Oldham finally sacked Steve Robinson this week, and have once again turned to John Sheridan to get them out of trouble. The move had the desired effect as a gritty performance against Gillingham was rewarded with a first league win since October thanks to Josh Law’s pinpoint first half free-kick.
Here, with observations from Gillingham fans on Twitter, I look at the talking points of today’s game and the standout performers (or not in Bradley Dack’s case). I’ll also look at the task facing John Sheridan as he attempts to keep Oldham up against the odds for a second successive season.
Story of the Game:
The home team started the game brightly, but a wild Jay Emmanuel-Thomas free kick and blocked Max Ehmer shot for the visitors provided the first attempts on goal. Oldham got their reward for a solid first half as Ousmane Fane broke from midfield and found Billy McKay who was brought down 20 yards from goal.
Makeshift midfielder Josh Law stepped up to expertly bend the ball over the wall and past Stuart Nelson in the Gillingham goal. The strike was only Oldham’s fifth goal at home this season, and first goal in five games, so was understandably met with surprise by home fans.
Chants of ‘how sh*t must you be? we’ve scored a goal!‘ were barely over as ‘keeper Connor Ripley was forced into a smart save from an Ehmer bicycle kick, but Oldham went in at the break with a deserved first half lead.
Gillingham offered slightly more of a fight after the interval, but it was Oldham who were had the best chances of adding a second. Lee Erwin strode forward, beat three men, but his shot fell agonisingly wide before Billy McKay was unlucky not to score as Nelson had to push away the Scotsman’s header.
Josh Law kept up the pressure as he fancied another goal from a swerving free-kick, forcing Nelson into a flying save, while the temperamental Bradley Dack went close from his own free-kick in a rare chance for Gillingham.
The visitors pressed into the final minutes, but it was Oldham that went closest to a late goal as Law’s 25-yard drive smashed against the bar in injury time. The elusive second goal wasn’t needed though as Oldham hung on to secure the double over Gillingham and Sheridan made a winning start to his third spell as manager.
How did the teams perform?
Sheridan was serving the last of a five match touchline ban, but his absence from the technical area didn’t stop Oldham’s players fighting for every ball. Latics were not perfect by any means, but the three points were fully deserved thanks to a performance full of commitment and desire.
Sheridan’s side took advantage of Gillingham’s defensive nervousness, and forced a number of opportunities from Gills mistakes. For once, Latics actually looked to take the game to their visitors, and got their reward after Law’s winning goal came from a break-away run at the defence.
Aside from a short spell after the hour mark where they forced a couple of saves from Connor Ripley, Gillingham were generally poor. For a team with individuals like Dack, Emmanuael-Thomas, Cody McDonald and Scott Wagstaff, their performance was nervous and unambitious.
New Gills manager Adrian Pennock said his side’s performance was unacceptable, and on Twitter, fans slammed their team’s performance. Harry Beadle (@Beadle1997) said Gillingham ‘looked like they had no plan today, hoofing to nowhere‘, while Andrew Watkin (@AndrewWatkin) called his side’s showing ‘dreadful‘ saying ‘we’ll be in a relegation fight if this carries on.‘
Who Stood Out?
Despite a 1-0 win, no Latics player particularly stood out. In defence, Peter Clarke and Brian Wilson were solid, while Billy McKay and Lee Erwin finally offered a presence upfront. Ryan Flynn looked promising in a central role and linked well with midfield and attack.
In contrast, Ryan McLoughlin was unconvincing on the left, and goalscorer Josh Law could have probably done better in his all-round midfield play. However, Law’s top-class free kick and two other long range chances were the only real moments of quality in the game, and made up for his costly late own goal at Fleetwood on New Year’s Eve.
For the visitors, only Max Ehmer and Elliot List can come away from the game with their heads held high, but other big names failed to impress. Scott Wagstaff was constantly looking to antagonise Latics players rather than play football, and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was hit-and-miss upfront.
Last year’s League One Player of the Year Bradley Dack was one Gills player to stand out, but for all the wrong reasons. A late booking for a pathetic dive topped off a petulant performance full of wayward crosses and clumsy fouls. For a player with so much quality – shown by his close second half free kick – Dack put in an embarrassing showing to Gillingham fans making the long journey North.
On Twitter, Gillingham fans were not impressed with their senior players. Olly (@thesportfiles) said “Jet [Jay Emmanuel-Thomas] was shocking, no movement, doesn’t break a sweat, doesn’t jump and can’t play up top on his own.” However, Jamie Devonshire (@jambomumbo) said ‘Elliot List was the one major positive. He looked dangerous every time he ran at people and was unlucky with a header.‘
Gillingham have two difficult games away at Sheffield United and at home to AFC Wimbledon. Then, Shrewsbury visit Priestfield in what could be a crucial game if new boss Adrian Pennock wants to avoid being dragged into a relegation scrap. On Saturday’s showing though, the Gills could well find themselves in a survival race.
For Oldham, next weekend’s visit to Shrewsbury is followed by tough-but-winnable home games against Peterborough and Bradford – both of whom lost to relegation candidates on Saturday. In fact, February clashes against Chesterfield and Coventry mean three of the next six games will be against fellow occupants in the League One relegation zone.
Whether John Sheridan’s appointment is an assurance of safety or a move of desperation is yet to be seen. Either way, something had to be done to address this season’s embarrassing form. As much as Steve Robinson’s record was worthy of sacking, he never really stood a chance of success and he deserves credit for doing his job in very difficult circumstances. Saying that, Sheridan’s appointment now gives Latics a glimmer of hope that just wasn’t there before.
After last summer’s departure Sheridan definitely has to win back the trust of many Oldham fans. However, nobody can deny a team sent out by ‘Shez’ will be organised and full of passion – and that is what will give the club a fighting chance of survival. If Sheridan can take points off Shrewsbury, Chesterfield, and Coventry in the coming weeks, the club will be set up for another great escape.
Fans should be wary of Sheridan’s exit last summer, and the nature of his departure means fans may be less forgiving if he can’t repeat his exploits of last season. However, he has been honest about his reasons for leaving and Oldham can’t afford to hold a grudge right now. If Saturday’s workrate is the new benchmark, then Sheridan will surely win back the fans in no time. Then he just has the small matter of survival to worry about.