Oldham took a giant step towards safety as Lee Erwin’s goal and some determined defending secured a vital win against promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers.
John Sheridan’s men now sit six points clear of relegation with three games left after the win, which was even more impressive after Michael NGoo’s second half sending off.
Saturday’s game was also the day I finally persuaded my lovely girlfriend, Chloe, to come along to her first football match.
Here, with the help of Chloe, I look at the key talking points of Saturday’s game, and where the result leaves both Oldham and Bolton as they attempt to secure survival and promotion respectively.
Again, I’ve teamed up with Trust Oldham to write a matchday blog, with detailed player ratings.
Story of the Game:
The game started slowly, with both defences coming out ontop. Former Latics midfielder Filipe Morais was getting a lot of space on Bolton’s right, but none of his deliveries could find Adam Le Fondre in the centre.
As for chances, Lee Erwin dragged a snapshot wide, while Bolton captain Darren Pratley twice hit the roof of the Chaddy End from inside the Oldham box.
Latics ended the half strongly, but it was Bolton who had the first clear-cut chance after the restart as Ripley denied Morais from a tight angle.
Oldham responded though, as Peter Clarke forced a save from Mark Howard before Paul Green struck a half volley straight at the keeper.
At the other end, Ryan McLaughlin headed a Darren Pratley effort off the line and got clattered into the post for his troubles.
Then, Michael N’Goo earned a second yellow after he dived in during a 50-50 battle for the ball. The decision on its own was slightly harsh, even if N’Goo was clumsy to dive in on a booking.
However, the incident was not helped by four Bolton players surrounding the referee to appeal for a red card. But if Bolton thought they would get an easy three points against ten men, Latics and the home crowd had other ideas.
First, Erwin dragged a shot wide when he had time to pick his spot. Then, on 76 minutes, the inform striker made amends to give his side the lead.
Tope Obadeyi found space on the right, and his low cross was parried by Howard straight into Jay Spearing. The ball rolled towards the goal and Erwin made sure by firing home on the line.
The goal forced Bolton into action, and McLaughlin was needed again to make a goal-line block from Dorian Dervite.
David Wheater and Adam Le Fondre combined to hit the bar and fire over in a goalmouth scramble, before substitute Chris Long rocketed a shot against the bar again in injury time.
However, Latics held firm and recorded an impressive three points to make it two wins and a draw from three consecutive home games against League One’s top three.
Oldham: Ripley; Wilson, Clarke, Stott; McLaughlin, Fane, Banks, Green, Obadeyi; Erwin, N’Goo.
Bolton: Howard; Moxey (Henry, 69), Dervite, Beevers, Wheater; Vela, Spearing, Pratley (Clayton, 70), Osede (Long, 86), Morais; Le Fondre.
How did the teams perform?
Similar to the recent draw against Sheffield United, Latics battled well throughout against good opposition. They frustrated second-placed Bolton even if they didn’t offer much going forward.
Bolton themselves weren’t too impressive though. Their one tactic involved giving right-winger Morais the ball, but his deliveries were often poor and striker Adam Le Fondre had no service all game. After that, they looked stuck for ideas.
Michael N’Goo’s sending off should have swung the game in Bolton’s favour – especially after four Bolton players were so keen to see the red card shown – but Latics responded well and got the goal.
In truth, Bolton had great chances to get something from the game. Ryan McLaughlin made two goal-line clearances and the Trotters hit the bar twice. But every Latics player fought for the win and put their bodies on the line. Oldham just wanted the points more than Bolton.
Chloe said: “Oldham had a good defence but needed to attack more. In the first half they gave Morais too much space. The goal itself was lucky, and Bolton should have scored themselves.
The Bolton keeper had a shocking game. All he did was kick it out of play, and then he dropped a cross onto his own player for Oldham’s goal.”
Who stood out?
Tope Obadeyi and Lee Erwin will get praise for their parts in the goal, but this win was a real team effort – aside from N’Goo’s clumsy sending off. Under John Sheridan, Paul Green, Ollie Banks and Ousmane Fane have got better with each game and the midfield trio impressed again with their tireless running.
Arguably the stand out player for Latics was debutant Jamie Stott, who was included in the starting eleven after Anthony Gerrard was injured in the warm-up. Stott might have been making his professional debut, but he barely put a foot wrong against a talented Bolton side.
Just as George Edmundson stepped in against Sheffield United and looked the part, Stott’s performance was an encouraging sign for the future.
Chloe said: “McLaughlin made two good clearances and was always in the right place. Connor Ripley is too good for Oldham. Morais for Bolton dived too much and kept annoying me.”
Bolton have a four point lead over Fleetwood and Bradford. The Trotters face local rivals and relegation-threatened Bury at the Macron Stadium on Tuesday, before travelling to another of Latics’ relegation rivals Port Vale on Saturday. On the final day they face Peterborough at home, who will have nothing to play for.
Those fixtures mean Bolton should finish the job, but they will have expected to beat Oldham, and will want to make sure they avoid a play-off campaign.
Latics travel to Bristol Rovers on Monday, a trip that rarely returns any points. Then, a potentially crucial local derby against Rochdale awaits, before a final day trip to AFC Wimbledon.
With John Sheridan’s men sitting six points and four places above Port Vale in the final relegation place, survival is now firmly in their hands with three games remaining.
Assuming Chesterfield (37 points) will join relegated Coventry in League Two next season, six teams are fighting to avoid the final two positions in the bottom four.
Of those, Latics arguably have one of the more favourable run-ins. Although Bristol Rovers and Rochdale could mathematically reach the play-offs, Latics are the only team not to face a team with a realistic chance of promotion.
Interestingly, Northampton – who sit in 16th on 51 points – face Shrewsbury, Bury and Gillingham in their final three games, so could have an important say in who goes down. Alternatively, defeat in all three games could put them in danger of relegation themselves.
While Port Vale have one more game to play, they have three difficult away games and a home fixture against Bolton. Above them, Bury and Shrewsbury both face Southend, who will be fighting Millwall for the final play-off spot and won’t be easy to beat.
Latics aren’t safe by any means, but a comparatively better run-in than their rivals, and decent form behind them, should see them safe. However, all the teams at the bottom have shown their ability to win important games, so Sheridan’s men still need to look after themselves rather than rely on other clubs dropping points.
If Saturday’s performance is anything to go by, Latics won’t go down without a fight. They’ve put themselves in a great position to avoid the drop, but need to finish the job as there are five other teams battling to avoid League Two football in 2017/18.