Oldham secured League One survival with a game to spare after Peter Clarke rescued a draw against local rivals Rochdale.
Latics had fallen behind in an abysmal first half after Callum Camps fired in from Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s pull-back. Rochdale didn’t make the most of a dominant display as Oldham battled for a point after the break.
Here, with the help of Dale fan Stan, who also watches Latics, I look at the key talking points of Saturday’s derby draw, and what Oldham need to do over the summer now survival is secured.
I’ve also teamed up with Trust Oldham again to write a matchday blog with detailed Player Ratings.
Story of the Game:
The game began with Rochdale firmly in control as Calvin Andrew twice went close in the first five minutes.
Dale didn’t have to wait long for a goal, though. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing beat Jamie Stott on the left, raced into the area, and pulled the ball back to Callum Camps to fire into the roof of Connor Ripley’s net.
Oldham were nearly level soon after, but Ousmane Fane’s shot in the area was straight at Rochdale keeper Conrad Logan. At the other end, Ripley was required to tip an Andrew header over the bar.
For Oldham, Fane could, and should, have equalised with his second good chance of the game. With space to run into, and Logan stranded, Fane decided against a simple shot and instead passed to Lee Erwin who was quickly dispossessed.
Rochdale were still ontop though, with Ian Henderson bending a shot wide before trying to chip Ripley after being sent clear.
Oldham were much improved after the break, but Aaron Holloway’s shot trickled wide and Fane wasted another chance when he headed wide from a good position.
As both sets of fans became more vocal, it was the Latics fans with something to cheer on 68 minutes. Jamie Stott delivered a pinpoint free-kick onto the head of an unmarked Peter Clarke who made no mistake.
With results sending Rochdale into the play-off positions before Clarke’s equaliser, the visitors pushed forward to regain their lead. Mendez-Laing, who was a threat all afternoon, went close with two deflected shots.
Despite some late pressure from Rochdale, Latics held onto the point that guarantees survival. It wasn’t pretty at times, but a determined second-half effort was enough to complete a second successive great escape from relegation.
Oldham Athletic: Ripley; Wilson, Clarke, Stott; McLaughlin, Green, Fane, Banks (O’Neill, 84), Taylor (Law, 64); Amadi-Holloway, Erwin (Obadeyi, 54).
Rochdale: Logan; Rafferty, McGahey, McNulty, Bunney (Lund, 74); Allen, Keane (Cannon, 60), Camps; Andrew (Vincenti, 81), Henderson, Mendez-Laing.
How did the teams perform?
In the first half, Oldham played like they were already on holiday. They were second to every ball and had no plan for going forward other than long games forward.
Rochdale, on the other hand, were energetic and created chances. Most of their threat came through Mendez-Laing, but Ian Henderson, Calvin Andrew and Callum Camps were also causing Oldham problems.
The cliche ‘game of two halves’ is often overused, but both sides effectively swapped roles after half time. Oldham were fired up and looking for a goal, while Rochdale were suddenly second best.
In the end, Oldham’s resilience under John Sheridan earned a point. The performance was nowhere near the standard that beat Bolton last week, but it was enough to grind out the all-important draw that means survival.
Stan says: “The match was a microcosm of Oldham’s whole season – abysmal first half and spirited second half.
“Dale were organised and efficient from the start, whereas Oldham were just running around aimlessly.
“In the second half, Sheridan changed things around and the spirit eventually saw them safe. Rochdale eased off when they could have won the game by half time. Overall, a draw was a fair result.”
Who stood out?
It was fitting that Peter Clarke was the man to confirm safety with his second half header. The captain initially struggled with Calvin Andrew, but gradually got the better of the Dale striker and dragged his team over the line.
Alongside Clarke, Brian Wilson was his usual reliable self, and young Jamie Stott generally held firm against a tricky Rochdale front-line.
Ousmane Fane should have scored at least one of his three chances, but generally did his job well in midfield. Upfront, Aaron Holloway worked hard and finally seems to be using his size to his advantage.
For in-depth player ratings, check out my Matchday Blog with Trust Oldham.
Stan says: “Dale’s midfield were in control for the first hour, Callum Camps running the show in particular.
“The structure was weakened when Keith Keane was substituted which allowed Oldham to get back into the game.”
Rochdale sit two points behind Millwall in the final play-off place with just one game left. In order to reach the play-offs, they need to beat Bradford at Spotland and hope Millwall lose at Bristol Rovers and Southend lose at home to Bury.
Looking ahead to next season, Dale will be hoping to keep hold of this season’s star men including Camps and Mendez-Laing. Keith Hill knows how to build a side, and regardless of whether they reach the play-offs, they will surely build on a positive season again in 2017/18.
Stan says: “It’s unlikely that Dale will make the play-offs but there’s always hope. They’ve still had their best season ever which is a great achievement.
“If Hill can keep hold of his better players over the summer and add some more quality then next season could be an even better one.”
Latics now face the luxury of a final game at Wimbledon where nothing is riding on the result. A win could take them above Northampton and into 16th place, but realistically survival is the only thing that matters.
This time last year, John Sheridan only had five contracted players into the new season, a factor that contributed to his departure to Notts County. This time, Sheridan has fourteen players under contract for next season.
That number features a strong core including Peter Clarke, Anthony Gerrard, Ollie Banks, Ousmane Fane and Aaron Amadi-Holloway. If options are taken up on others, Sheridan will have a good basis to build upon.
With only 31 goals in 45 games, goal-scoring is obviously a problem, and something that Sheridan clearly needs to address. Tope Obadeyi will create chances, but if Oldham want to avoid another relegation battle they will need to invest in a goal-scorer and someone who can create chances.
If Sheridan does stay this time – and the noises from Boundary Park suggest there won’t be a repeat of last year’s exodus – then Latics are in good hands. He knows how to win in League One, and with a full season behind him the future could finally look bright for Oldham.
In truth, after two relegation near-misses, Oldham fans might just be happy with a mid-table finish with signs of progression.
Look out for blogs reviewing Oldham’s turbulent season and awarding my own Post Match Verdict awards after next Saturday’s game against Wimbledon.