David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Oldham Athletic’

Pretty build up play, but lacking a lethal touch

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

AR

It’s been much of the same for Oldham Athletic this season; heading for a low league finish, a decent cup run including a match against Liverpool for the third year in a row, and players catching the eye of team higher up the pyramid. Lee Johnson has been in charge for 10 months now, however on the face of it, it seems as if little has changed.

Hovering a precarious 2 points above the relegation zone, there are definite worries this season, even if nobody from the club is explicitly saying so. Goal-scoring is a particular worry, with only 27 goals in 26 games, and an extremely disappointing 11 in 11 home games. Johnson’s three main strikers: Adam Rooney, Charlie MacDonald and Jonson Clarke-Harris have each notched 4 league goals each, putting them top of Latics’ goal scoring charts. Rooney especially has suffered from a lack of confidence and a lack of service – his recent 8 minute cameo against Walsall ended with a scuffed effort from only 6 yards out missing the target, and an injury time penalty being pushed away. It perfectly sums up his and the club’s season so far, Rooney came with real high hopes, but has found it difficult so far, MacDonald has been injured for chunks of the season, with his predatory skills definitely missing, and Clarke-Harris, excellent at times, is in his first full season as a first-teamer.

Nobody has blown Latics out of the water: 11 of the 13 defeats suffered have been by the odd goal, with 6 of them ending 1-0. Nobody – barring Wolves away – have dominated Oldham, however a lack of creativity in midfield means very few chances are created, and out of form strikers are struggling to find the back of the net.

Johnson has a clear philosophy; he focuses on keeping the ball and patiently building up play, waiting for an opportunity to arise. Central defender James Tarkowski is exceptionally comfortable on the ball, and shows a willingness to carry the ball forward, with his direct play leading to rumoured interest from Liverpool, amongst others. Korey Smith and James Wesolowski have been extremely impressive in central midfield: but both are spoilers and ball winners, and whilst they keep the ball extremely well, however in the final third the final ball is definitely lacking. The arrival of Gary Harkins on loan is Johnson attempting to end this problem; however this has resulted in Danny Philliskirk – who has been excellent on his return to the club – being shunted out wide, minimising the effect he can have on a game. Although we do create attractive football, chances are extremely rare – it took until the 86th minute for a shot on target in the last outing, against Port Vale.

A lack of width is also limiting Johnson’s attacking options: Cristian Montano has been sacked, Sidney Schmeltz loaned out, and full back Joseph Mills and winger Mike Petrasso returning to their parent clubs. Only James Dayton, beset by injury and lack of form, and David Worrall – recently arrived on loan from Rotherham – are out and out wingers still at the club. Genseric Kusunga and David Mellor have been operating at full back, however neither are natural in that position, and their wariness to push on further contributes to a lack of width.

We’re not a million miles away from pushing up the table, however there are clear attacking issues that need combating; especially at home, when teams set up as a 4-5-1, Johnson has found it hard to break them down. Possession football isn’t resulting in goals or wins, so a plan B needs forming, to produce more chances and enabling us to grind out ugly victories, or Johnson needs to bring in a goalscorer to see us through until the end of the season.

Written by Joshua Bowker, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger

Joshua tweets at @JoshuaBowker

2013-14: A season of hope?

Monday, July 29th, 2013

LJ

Lee Johnson’s first off-season as a manager has largely been a successful one, both with respect to pre-season results, and also the signings he has brought in. The departure of FA Cup hero Matt Smith, alongside giant defender Jean-Yves M’voto posed some issues, however Johnson has brought in 7 full time signings, as well as loanee ‘keeper, Mark Oxley. The signings include Korey Smith, who impressed on loan at Latics last season, and Johnson’s former team mate at Kilmarnock: James Dayton, who was tipped for an England call up only last season (yes – seriously!).

The new squad seems to have settled well, going unbeaten throughout pre-season, with a draw against Romanian giants Dinamo Bucharest, and the defeat of Huddersfield Town the highlights. The performances of Cristian Montaño, who notched four goals, suggests he has overcome his fitness issues which blighted his first season at Latics. An in-form Montaño could be a huge asset going forward, with his pace and trickery only seen in glimpses during last season.

I noted on my start of season blog last year, how short of attacking options we were, and Johnson seems to have a variety of different strikers to hit the back of the neck. Experienced poacher Charlie MacDonald has a decent record in League One, and looks set to be partnered in attack with the imminent signing of Adam Rooney – the only important Rooney North-West transfer saga. Young target man, Jonson Clarke-Harris, signed from Peterborough, had a positive loan spell at Bury in the latter stages of last season, including a bruising performance against his new employer. Key however, will be Jose Baxter, who scored 15 goals in all competitions for Athletic last season, often playing just off the main striker. His goals and set pieces could turn a good season into a great one. There is set to be one more signing, alongside Rooney, prior to the new season commencing, most likely an experienced centre half, which is lacking in the squad. Currently James Tarkowski, Cliff Byrne and Edijs Joksts are the only recognised centre backs, with midfielder David Mellor having deputised during pre-season.

Barring the final defender, Johnson seems to have assembled a good League One squad, with the core being made up of enthusiastic and exciting young players. Only MacDonald and Byrne are older than 26, and with Johnson the youngest manager in the Football League (and probably one of the most suave), the lack of experience could be an issue, with Johnson’s search for a seasoned assistant manager being fruitless so far. However, he stated from day one that he would never rush this decision, and he has brought in the experienced Bobby Mimms, as well as fitness guru Lee Steele to aid himself and First Team coach Paul Murray as non-playing staff.

Looking at the coming season as a whole, it is difficult to predict how the season will pan out. The squad looks good on paper, and has produced during pre-season, and during Johnson’s 10 game tenure last season, he picked up 15 points: which extrapolated over a whole season would result in 69 points – a figure which would generally be just outside of the play-offs. Obviously this doesn’t really mean a lot, but with Johnson having his own squad now – hopefully he will have brought in 10 new signings by 3pm on Saturday – the season bodes well. There is a general mood of positivity around Boundary Park, with the Chaddy End’s roof finally being painted, and plans for the new stand in full motion, it could be a good season ahead. Compared with the situation last year, things are definitely looking up. The FA Cup run has alleviated some of the financial issues, and the squad is certainly deeper than last year, with youth team graduates Kirk Millar, Mellor, and Glenn Belezika all a year older, with varying degrees of first team football under their belts.

As stated above, it is difficult to state the situation will be, come May. The squad seems to be too good to be sucked into a relegation battle, as such, am upper mid-table finish is likely, and would certainly be an improvement on Paul Dickov’s reign, where his highest finish was 16th. A good run could possibly result in a challenge for the play-offs, however it is best not to get ahead of ourselves!

Written by Joshua Bowker, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger

Joshua tweets at @JoshuaBowker

Seven days is a long time in football…

Monday, February 4th, 2013

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

Meat Pie, Sausage Roll, Come on Oldham, who is going to give us a goal?

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

This is Paul Dickov’s third season at the helm of Oldham Athletic now, and probably going to be the most difficult. On a much smaller budget, due to the loss of local teams – Rochdale, Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday – through promotion and relegation, has led to chairman Simon Corney claiming an extra loss of £600,000 through ticket sales.

Dickov has a huge challenge ahead assembling a squad. After another summer clear-out and upheaval of the playing staff, Oldham’s squad was left looking threadbare. The departure of key players including last season’s top scorer, Shefki Kuqi, two-time reigning player of the year, Kieran Lee, and the longest serving player, Chris Taylor, along with many others decimated the squad. Positives included the extension of captain Dean Furman and striker Robbie Simpson’s contracts for the coming season. Also, the signings of Jonathan Grounds and ex-Scunthorpe legend Cliff Byrne have bolstered a young defence, where a huge season is expected of James Tarkowski and Jean-Yves M’voto, the former who Dickov claimed reminds him of Richard Dunne, despite being only 19 years old. The season-long loan signing of winger Lee Croft from Derby County adds to a midfield with an already strong centre-midfield partnership of Furman and James Wesolowski. Cristian Montaño has recently been signed from West Ham to operate on the left side, which had looked weak through pre-season.

Can Dickov have a successful 3rd season?

The main worry ahead of the new season is where the goals will come from. The three out and out strikers on the books, Matt Smith, Dan Taylor and on-loan Jordan Slew have just seven league goals between them. Much will rely on Simpson, playing just off the striker, to both create and score unless a more experience head can be brought in to help the three young strikers. However, in the two games this season against Sheffield Wednesday and MK Dons, the threat of Simpson had clearly been identified and nulled, with MK Dons using a rather heavy hand, leading to the dismissal of Anthony Kay.

Robbie Simpson will be key in 2012/13

The main problem may not be the first team, but rather the lack of depth and reserves. The Furman-Wesolowski partnership in centre midfield would be the envy of many clubs in the division, however both had various injuries throughout last season. Keeping them fit could be essential for Latics. Any sort of injury crisis is going to hit hard, with the majority of the substitutes’ bench in either their first or second season as a professional, and with very little experience. Youth team graduates Connor Hughes, Kirk Millar, Glenn Belezika, Carl Winchester and David Mellor are all inevitably going to have a part to play this season.

Off the field problems continue to hinder the development of the club. Boundary Park remains a 3 sided stadium (although plans have been announced to re-build the final stand). The £600,000 quoted by Corney seems a huge amount, and the playing budget seems to drop year-on-year hindering the development of the squad. As an extra surprise, the Football League sent over a £100,000 bill, for a pension scheme from 20 years ago.

So, what are the prospects on the football side of things? In the League, much depends on injuries, and the traditional horrendous run of form between Christmas and March, which Dickov has overseen in the last two seasons. The dreaded “R” word is not a total impossibility, especially with concerns over where the goals are going to come from, although another season of mid-table mediocrity is more than likely. Although already out of the Capital One Cup, a decent run in the FA Cup or Johnstone’s Paint Trophy would be great, especially after the loss in the Northern Final last year.

Dickov still retains the support of 90% of the fans, although there are sections who berate him, despite him working on an ever-shrinking shoestring budget. This season is quite simply going to be his biggest yet…

Written by Joshua Bowker, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger

Joshua tweets at @JoshuaBowker

The Pancake Blues

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

February is that time of year when the majority of New Years Resolutions have bitten the dust, the decadence of Christmas and New Year has disappeared into the distant past and all there is to look forward to is a commercial celebration of chocolate and stuffed toys and a strange egg and flour based feast.

For some this is masked by continuing success on the football pitch. Cup runs and promotion campaigns have the capacity to brighten the darkest of winters. Not for Oldham Athletic fans though. Discarded with the gym memberships this year were the dreams of Wembley and a season with consequences outliving the snow.

Upon wakening from the almighty hangover caused by watching forty-seven chances created over 180 minutes yield just one goal against a particularly feeble Chesterfield side, both managed by a former player and manager and consisting of no less than three former players, it became clear that the Latics’ season has taken a turn for the concerning.

With just one league goal scored and one point gained since the 3-2 win over Notts County on New Year’s Eve, it is becoming apparent that something needs to be done to prevent a repeat of last seasons February and March barren streak.

This situation has disconcerting echoes of that terrible two month spell at the beginning of 2011. The defence is reasonably tight – young stopper James Tarkowski having recently been compared by Paul Dickov to a young Richard Dunne  – presumably a compliment, though one could argue otherwise. The creative areas of the field seem in good health too, with plenty of chances being carved by a combination of Chris Taylor, Robbie Simpson and the resurgent Filipe Morais.

What is lacking is that most fundamental of requirements: goals. Those optimism tinged days of the early Autumn when Shefki Kuqi and Robbie Simpson were dovetailing beautifully to supply the goals are a long way off now, and thoughts are turning to a potential late arrival to the relegation battle.

These thoughts may belong to the pessimists but it is clear that manager Paul Dickov needs to do something to get his young side firing and away from from danger. The loan system is often the first port of call when attempting to remedy such a situation, occasionally with fantastic results: the signing of Simpson being a case in point. It isn’t a perfect solution though, and it is hard to believe Dickov would be keen on pitching what would undoubtedly be a fairly green loanee into a squad largely consisting of players already lacking in experience.

This would point to a change of shape or focus within the team. Not an ideal situation, but in Kuqi, Simpson and the soon to return Reuben Reid Latics have the personnel to provide goals.

Dickov’s task, one of the toughest yet in his embryonic career, is to help them do so.

It is when handed assignments such as this more than when the goals and points are flowing free that fans and boards alike can truly assess their managers. From now until May Paul Dickov’s moves will be assessed very carefully as the board decide whether he is the man they want at the helm in August for the dawn of the 2012/2013 season.

Written by Christopher Platt, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger

Chris tweets at @chrisbradman

Toppo’s Top Tens – FA Cup third round upsets

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

FA Cup third round day is a key fixture of the post-Christmas football calendar. Held on the first weekend in January, the third round is where the big sides from the top two divisions enter the competition.

In the earlier preliminary rounds, plus the first and second rounds teams from all over the country have fought to get this far, in the hope of securing a money-spinning tie and having a chance of upsetting one of the heavyweights.

League form goes out of the window on third round weekend as teams from the lower leagues take on some of the country’s most decorated sides. This stage of the competition has become famous for throwing up its fair share of shocks down the years, with underdogs upsetting the odds. Here’s ten Football League sides who did just that….

10: Liverpool 1 Reading 2 2010

In January 2010, Championship strugglers Reading forced a 1-1 draw against Liverpool at the Madejski Stadium to earn a replay at Anfield 11 days later – where it was expected the home side would win.

However Reading had other ideas. Despite falling behind when Ryan Bertrand unluckily deflected Steven Gerrard’s cross into his own net a minute into first-half injury time, the Royals held their own against Rafa Benitez’s side. With 91 minutes on the clock, a throw in led to Reading striker Shane Long being fouled in the Liverpool penalty area, winning a dramatic late penalty for the visitors. Gylfi Sigurdsson stepped up, sent goalkeeper Cavalieri the wrong way to force extra-time.

Having saved themselves, Reading then took the lead with ten minutes of extra-time remaining. Brynjar Gunnarsson nutmegged Emiliano Insua down the right hand side and sent in a cross which Long met with a glancing header into the far corner in front of the Kop. Liverpool were unable to find an equaliser as Reading held on to win 2-1 as Anfield was left stunned.

9: Manchester United 0 Leeds United 1 2010

When League One Leeds United travelled to Old Trafford to face great rivals and reigning Premier League champions Manchester United in the 2010 third round, a rivalry was rekindled. The tie evoked memories of the beginning of the century when the two were challenging at the top of the Premiership, but was also a reminder of how far Leeds had fallen since.

At the time of this match Leeds were seeking promotion to the Championship, with Jermaine Beckford’s goals keeping them in the hunt. The striker would produce the one crucial moment against United, as his goal in front of the Stretford End gave Leeds a memorable victory and progress into the fourth round. An historic result too as it was the first time United were knocked out at this stage under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson.

8: Burnley 1 Liverpool 0 2005

This game was memorable not only for Burnley’s unexpected win, but the comical own goal which gave them their victory. Liverpool travelled to Turf Moor for this third round tie but failed to put in a meaningful performance, and were punished.

After a first-half in which Burnley were the better side, the Clarets took the lead six minutes after the break when Richard Chaplow rolled a low cross into the Liverpool penalty area from the left, and Reds full-back Djimi Traore thought he was Zinedine Zidane, with disastrous consequences. The defender tried to turn as he controlled the ball, only to complete a dragback on the spin which ended up with the ball rolling into the back of his own net. A ridiculous goal which gifted Burnley a place in the fourth round.

7: Bournemouth 2 Manchester United 0 1984

In January 1984 Manchester United entered the 1983/84 FA Cup third round as holders, having beaten Brighton and Hove Albion in the 1983 final. Their defence of the triphy began with what seemed a straightforward trip to Third Division Bournemouth. The Cherries were near the bottom of the league and United had lost just once on the road that season, with the likes of Bryan Robson, Arnold Muhren and Frank Stapleton in their team. Bournemouth’s manager was Harry Redknapp, three months into his first managerial position.

United failed to offer much during the game and went behind on the hour after goalkeeper Gary Bailey fumbled a cross. Milton Graham was on hand to score and send 16,000 fans at Dean Court into raptures. Four minutes later Ian Thompson added a second goal and sealed a well-deserved 2-0 win for Bournemouth.

6: Sunderland 1 Notts County 2 2010

When former Manchester United team-mates Paul Ince and Steve Bruce went head-to-head in the dugout in January 2010, it was the former who earned the bragging rights, as Ince’s League One strugglers Notts County secured a memorable 2-1 success over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

It was Notts who took the lead five minutes in when Craig Westcarr’s flick was fumbled into his own net by Black Cats goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and despite some efforts at goal in reply, Sunderland could not find a goal and fell further behind with fifteen minutes to go. County striker Lee Hughes saw his first effort saved by Mignolet but tucked in the rebound from an acute angle to make the game more comfortable for the visitors.

Darren Bent pulled a goal back from the penalty spot on 81 minutes, but it was not enough as Notts secured an impressive victory.

5: Everton 0 Oldham Athletic 1 2008

Four years ago Oldham Athletic from League One pulled off one of the shocks of that year’s FA Cup by beating Everton at Goodison Park. Everton were flying-high in the Premier League and Oldham were mid-table in the third tier but it was John Sheridan’s team who prevailed thanks to a stunning 25-yard strike from Gary McDonald seconds before half-time.

Everton pushed for an equaliser, Yakubu hitting the post deep into the second-half, but Oldham’s lead remained comfortable and their strong rearguard display saw them through to the fourth round at the expense of David Moyes’ side.

4: Swindon Town 2 Wigan Athletic 1 2012

Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon Town side gave us one of the shocks of this year’s third round, as they came from behind to beat Premier League Wigan Athletic at the County Ground.

Callum McManaman looked to be setting the visitors on course for victory when he tucked home the rebound after Ben Watson’s penalty kick came back out off the post, but the League Two hosts fought back. Five minutes before the break, Alan Connell glanced a header into the far corner of the net from Matt Ritchie’s right-wing cross to level matters going into half-time.

Swindon continued to hold their own against Roberto Martinez’s Latics and got their reward fifteen minutes from the end. A 25-yard shot from Ritchie deflected off the legs of striker Paul Benson and rolled into the back of the net with Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi stranded. Swindon held on to defeat a side three leagues above them to the joy of the capacity crowd at the final whistle.

3: Stevenage 3 Newcastle United 1 2011

The 2011 third round draw pitted Stevenage against Newcastle United, rekindling memories of the time when the two met at the fourth round in 1998, where a goal from Giuliano Grazioli saw the non-league outfit secure a replay at St. James Park, which the Magpies won 2-1.

In 2011 Stevenage were playing their first season as a Football League club under the management of Graham Westley and were 13th in League Two as Alan Pardew’s Premier League Newcastle visited Broadhall Way. After a goalless first half the underdogs took the lead when Stacy Long’s strike deflected off Mike Williamson and sent Tim Krul the wrong way as it crossed the line. Newcastle fell further behind five minutes later when Michael Bostwick drilled a low shot in off the post to give the hosts a shock 2-0 lead.

Newcastle had midfielder Cheik Tiote sent off for a wild lunge on what would be an uncomfortable night for the visitors and despite Joey Barton’s outstanding 30-yard drive which halved the defecit two minutes into injury time, Stevenage extended their lead and sealed their place in the fourth round three minutes later, as Peter Winn clipped an effort over the advancing Krul after being played in by John Mousinho to send the home fans into raptures.

2: Shrewsbury Town 2 Everton 1 2003

In Jnauary 2003, Shrewsbury Town manager Kevin Ratcliffe, the most successful captain in Everton history, masterminded an FA Cup shock against his former club, knocking them out of the competition with victory at Gay Meadow. Shrewsbury, in the Third Division were 80 places below their opponents in the league standings but took the game to their more illustrious opponents, being denied on several occasions by Toffees goalkeeper Richard Wright.

However two goals from veteran striker Nigel Jemson either side of a Niclas Alexandersson equaliser – the second coming two minutes from time – sent the Shrews fans into delirium and humbled David Moyes’ Everton team which boasted the likes of Wayne Rooney and Tomas Radzinski in their ranks.

1: Wrexham 2 Arsenal 1 1992

At the Racecourse Ground in 1992, basement division Wrexham wrote themselves into FA Cup history with an unforgettable victory over George Graham’s Arsenal side. The Gunners were reigning league champions and expected to brush aside the Welsh outfit, bottom of the fourth division whilst Arsenal were near the top of the first.

Arsenal took the lead through a close-range finish from Alan Smith and looked to be going through, but with ten minutes to go 37-year-old Mickey Thomas, formerly of Manchester United and Chelsea, rolled back the years as he powered a superb 25-yard free kick past David Seaman to level the game.

With the crowd still in raptures after Thomas’ thunderbolt, the minnows from North Wales were not content with a draw as Steve Watkin squeezed an effort under Seaman’s dive to give Wrexham a 2-1 lead late on in the game. That’s how things stayed and at the final whistle, a pitch invasion ensued as the home supporters celebrated the most unlikely of FA Cup victories.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

 

Into the Liver Bird’s nest

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

In many ways last Thursday morning was a microcosm of life as a Latics fan. A 6:30am alarm call saw me at Boundary Park for 7:00, where I, along with over a thousand others, queued for hours in the interminable wind and rain to get my hands on a ticket for Friday’s FA Cup third round game at Anfield.

Oldham Athletic supporters, indeed football supporters in general, are the worlds sickest masochists. Who else would put themselves through the weather conditions this corner of Lancashire can throw at you in December – causing two supporters to leave the queue with hypothermia – to ensure their presence at a game all and sundry will assure you is to end in emphatic defeat?

This madness is all part of the pursuit of fleeting moments of joy, such as this weekend’s late win over Notts County. After Boxing Day’s dire showing in the 1-0 defeat to then-managerless Hartlepool United one could have been forgiven for thinking Latics would struggle to score, let alone win for the rest of the season. Yet Paul Dickov’s side responded well to their festive setback, with Filipe Morais and Zander Diamond grabbing the goals that turned the Magpies’ 2-1 lead into a 3-2 home win.

This is not the first time Dickov’s side have bounced back in this manner. It has been a sign of the excellent never-say-die spirit in the Boundary Park changing room that following this season’s most disappointing set backs there have been positive results. A 4-1 thumping at Colchester United prompted a run of four games unbeaten, two consecutive defeats to Brentford and Exeter City were followed by unexpected victories over Scunthorpe United and MK Dons, plus a 2-0 home reverse to Bury was the catalyst for an unbeaten six game run featuring four victories.

So back to Anfield, where this spirit will be required in buckets – nay, tankers – when Latics travel along the M62 on Friday to meet their illustrious Premier League opponents. Whilst Oldham’s recent form has been patchy and key midfielder James Wesolowski is a doubt for the game Liverpool are due to welcome back their own midfield powerhouse Steven Gerrard. Whilst usually one would expect the Reds’ inspirational leader to sit out a game against lowly League One opponents it seems likely he will start in an effort to get minutes under his belt to prepare him for the second half of the season.

A look at the names on the team sheet the last time Liverpool played League One opposition earlier in the season at Exeter indicate that Gerrard is unlikely to be the only big name facing Dean Furman and his colleagues on Friday. Pepe Reina, Charlie Adam, Maxi Rodrigues and Luis Suarez all played that night, so it seems reasonable to expect Oldham to face a similar line up.

This may all seem rather daunting, but it is worth remembering one thing – on Friday some bookmakers had Blackburn at 20-1 to win at Old Trafford, with Latics at 14-1 to come away from Anfield with a win. As Rovers proved the bookmakers aren’t always right. Liverpool may be welcoming back Steven Gerrard, but Dickov can call upon Shefki Kuqi, Chris Taylor and Dean Furman with a sell-out 6,100 away following to spur them on. Whatever the result, it should be a night to remember.

Written by Christopher Platt, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger

Chris tweets at @chrisbradman

Good Times Around The Corner

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

As we roll into December and towards the busy Christmas period Oldham Athletic’s season looks rather disconcertingly like turning into a pretty good one.

The glitter of a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Semi-Final spot and a potential FA Cup 3rd round tie at Anfield currently embellish the bricks & mortar of a league campaign that sees Paul Dickov’s ever improving side in the pelaton loitering outside the League One play-off zone looking to be the team that breaks away in the new year.

The last month has seen a run of four potentially season making or breaking home games turn out surprisingly well. Despite getting off to a disappointing start with a home defeat to Bury – having been a man down for eighty minutes – Latics clicked into gear and booked their places in the JPT area semi & the FA Cup 2nd Round with 3-1 victories over Crewe & Burton respectively. The Boundary Park lock-in was then wrapped up with a commanding 5-2 defeat of Chesterfield, a performance one can only hope is a mark of things to come when the league campaign reaches crunch time in 2012.

One deciding factor in continuing this impressive form could be whether Dickov can tie down the man who’s hat-trick was the highlight of that shellacking of the Spireites. When Robbie Simpson came in on loan from Huddersfield Town the fans’ welcome was at best lukewarm, but his performances since have transformed him from underwhelming loanee into a key part of the Oldham team & the number one target for a permanent transfer come the January window.

The goalscoring exploits of Shefki Kuqi have understandably overshadowed Simpson’s arrival but for a number of the 12 goals he has plundered he owes a debt to Simpson, who currently tops the League One assist charts with seven. By his own admission the goals haven’t come as frequently as anticipated but Simpson’s hat-trick took him to a useful four for the season. He has also threatened often, creating numerous openings for his team mates with his clever running and bountiful reserves of energy.

Just two games of the forward’s loan deal remain, allowing him the chance to fire Latics into the Northern Final of the JPT and to a victory in the Roses clash with Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday. Athletic will then be without their primary provider of goals for the remainder of December: a period that includes that crucial FA Cup replay against Southend. Fortunately it is looking increasingly likely that come January a permanent move could be in the offing for the unassuming winger.

However that is a whole month away. A month in which Latics can move to within one round of a first Wembley appearance since 1994 and into the FA Cup 3rd round for the first time since 2007/08. A month in which we will find out the answer to the question: Will Robbie Simpson make his 2nd Latics debut on January 7th at Boundary Park  against Colchester… or at Anfield?

Written by Christopher Platt, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger

Chris tweets at @chrisbradman

Three-sided fortress?

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Some weeks in football are best described as simply a bit daft. After a routine 2-0 home win over Wycombe, Paul Dickov’s Oldham Athletic headed off for two consecutive away games. They packed up the kit, the half time jelly babies, even the box that Dickov stands on to look Jean-Yves M’voto in the eye. The one thing they left piled up at the side of the road outside Boundary Park was their senses.

After seeing out a professional home victory against a struggling team, the boys in blue travelled to Deepdale ready to entertain. Half an hour into the game one could question exactly who they were trying to entertain. It certainly wasn’t the travelling 1,310 Latics fans as Preston raced into a two goal lead with both goals scored within four minutes. By half time however the away following were much happier when their side emulated Preston’s lightning quick double salvo to make the score 2-2.

There were rapidly increased heart rates, profuse sweating & raucous renditions of numerous Latics chants at half time. And that just from me in my front room.

Forty-five minutes later, after a comical goal put Latics behind again & a thunderous late strike from James Wesolowski salvaged a point the Oldham fans went home delighted, convinced they’d witnessed the thriller of the season.

That was until Saturday anyway. Carlisle versus Oldham at Brunton Park. Now I don’t think in my decade following Latics I’ve ever known them to beat Carlisle, particularly in Cumbria. So you can imagine the surprise when the away team race into a three goal lead. The Cumbrians pulled a goal back before half time but it was still just a simple job to keep hold of the lead and take the points in the second half.

Apparently not. In a carbon copy of last season’s corresponding fixture Ivorian Francois Zoko popped up to snatch a draw deep into injury time. 3-3. Again.

This time the 3-3 felt like a defeat. If you’ll forgive the use of a tired platitude it was two points lost rather than two gained.

November, though, is a new month. A month that starts with a Lancashire ding-dong when Bury visit Boundary Park on Saturday. The Shakers have been in indifferent form of late and their struggle to keep clean sheets combined with Latics’ eight goals in three games might fool you into thinking this could be a goal-fest.

You’d be wrong though. And not only because I’ll be attending. This Latics team – indeed any Latics team since the early days of John Sheridan’s reign, if not the height of Iain Dowie’s tenure – simply do not seem to enjoy playing at home.

Home wins in recent years have invariably been hard earned and workmanlike, with a number of surprising away results coming from a team playing with a distinctly superior sense of freedom. The last week has shown this, with a comfortable yet somewhat flat home victory being followed by two exciting games yielding six goals. Admittedly the defence hasn’t been too solid and the whole team collapsed at Brunton Park, but despite this the team still appear to be more comfortable away from the OL postcode.

The reasons for this division are debatable. Some might argue that a three sided ground isn’t the most welcoming environment to play in. However I see that as the exact reason Boundary Park should be a fortress that visiting teams should dread and be keen to get away from as quickly as possible. Others, including myself, argue that there is a negative atmosphere that emanates from the home support, with more angry cat-calling than encouraging chanting & singing. There’s nothing wrong with negativity per se, but it is to see how a blizzard of boos & cries of  “get on with it you dozy sod” can motivate a set of grown men into playing at a higher level.

Maybe it will just take one performance. Maybe an early goal, followed by another couple to round off a comprehensive win complete with a clean sheet would satisfy those fans with a penchant for negativity and make them think twice before they next tell a player just how his grandmother could tackle better. Only time will tell.

This is certainly the right time to tell, as the Latics embark on a sequence of four consecutive winnable home games. Bury, Crewe, Burton Albion & Chesterfield will all come to Boundary Park with the belief that a point would be a decent result and in turn Paul Dickov will tell his team that each of them are beatable.

A win in all four is slightly unrealistic. However four points and a place in the draw for both the FA Cup 2nd round and the Johnstones Paint Trophy Northern Semi-Final is surely not. I’m convinced that is the least Dickov will demand, however it will take an improvement in home form for that target to be realised.

Written by Christopher Platt, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger

Chris tweets at @chrisbradman

Wembley Calling or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Gift Horses. A wise man once said you should never look one in the mouth. It’s hard to ascertain where this unusual idiom originated, though a quick internet search suggests it stems from the theory that you can tell a lot about a horse from the condition of its teeth. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I believe I have found the ideal use for the phrase, and that is when referring to the chance to lift a trophy in a Wembley cup final by playing just seven games against teams of a standard no higher than League One.

Yes, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is here again. ‘Isn’t it a little late?’ I hear you cry. Well yes, that is because a first round bye has put Oldham Athletic into the second round for the first time since 2007.

That’s a long time, and its been a long time because the JPT is treated as something of a Mickey Mouse cup. It should really be to League One clubs what the FA Cup is to Premier League clubs. Clubs such as Oldham should be desperately trying to win this competition just as clubs such as Sunderland, Everton, Stoke & Newcastle should be gunning for the FA Cup, yet they don’t seem to bother.

So why is this?

The answer is fairly obvious & is the same as that cited by Sir Alex Ferguson & his fellow Premier League managers: there are simply too many games to play a first choice team in every game in every competition. Now this is a fair point, but why, in that case, do League One managers insist on putting out first choice teams in the early rounds of a competition they have little chance of winning: The FA Cup ?

The answer to that question is just as easy to come by, and it’s one that answers all too many questions in football: money. An FA Cup run is seen as more profitable – and certainly more prestigious - than a JPT triumph

The financial argument is a sound one. The winners of the Johnst0ne’s Paint Trophy can expect to receive somewhere in the region of £75,000 prize money plus gate receipts. Nothing to be sniffed at, you might say. That is until you take a look at the FA Cup pot. Last season a League One club reaching the third round would have pocketed £45,000 in a prize money, with the potential cash jackpot of a tie at a Premier League club bringing a further quarter of a million in TV money & upto £400,000 in gate receipts. Not a bad return for two victories.

However as John Lennon & his scouse pals sang: money can’t buy you love. And I can’t be the only man who, after watching their team trudge around in the lower leagues for fifteen years, would love a trip to Wembley. A trip to Wembley to see my team represent my town at the national stadium. Surely that would beat a fairytale cup adventure, regardless of what the media will have you believe.

Since relegation to the third tier in 1997 Latics have had their share of memorable cup runs. A win at Goodison Park sticks in the memory, as do the visits of pre-oil Chelsea & Manchester City to Boundary Park, the latter being sent packing by a solitary Scott Vernon goal.

Look where they got us. Those ties undoubtedly brought in a small fortune, yet still the Oldham fans have seen no silverware, no promotion & no big day out.

It’s worth pointing out that I adore the FA Cup. It is without doubt the greatest domestic cup competition in the world, consistently throwing up new tales of triumph over adversity, David vs Goliath battles & redemption. But for all the romance it just doesn’t provide us lower league fans with anything tangible. Giant killings of the past may live long in the memory on DVDs & on YouTube, but that’s all. The trophy cupboard remains bare. I am convinced that even the most sceptical of fans would be jumping with delight if they saw their team lift that big trophy at Wembley.

For all my eulogising about this potential trip to Wembley I could be accused of avoiding the elephant in the room. There is another trip to Wembley up for grabs. League One alone will have around 10-12 clubs clamouring for a play-off spot come May, each hopeful of not only seeing their club lift silverware but also to gain promotion out of this God-forsaken division. The hard facts though are that this is a very difficult task: it takes consistency. To achieve promotion via the play-offs a club must consistently be amongst the best six teams in the league for forty-six games over nine months, before then winning a three-match, four-team cup competition in May. That is forty-nine games! All the JPT asks is seven games, with no prospect of extra time or replays.

Its fair to say then that I consider the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy a worthy constituent of the domestic calender. I fear however that as usual the team selections, attendances & results this week will cast me in a minority. Still one hopes that at least one manager & his team from a windy corner of Lancashire see the light as they travel to Lincolnshire to take on Scunthorpe United this Tuesday evening. After all, those gift horses don’t come along too often.

Written by Christopher Platt, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger

Chris tweets at @chrisbradman