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Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Inside Line: Oldham Athletic v Bristol City (Good Friday, 2015)

Easter is so often a critical time in the shake-up for key issues, with two games in three or four days, but with so much of 2015 being that way for City, and the lead at the top remaining in double-digits for now, it’s probably more a case of not having a disaster than needing two wins. Saying that, wouldn't it be fantastic to grab a pair of victories, and all but seal promotion back to the Championship in the first week of April?!

But at this stage of the season anyone still remotely involved in the shake-up for any positions fits the bill as tough opposition, and Oldham won’t be wanting to roll over. They’re five points off the top six, and defeat in this game would probably destroy their hopes of making the end-of-season jamboree once and for all.

Josh Bowker gave Stu Radnedge a Latics view of what’s been an eventful time at Boundary Park since we last met...

“It’s been a crazy few months since our last fixture, way back at the start of November. Latics went into that game on a good run of form, having made themselves hard to beat, and an assault at the upper echelons of the division looked like a real possibility. Alas, almost everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong, with Latics unable to maintain that early season consistency, combined with (or more likely, caused by) a controversial week at the forefront of national and international news, and the horribly-timed departure of Lee Johnson. It seems 2015-16 will be another season in the third tier for Oldham.

After the Ched Evans debacle subsided – a period in which Oldham did not pick up a single point - Latics did manage to regain some form. Home victory over Swindon in February left Oldham in 5th place, and a year where at least one play-off spot is going to go to a “lesser” team, there was a real hope and belief that it could be us. 

Two games and two losses later, Johnson had gone. He had done a decent, if not remarkable job at Latics, and both himself and the majority of his playing staff had long term contracts in place, and it really felt like everything was setting up for Johnson to lead us to the Championship. He himself radiated that belief, using local and social media to his and the club’s advantage, and the overwhelming majority of supporters were completely behind him.

How was his departure seen by the Latics faithful? Let’s fast-forward to the 14th March: his return to Oldham in charge of Barnsley. He walked out of the tunnel, arms raised, ready to applaud the welcoming crowd on his return. It didn’t exactly go as he expected. Johnson and his assistant Tommy Wright were greeted with loud boos, cries of “Judas,” and received abuse and vitriol for 90 minutes, and at full time the security staff that had surrounded him ended up ushering him down the tunnel. Not that he’ll care, Barnsley comfortable beat an injury-ravaged Latics 3-1, and Johnson has still yet to lose at Barnsley.

I’m sure people will question why he got such a negative reaction. After all, he arrived with the club teetering on the verge of relegation, managed to keep them up, and his first full season in charge was an improvement, if not spectacular. Most supporters envisaged Johnson leaving at some point; he had gone about his business quietly and effective, and he somehow came out of the Evans mess with an increased reputation – although it later transpired that Johnson himself pushed for the move.

Although Barnsley are certainly a bigger club that Oldham – the fan-base and budget shows that – they didn’t seem big enough to justify walking out on the club that gave him his chance, backed him in the transfer market, and gave him a three-year contract extension very early in his career. Another gripe with the supporters came when Barnsley’s press release stated that Johnson has produced a 100 day plan which impressed in the interview (a document Johnson maintains he drafted six years ago, and only required minimal tweaks). Nevertheless, during the period of negotiations, Latics slipped to two miserable defeats against lowly Leyton Orient and Colchester.

Dean Holden has done well to steady the ship, and deserves great credit for the circumstances in which he has done so, in the face of Johnson’s departure and a squad beset with injuries. But a record of 3 wins in his 8 games seems like the play-offs have slipped away for another season, and despite there only being a 4 point gap, it would take a monumental effort to reach the holy grail of 6th place. A top half finish would be improvement and probably be quantified a success, and with the core of the squad tied down for next year at least, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be an attractive option for a talented manager out there. Are you reading, Mark Warburton? (One can dream).

I think we’d be happy with a point on Saturday. City have obviously had a fantastic season, and the double seems a formality (I’m sure that won’t be a jinx). I’m glad to see Korey’s done well, but Liam Kelly has been a more than able replacement. If he’s on form, we don’t lose, and it’s absolutely not a coincidence that our two worst spells have been when Kelly has been sidelined. James Wilson’s impressive start at the club has faded slightly, and he’s currently injured, but getting him back to his best would be a real boost.

My prediction is 1-1. Holden’s centre-back pairing of Adam Lockwood and Anthony Gerrard have been really solid and effective, if not easy on the eye, but goals have been a real problem for us all year, especially since Jonathan Forte dried up. Conor Wilkinson for Latics, Aden Flint for you guys (I’m a dreadful predictor, don’t trust me).”

We haven’t drawn many games this season but with us possibly tightening up a little with the finish line in place, that prediction probably won’t be a million miles away.

COYR – and Happy Easter everybody!

The Exiled Robin

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