Late goal rescues Oldham but doubts remain over Dickov
At the time of writing everyone connected with Oldham Athletic are tentative. If Robbie Simpson had missed a last-minute penalty on Saturday to dramatically rescue a point the feeling would be on the verge of panic.
Wycombe, Saturday’s opponents, have been kept at arm’s reach. Oldham are safe, so the majority of Athletic supporters sigh. However stranger things have happened. Only last week did Dean Saunders, the Doncaster Rovers manager, defiantly wander down memory lane – more in comfort than happily – as he reminisced about Bradford City’s sensational escape from relegation, owing to Wimbledon’s disastrous ten-match losing streak. As it happened, Portsmouth nailed the final nail into the Rovers’ coffin as they were relegated. But the point stands: stranger things have happened.
Oldham have three matches to rescue a season that has collapsed since Christmas. From Athletic’s point of view, it is by the saving grace of God that he has made it doubly hard for Gary Waddock’s men, as they face the daunting prospect of staging their amazing survival act on The Valley and Hillsborugh’s fine turf. It isn’t the turf that perhaps makes their task tilt in the direction of impossible, it is the fact they have lost four league games between them this season.
Should Oldham survive, which is highly probable, has this season been a success? The initial mood of this article certainly suggests a resounding no. How has Paul Dickov, with the likes of Shefki Kuqi, Zander Diamond, Kieran Lee, Dean Furman, and Robbie Simpson, come so close to leading Oldham into England’s last professional division?
In truth, there are valid excuses. A calamitous injury curse struck throughout the season, meaning Dickov has been forced to turn to the loan market or call upon unrespecting youth players. The Scot has rarely been able to field his strongest eleven, but their sudden descent after Christmas alludes to Dickov’s weaknesses.
Is he a manager who can only work when he has his best squad available? It might sound a little silly to say such a thing. Of course managers should only be analysed after working with the best that they have. Or should they? In a league dominated by five or six large budgets, it has separated the best clubs the league has accommodated for years and the rest. The rest are more or less on equal footing, so why then have Oldham been unable to beat Scunthorpe, Yeovil, Leyton Orient and Wycombe in recent weeks? Or Exeter, Colchester, and Rochdale before that?
The injuries to key players, particularly Dean Furman, Oldham’s captain, and James Wesolowski, ripped the heart out of the midfield, that much must be acknowledged. However, what has frustrated sections on the crowd this season is the manner in which teams have beaten Athletic with relative ease. Teams have arrived at Boundary Park, been met with a home side with no confidence, and more worryingly no fight. When boys had an opportunity to become men, to grip games, to show character, they wilted and faded,
It hasn’t been a season littered with gloom, and there have been moments of sheer joy. Dickov battled on three fronts for the initial stages of the season, contesting the Johnstone Paint Trophy (JPT) and the FA Cup whilst attempting to guide his side up into the top half of League One. For much of this season (owing to another winter of postponements) Athletic have mirrored that of a Champions League side playing twice a week.
The players’ hard work was rewarded with a dream cup date at Anfield, in which Robbie Simpson scored a brilliant goal in front of a disbelieving Kop. Sadly, with the help of some bad luck, Latics were defeated 5-1, but it is a game few fans will be in a hurry to forget.
Then there was a run to the Northern Area Final of the JPT. After recording a ridiculous 44 shots over the course of the two-legged affair with John Sheridan’s Chesterfield, Dickov saw his side lose both legs and fail just a step before a trip to Wembley.
This leads onto two fundamental issues that have arisen from this bizarre season. How could a side have over forty attempts on an opposition’s goal and only score a single goal? Shefki Kuqi arrived at Boundary Park amidst genuine excitement, but after a purple patch the Finn’s goal scoring form has fizzled to a point where it is non-existent. The 36-year old last scored a goal inside the opposition’s box, that wasn’t a penalty, on 19th November.
During the second-leg against Chesterfield was an example of Oldham’s other woe this season. A calamitous mix-up between keeper Alex Cisak and defender Jean-Yves M’voto, Jack Lester was able to end the contest by scoring a 90th minute goal to stretch the Spireites aggregate lead to two goals.
Oldham’s defending, overseen by assistant manager and former defender Gerry Taggart, has been error-strewn and at a standard that even the struggling sides in League One have not been made to fight for their goals, and so Paul Dickov’s task is difficult and could prove troublesome.
What is needed for next season? What must be done to improve on this season’s woes? That will all be in a future article.
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