We’re into November, and Oldham have only won 2 games out of 18 in all competitions this season. Going back to last season, the record reads 2 in 26. To put it simply, that’s relegation form. Saturday sees a trip to League Two Mansfield in the first round of the FA Cup, and you don’t need to know a lot about football to know that it’s a must win game for Latics.
Since Oldham’s last FA Cup game – a 1-0 home defeat to Doncaster 11 months ago – four managers have overseen only seven wins. Even the (delayed) opening of the club’s new North Stand hasn’t yet prompted an upturn in fortunes. So it goes without saying that a cup run would bring a little bit of positivity back to Boundary Park.
The reasons for the abysmal form in the past year have been covered extensively by increasingly disillusioned fans, but here’s my opinion. That Doncaster defeat in last year’s second round came after the first rumours of the club’s interest in a certain Ched Evans surfaced. They were quickly dismissed, but a month later Oldham hit national headlines by publicly declaring an intention to sign the controversial ex-con.
Eventually, common sense was forced upon the board by sponsors and supporters, and the deal was pulled. But the damage had been done and manager Lee Johnson – who chairman Simon Corney later claimed initiated the decision to sign Evans – left the club in February to join Barnsley. The club eventually replaced him with the uninspiring and unconvincing Dean Holden until the end of the season. It felt like the club had given up on the season, and that reflected in results. Holden then became assistant to the completely unknown Darren Kelly, who was just as uninspiring as his predecessor, with a touch more incompetence. Kelly only lasted nine games into his first managerial job and his replacement, David Dunn, was already on the payroll as a player. Dunn appears to have continued where Johnson, Holden and Kelly left off, with more inconsistent performances and poor results. Before Lee Johnson left, Oldham were a club who tended to give managers a chance, but a series of poor decisions at board level has tarnished that reputation.
In the long term, the club needs stability. If that means sticking by Dunn, then so be it. Since Johnson left after a 3-0 defeat at Leyton Orient, Oldham have only won two home games under three managers, and there is the problem. Look at the majority of clubs that have achieved success in the lower leagues over the past few years, and I’d bet most had a stable manager, or were loaded with money. Oldham obviously don’t have the latter, so have to model clubs like Yeovil or Leyton Orient under Gary Johnson and Russell Slade respectively, especially considering the recent decline of both clubs after they sacked their managers. The new stand should bring more income into the club, but that will take time. This is why a cup run is so important in the short term. The fans deserve something to cheer, and a cup run could bring about better league form. The 2013 cup run to a fifth round replay at Everton (after victories over former European champions Nottingham Forest and Liverpool) was sandwiched between a winless run that cost Paul Dickov his job, but fortunes then improved in the league, partly due to the epic cup run. The hope is that David Dunn will use the cup to improve his own fortunes.
Looking forward to the weekend’s cup game, and despite recent form it’s not all doom and gloom. Recent history in the FA Cup should motivate the team, with members of the squad remaining from the 2013 cup run and from respectable Third Round defeats at Liverpool in 2012 and 2014. The latter tie was earned after an empatic 4-1 second round replay victory against Mansfield, which extended a positive head-to-head record against Saturday’s opponents to 7 games without defeat, stretching back to 1978.The team also appear to prefer playing away from home, remaining unbeaten in the league away from Boundary Park, so there’s every chance Oldham will be in the second round draw hoping for an easy passage to a potentially lucrative Third Round Tie.
They say form goes out of the window in the cup, and normally that would favour Mansfield on Saturday. But, given the past 11 months, form going out of the window would be a blessing for Oldham, and hopefully the start of a better year at Boundary Park.
Let’s face it, it couldn’t get that much worse.