Christmas came early for Hartlepool United in 1996 – but only after they rode their luck.
Pre-match entertainment at this league tie had included brass bands blasting out the tune of Winter Wonderland.
But it was hardly festive weather with both teams trying their best to cope in wet and windy conditions.
And it was Pools who were hanging on in the early stages at Spotland as Rochdale dominated.
A Mike Cecere shot looped over the Pools bar, a powerful Alan Johnson effort missed the target by inches and O’Connor had to save with his legs from John Deary, all within the space of the first few minutes.
Rochdale also had two corners in a matter of seconds as they tried to press home an early advantage.
But Mick Tait’s side did eventually settle into the match and made the pressure count four minutes before the break. In fact, they made it count in style with two goals in a spectacular 60-second spell.
Denny Ingram sent in a long throw which was half cleared to Beech. He drove in a blistering shot from 20 yards which went low and to Gray’s right, to open the Pools account.
The away fans were still celebrating when Pools doubled their lead.
David Clegg crossed for Joe Allon who squared for Steve Howard to tap the ball in at the far post.
Rochdale responded with two half-time substitutions but Pools were in no mood to surrender their advantage.
After two Rochdale raids which came to nothing, it was Pools who almost went further ahead when Kona Hislop blocked an attempted clearance but a Dale defender got back before Joe Allon could pounce.
Still, it was Pools who scored next and this time, Allon did get his chance.
A low cross from Steve Howard appeared to be the Rochdale defender’s but Allon nipped in ahead of him and rounded the keeper before firing home from an acute angle.
With 13 minutes to go, Whitehall headed home from close range to make it 3-1 and Rochdale rallied for one last big push to claw themselves back into the game.
But Pools were already well in control and the points were theirs.
Hartlepool: O’Connor, Ingram, McAuley, Beech, Lee, Davies, Allon, Cooper, Howard, Clegg, Hislop. Subs; Irvine, Tait, Homer.
Rochdale: Gray, Fensome, Bayliss, Johnson, Hill, Thackeray, Bailey, Deary, Cecere, Whitehall, painter. Subs; Thompson, Dowell, Russell.