As Oldham Athletic slipped to another defeat, the Sky commentators described perfectly their terrible predicament. It went something like this: “Oldham have lost five in a row, nine out of their last 11, and haven’t scored a goal in five”. One sentence, yet the Sky Sports’ viewers got the gist.
The same old woes were evident during Athletic’s 3-0 loss against Sheffield Wednesday, an undeserved 3-0 loss in fairness. The home side, unbeaten under Dave Jones’s tenure (amounting to nine league matches, including seven wins), did not have to work hard for their three goals – Athletic generously gifted a confident side their chances, and were even more obliging in the amount of space they gave to their opponents when doing so.
Three crosses, three headers, three goals. That sums up the 90 minutes at Hillsborough. For the best part of an hour, Paul Dickov’s youngsters passed the ball smoothly; they moved around this famous turf with such fluidity that Wednesday’s resolute defence struggled to pick up their men. More importantly for Oldham, they flooded the opposition’s box with men. Yet still no goals.
Paul Dickov cuts the figure of a frustrated, yet determined man. To see his side dictate the majority of the match yet to be undone by three horrific examples of defending must be starting to affect the colour of the Scot’s hair. But it must be remembered that Oldham’s current position in the league has come as a result of their poor defending and lack of concentration.
After dominating the early exchanges, in which Dean Furman and Robbie Simpson were both unlucky to see their efforts drag agonisingly wide of the post, Filipe Morais sloppily passed the ball towards Reece Brown in defence. The pass was intercepted by Michail Antonio who was able to run into a position where he only had Athletic keeper Dean Bounzanis to beat. Thankfully, Bounzanis was equal to Antonio’s effort.
And so that is how this contest developed. Athletic had the ball, Wednesday the guile to pick their chances and take their rewards. For all Dickov’s early-season positivity of finishing in the top half, he finally succumbed to the fact that Athletic have been inexplicably dragged into a relegation scrap. It is inexplicable because for much of this season Athletic have been well clear of any danger, yet without ever posing a threat to the genuine and realistic Play-off candidates.
Dickov has four games to drag Athletic to safety. Next Saturday has become their biggest match of the season, and no-one knows how. They will board the team coach once more and head south to High Wycombe, where their fate will not so much be decided, but become a lot clearer.
Wycombe occupy the last of the four relegation spots, and are the only genuine contenders with a chance of survival. Exeter, Rochdale and Chesterfield are more than likely doomed, but John Sheridan’s reputation with Latics’ fans hit new highs after his side, rooted to the foot of League One, thrashed Wycombe 4-0. Exeter also did a favour for Oldham after they beat Leyton Orient, who are just one place and four points off Wycombe.
The concluding stage at the bottom of League One should feature four clubs: Oldham, Walsall, Leyton Orient and Wycombe. Above Oldham (48 points), lie Bury and Preston on 49 points each. Both gained points on Monday which should have dragged them over finishing line. Further into the dark depths of the relegation zone are Exeter, Rochdale and Chesterfield. After Rochdale lost to Sheffield United they need to win all four of their remaining games. Exeter have the smallest deficit to close (eight points) in order to clamber to safety. Sheridan’s Spireites need to close a 10-point gap. The prognosis does not look good for them all.
A win for Oldham on Saturday afternoon would effectively protect their League One status, but this season, despite the cup runs, has been a major disappointment. Dickov has questions to answer. Strangely, the majority of the supporters still fully support him, largely due his attitude to the game, but he has damaged his reputation among sections of the crowd.
His mute appearance on the sideline during games does not inspire confidence; nor does his refusal to barrack the players for their continuously dismal performances. The Easter weekend threw up two of the top three sides and they battled commendably, but those results are not what have upset the supporters.
It is the ease in which Yeovil, Scunthorpe, Rochdale and Leyton Orient have beaten Oldham. The players have time and again failed to respond to each defeat and failed to respond to Dickov’s words of encouragement.
The only thing at present is certain. Whilst their League One status is still up in the air, should these players take Oldham Athletic into League Two they will not have to respond. They will not have to respond because they will never be forgiven. And that may very well include Paul Dickov.
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