Written by Gary Skinner @GaryS1906
Oldham Athletic suffered two crushing home defeats in quick succession over the New Year period. Having won against Crawley Town and then away at Morecambe on Boxing Day, the Latics were looking for a third successive victory when the met Salford City at Boundary Park on December 29th. It was the first ever meeting between the two clubs and it was the visitors who took the 3 points back to Moor Lane, although the scoreline did not give a true reflection of the game.
Latics started the game brightly and dominated the first 15 minutes only for Salford to score the opening goal from a breakaway attack and their first shot on goal. Winger Jake Jervis cutting inside before hitting a low shot across the ground from the corner of the penalty area into the far corner of the goal somehow beating Oldham keeper de la Paz.
The scoreline became 0-2 straight from the kick off when the Latics defence was left exposed and impressive left back Thomas-Asante smashed the ball home from ten yards, with de la Paz again perhaps looking culpable. It was cruel for Athletic who had dominated the early exchanges but lacked a cutting edge. Worse was to follow after 36 minutes when a cross from the right by Conway evaded the Latics defenders and goalkeeper only for Jervis to steal in at the far post to plant a firm header into the back of the net to put Salford 3 up.
That was the scoreline at half time but bizarrely it could be argued that Latics had been the better team in the first half despite the scoreline. They had dominated possession but incredibly Salford had scored 3 goals having only had 3 efforts on goal.
The start of the second half saw Salford score a 4th goal with their 4th shot, Thomas-Asante scoring from close range after the Latics defence had seemingly stopped, convinced that the player was offside. A glimmer of hope came in the 53rd minute when Morais was pushed when on a run inside the area and the same player stepped up to take the penalty only for Chris Neal to save the spot kick diving to his right and pushing the ball round the post for a corner.
Before the corner could be taken the crowd were temporarily ‘entertained’ by a streaker who made his way onto the pitch at the Rochdale road end, before being met by stewards at the opposite end of the pitch. Finally after 58 minutes, Oldham got the goal that some of their approach play had deserved, and it was the best goal of the game. A series of neat, crisp passes down the right hand side culminated in Zak Mills floating a lovely cross into the middle where it was met by Azankpo who rose to head powerfully into the top corner.
That was the last of the meaningful action, both teams creating half chances but failing to convert any. A 1-4 scoreline certainly flattered the visitors, and Latics came off the pitch rueing their lack of a cutting edge in the opposition penalty area. A statistic of 22 shots on goal, only 5 on target and only 1 goal to show for their efforts tells its own story. Although the overall level of performance was certainly not lacking.
On New Years Day the Latics had the chance to immediately bounce back from the Salford defeat when they welcomed Scunthorpe United to Boundary Park. Changes were forced on Dino Maamria with David Jones replacing the injured Chris McCann. Alex Iacovitti returned after illness in place of Tomáš Egert with Tom Hamer moving to centre half. Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro got another chance up front, partnering Desire Segbe-Azankpo.
If Athletic had been slightly unlucky in losing to Salford City however – certainly by the scoreline – then this was certainly not the case against Scunthorpe.
The Iron came into the match on the back of two defeats but they were much the better side in a game where Latics barely got going. The visitors took the lead in the 35th minute when winger Abobaker Eisa who had a very impressive first half hit a curling right foot shot past the despairing dive of de la Paz, the goal again placing a question mark over the Latics keeper.
The Oldham fans showed their displeasure at half time after what had been a very uninspiring first half from the home team. A double substitution at half time saw Maouche replace Morais and Scott Wilson taking over from Akpa Akpro who had once again failed to have any impact at all on the game and does not look like being the answer up front. Unfortunately the second half followed much of the same pattern.
Latics ‘huffing and puffing’ without creating any clear goalscoring opportunity, the Scunthorpe defence coping easily, restricting the home side to half chances. In fact it was the visitors who doubled their lead and sealed their victory in the 83rd minute when Matty Lund smashed the ball home 8 yards following a corner.
Latics did finally have the ball in the net in the 87th minute when Missilou headed home from close range but it was disallowed for a push on the defender.
A crescendo of boos at the final whistle left everyone in no doubt what the majority of the home fans were thinking. A very flat performance from Latics that merely highlighted where the deficiencies lie in the squad.
Strikers are at a premium at any level of football but the Latics are woefully lacking in that department – and have been all season – and they must surely be at the top of the list of priorities going into the second half of the season, but with a growing injury list for Dino Maamria to contend with he will no doubt have to look for cover in other areas also.
The January transfer window will be crucial to the fortunes of the team in the second half of the season. An outside chance of the play offs or a struggle at the bottom of the table? Both are possibilities at the moment.
Pictures courtesy Oldham Times