I imagine that the majority of English football fans are scornfully glaring at Oldham Athletic and Chairman Simon Corney this weekend, following the sacking of Paul Dickov, a mere week after the magnificent 3-2 win against Liverpool. However, almost as well documented as goal hero Matt Smith’s rise from non-league, is the damning statistic that, following the defeat to Walsall, Oldham have taken 1 point from their previous 27. That run contained a variety of losses, included a thrashing by Yeovil, both Swindon and Brentford playing us off the park, and late winner conceded against Crewe, Doncaster and Coventry.
A poll on an Oldham fansite, prior to the giant-killing of Liverpool, showed that 90% of fans wanted Dickov gone. That win gave him a brief stay of execution, however most fans will be relieved that Dickov has stepped down. We are all genuinely sad to see him leave, he is a great, passionate and well-liked manager: hugely unusual when considering his managerial record. We all wanted him to do well. Throughout January, Corney showed his support through firstly, the rare decision to sack all of Dickov’s backroom staff, whilst keeping his manager. Secondly the signing of cult-hero Jose Baxter to a two and a half year contract was a massive coup; he has been one of our few shining lights this season, and holding off reported interest from Ipswich, Blackpool and other Championship clubs owes great credit to Corney, Dickov and Baxter himself. Finally, the deadline day loan signings of Lee Barnard and Chris Iwelumo further underlined Corney’s support of the club.With Baxter, Barnard and Iwelumo at the new manager’s disposal, firepower shouldn’t be an issue.
However, it wasn’t enough. After 30 minutes of near total-domination against Walsall, there was capitulation, and the 3-1 loss completed a full cycle of emotions from Reece Wabara’s winning header less than a week previously.
So where does the blame lie? Much of it must lie with the players themselves- Dickov had repeatedly stated that this group of players was the best he had during his two and a half year reign. I’m sure many of you saw James Wesolowski’s outstanding box-to-box midfield display against Gerrard, Allen and co. Lee Croft terrorised young Jack Robinson, and showed sheer genius to cut the ball back for Smith to poke home the second. Smith himself had, hands down, his best performance in a Latics shirt. Since the expiry of Matt Derbyshire’s loan, Smith has had his first real run of games since the return of Derbyshire, and although he is a fantastic target man (shown by his bulldozing performance against Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates) his lack of league experience and clinical forward play has, unfortunately, coincided with 8 of the 9 games without a victory. Despite the outstanding performance against Liverpool (emphasised by Corney as a one-off) Wesolowski, alongside central midfield partner Dean Furman, have all too frequently been overrun in games and have rarely, if ever, grabbed control of the game. Croft has lost the pace he had during his original loan spell back in 2004 and as such, made him less of a threat this season.
These are just a few examples, and unfortunately Wesolowski, Croft, Furman, as well as Robbie Simpson and Cliff Byrne, are our most experienced players, and have all gone missing far too frequently in League One. A cynic might say that Simpson hasn’t really performed as well since the permanent signing of him at the end of January 2012, after his loan spell from Huddersfield. Furthermore, Youssuf M’Changama, who has been one of our best players during this run, has been sidelined for the remainder of the season. His place is likely to go to youngster Carl Winchester, or Paul Murray, signed on a free following his release from bottom of the league Hartlepool.
So, what next? Phil Brown is the bookies’ favourite to take over, however when taking over in a similar situation with Preston in 2011 (albeit being in the Championship) North End were relegated. Other front runners include former gaffers Iain Dowie and John Sheridan. Could they inspire these players to turn the season around, and avoid relegation into League Two? We’ve seen with neighbours Stockport County how fatal relegation to League Two can be – all too quickly you can fall into the abyss of non-league. But that doesn’t bear thinking about…
Written by Joshua Bowker, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger
Joshua tweets at @JoshuaBowker