Oldham Athletic fans were united in their optimism after watching an exhilarating match on Saturday against top-of-the-league Notts County. Despite drawing 2-2 and playing against 10 men for much of the 90 minutes, Oldham played with imagintion and did so at an exciting pace.
Of course a win was only denied because of Athletic’s inability to eradicate defensive errors from their game. These crippling mistakes will only serve to further hinder Oldham’s desire to progress up the league, but there was much to admire by the way that they twice fell behind only to storm back. And now, after a trio of impressive signings on Friday, there appears to be an attacking instinct within the team. Oldham looked capable of creating chances and scoring goals.
The signing of Matt Derbyshire raised a lot of supporters’ eye-brows. It is true that the on-loan Nottingham Forest striker’s career has stalled in recent years, but the way he took his debut goal proves the 26-year old possesses in-the-box qualities Oldham have been missing for a long time. Jose Baxter, who signed a four-month contract after rejecting an contract extension with Everton, also scored on his debut, yet impressed more with his unpredictability and flair outside of the opposition’s box.
In truth, this was Athletic’s best performance of the season. They passed the ball from flank to flank with fluidity and, more importantly, with purpose. All too often Oldham retain the ball but lack the creative spark to unsettle an opposition defensive line. Dean Furman, certainly buoyed by his South African debut, dictated in the centre of midfield. He was free to command the ball reassured by the presence of his central partner James Wesolowski, who was making his first league appearance.
Furman’s role is only effecticve when he has wide players playing confidently. This was evident on Saturday, with Lee Croft almost unplayable. If this was Athletic’s best collective display, so too was this Croft’s most impressive individually. His trickery and sharp eye for an irregular pass was boosted by another debutant.
Reece Wabara, who signed on a month’s loan from Manchester City, was excellent at full-back. He complemented Croft’s creativity with his electric pace and desire to attack. It will hopefully be the start of a fruitful partnership down the right wing. It looked natural and threatening.
And so Paul Dickov now has options. Out of sorts Robbie Simpson was replaced by the powerful Matt Smith. Matt Derbyshire, not completely match fit, made way for Jose Baxter. Simpson, whose confidence was personified when he blazed a penalty over the goal and incredibily over a stand, must give way for one of the new names. His self-belief will return in time, but until then his current overall contribution will not be missed. Dickov may be tempted to partner Derbyshire and Baxter. It is a lip-licking thought.
The Oldham faithful will not wait long to see this new-look side as Scunthorpe United visit Boundary Park on Tuesday. It represents an excellent opportunity for Dickov to experiment with his players, for Oldham to record their first home win of the season, and in doing so stretch their unbeaten run to three games. However, the Iron will arrive with a spring in their step, having recorded their first league win against Shrewsbury on Saturday.
But the idea that there is some excitement building ahead of a fixture is almost unprecedented in recent years. Boundary Park has become a subdued ground and the regulars have grown tired after watching tepid, dull affairs. It is most definitely an example of fan ficklety that emotions run as high – or indeed low – as they do after one match, but that is the nature of the game loved by millions. The question is this: can Dickov and his players deliver for an encouraged group of supporters?
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