all grim - and then wound my way through the shopping precinct to the delightfully named Toad Lane and our pre-match pub, the Baum.
The pub is right next door to the Rochdale Pioneers Museum which is based in the preserved original store from the early days of the Co-operative movement. But no time for culture today though.
The Baum was brought to my attention in Tandleman's beer blog - a great source for info on pubs in the Manchester area - and Liz took the London Millers there a few weeks ago when they were at Spotland. They enjoyed their visit so much it became their trip of the season.
Beers on offer included Holts Fifth Sense, Black Banjo Stout from local brewery Green Mill, Flowers IPA, Boggart Bogeyed and Phoenix Spotland Gold. I tried the latter two and both were nice, steady session ales in good condition and perfect for early lunchtime drinking.
Colin "I'll have an 'alf" Fletcher wasn't far behind in joining me there - he'd narrowly missed joining me at Victoria station - and predictably he went straight for a half of the stout.
The pub is quite similar to Number Twenty-2 in some respects - off the main circuit of town pubs and with probably a slightly older set of drinkers plus those who pop in for a coffee after visiting the museum next door.
Speaking to the manager though he said he'd had about 100 Port Vale fans dumped on them by the police before the last home game. Lucky Vale fans, less lucky for the bar staff.
(right) The Baum
We left the pub and headed up Spotland Road and just made it into our seats with seconds to spare before kick-off. A decent turnout of Darlo fans given the late re-arrangement of the fixture for television - I'm sure Martin wasn't the only one who lost money on non-refundable rail tickets but do Sky really give a toss?
There was action at both ends from the off - Rochdale first went close then Pavel Abbot was put through only to hit the ball straight at the keeper.
We didn't have to wait long for first blood though after a nice bit of interplay saw the ball bounce up nicely for Jason Kennedy who looped the ball over their keeper - an absolute scorcher. But had we peaked too early?
The goal stunned Rochdale - not just the players but the crowd who suddenly went very quiet and nervous. Darlo fans all know this sensation far too well because we've experienced it enough times at home games - freezing on the big occasion.
Thereafter Rochdale had the lion's share of possession but didn't make it tell - White and Miller dealt with most things thrown at us and when Dale did get through on goal they either blazed wide or made it relatively easy for Kazimierczak to save.
Darlo were no slouches though and had their own chances during the half - Abbot wasted a great chance to put Poole though on goal and Miller beat their keeper only to head wide - but it was Kennedy's goal that separated the teams at half-time.
Rochdale came out fighting in the second half and Darlo rarely got out of their half in the first ten minutes but we slowly came back into it a bit and looked dangerous on the break until we finally doubled our lead in the 65th minute.
From a partially cleared corner, captain Ricky Ravenhill headed the ball back into the box - from this Abbott looped his header against the post and a Dale defender knocked it into his own net while attempting to clear the ball.
Rochdale never really recovered from this - they huffed and puffed for the remainder of the half but Darlo more or less closed the defensive doors and ran down the clock.
A well-deserved victory through hard-work and team play.
(left) Colin and Martin in the Baum
We popped back into the Baum, dragging Martin with us, for a celebratory pint and to enjoy the moment - very sweet. We can be magnanimous in victory when we have to...
We then wandered back to the station and headed back into Manchester for a trawl of some of the pubs between Victoria and Piccadilly stations.
First point of call was the Smithfield Hotel - a veritable Mecca for tickers - where I had a pint of some hoppy Easter beer - I stopped paying too much attention at this point. It's a cheap and cheerful hotel reminiscent of the Dalesman - the bar is a bit rough and ready but it was full of folk ticking beers and watching the Villa-West Ham game. And with some small dogs in attendance, what more do you want?
From here it was just a short walk along Swan Street to the Crown and Kettle - a nice pub which has a very ornate ceiling of which only part has been renovated - some decent beers on tap as well. We had a pint here but as soon as the Arsenal-Chelsea FA Cup came on the TV we voted to move on.
Just over the road is Bar Fringe - it doesn't look the type of place to do real ale from the outside but they had four beers on tap when we were there - and a nice lively atmosphere. It's been described as an authentic recreation of an Amsterdam brown bar - hmm, not quite that but worth a visit all the same.
A pint was enough for us both at this point - Colin had already gone for his train home - and we soon followed in his footsteps to catch the 18:55 to Euston. Not surprisingly we were soon out for the count, waking in time for another on-time arrival.
A very good day out in all respects and for me, a great way to end the away trips for this season - good rail journey, great pubs and a great result.