A public squabble has this week broke out between club chairman Simon Corney and manager Paul Dickov, who did his best to defend his players without overstepping the mark. Corney chose to lament the playing staff after a woeful performance against Stevenage. The 1-0 loss at Boundary Park leaves Athletic winless after three games.However, Portsmouth, with their well-documented problems, are also without a win thus far and will be looking to bounce back after a 4-2 loss against Carlisle.
While Pompey manager Michael Appleton is keen to promote fierce unity after several years of destabilising adversity, cracks are slowly appearing within the Oldham set-up. Supporters jeered the players after the Stevenage loss and online messageboards are rife with criticism of Dickov’s management.
Despite Dickov’s retort, in which he backed the youngsters in his squad, Athletic supporters are generally siding with the club’s owner. However, all must be forgotten in time for what could be a scrappy Saturday afternoon at Fratton Park. For the home side, disjointed performances are to be expected. The club worked under a transfer embargo for much of the summer and were forced to quickly put together a squad of players on short-term contracts. Dickov’s circumstances were much more settled than those under which Appleton worked.
A positive pre-season, including a surprising 2-1 victory against the Premier League Champions Manchester City, seemingly transferred to Athletic’s competitive games. An electric opening half saw the Championship’s Sheffield Wednesday struggle against Oldham’s tempo and fluidity. But after the break all of last season’s woes were on display once more. Defensive mix-ups have plagued Athletic in each of their three league games after that 4-2 Capital One Cup loss (they lead 2-0 at half-time).
With the influential and combatitve James Wesolowski sidelined with a torn hamstring, Dickov is likely to stick with a midfield partnership consisting of Dean Furman and Yousuff M’Changama. On-loan striker Jordan Slew should recover from a back problem to lead the attacking line, with Robbie Simpson playing just behind.
That leaves Dickov pondering the defence. To date, Dickov has stuck with a backline of Cliff Byrne, James Tarkowski, Jean Yves-M’voto and Johnathan Grounds. Frenchman M’voto has been Athletic shining star so far, but his youthful centre-back partner Tarkowski has struggled. A catologue of errors has allowed Athletic’s opposition to carve out cheap chances, two of which have resulted in goals. Oldham supporters are almost united in their calls for 19-year old Tarkowski to drop to the bench. His potential is unquestionable, but his confidence has declineed. The tough-tackling Byrne would be a suitable partner of M’voto’s, with new-signing Connor Brown making his first start for the club at right-back.
Athletic’s shakey defence will be up against experienced strikers in the form of Luke Rodgers and Izale McCleod. Their journeymen-like careers of late does not detract away from the threat the pair pose.
The vociferous Fratton Park is not the ideal platform on which Athletic will battle for their first league win. Portsmouth remain favourites for another relegation but the atmosphere generated by Pompey’s loyal supporters is daunting. Their survival chances will be boosted by the club’s support. Athletic must be ready. Another loss and the Dickov criticisers will be as audible as the Fratton Park faithful.
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