Connor Ripley was the hero for Latics, as he saved two late penalties to earn a point against Millwall. The first 88 minutes of the game were fairly forgettable, until Ripley twice denied Lee Gregory from the spot and secure his 14th clean sheet of the season.
Here, with help from Millwall Maniacs, I look at the talking points of Saturday’s game, and look at the race for player of the season between Connor Ripley and Peter Clarke.
Again, I’ve teamed up with Trust Oldham to write a matchday blog with detailed player ratings. Have a look here.
Story of the game:
On a terrible pitch, Oldham had the better of the first half, but a deflected Ollie Banks shot and a couple of testing crosses from Chris Taylor were all that Latics had to show for it. In fact, Millwall came closest to opening the scoring as Connor Ripley missed a high cross and Harry Smith nodded a header onto the post.
Just before the break, another Taylor cross found Paul Green, but the midfielder could only head over when well placed.
The torrential rain had eased slightly into the second half, but the muddy pitch was still stopping any decent football from breaking out.
Tope Obadeyi nearly put Latics ahead as he twice ran at the Millwall defence and both times shaped a shot just wide of the far post.
Millwall responded to their poor showing by bringing on Fred Onyedinma, who injected life into the visiting attack. Onyedinma should have put Millwall ahead as his shot beat Ripley but not captain Peter Clarke who cleared off the line.
Ollie Banks went close with a couple of shots, and the game was petering out to a deserved 0-0 draw. That was until the 89th minute, when Gregory tried to make space in the box but was brought down by a stupid Chris Taylor challenge.
Gregory stepped up, but Ripley dived low to his right and kept the scores level. Three minutes were added, and aside from some handbags between Peter Clarke and Harry Smith, Latics looked like seeing the game out.
Millwall had other ideas though, as Onyedimna won a dangerous free kick 20 yards out, and Michael Ngoo handled the resulting set piece in the wall.
Gregory stepped up again, but Ripley again kept him out to the delight of his team mates and the Boundary Park crowd.
Oldham Athletic: Ripley; McLaughlin, Wilson, Clarke, Hunt; Green, Banks, O’Neill (Fane, 79), Taylor; Obadeyi (Flynn, 70), Holloway (N’Goo, 79).
Millwall: King; Cummings, Webster, Cooper, Craig; Worrall (Ferguson, 75), Butcher, Williams, O’Brien (Onyedinma, 57); Gregory, Smith.
How did the teams perform?
In truth, it was a pretty poor game, and 0-0 was a fair result. The pitch and non-stop rain prevented any free-flowing football, but that probably benefited Oldham – as Millwall took longer to adapt to the conditions.
Latics were in control of midfield for most of the game, but couldn’t get past a strong Millwall defence. Tope Obadeyi and Aaron Holloway were second best to the visiting centre-backs and chances were hard to come by.
Despite that, at the back Latics were mostly untroubled, apart from the last 15-20 minutes that invited pressure and frustrated John Sheridan.
In fact, Sheridan said his side produced the best performance since his return for most of the game, but ultimately were lucky to secure the draw after conceding two penalties.
Given the circumstances, a draw was a good result for Latics, but it’s another game without scoring and the side needs to be more clinical in their fight to stay up.
Millwall Maniacs say: “It was a terrible pitch and the game went from end to end with Millwall finishing stronger toward the end of the game.
“When two penalties were awarded to us, we all thought the 3 points would come home but sadly both Gregory’s shots were saved and another 0 – 0 draw recorded. Still 15 games without conceding and we’re one point outside the play off zone.”
Who stood out?
Connor Ripley will get the headlines for his impressive penalty saves, but before that he was having one of his weaker games for Latics. Sheridan had challenged Ripley to improve his distribution in midweek, but Ripley sent a number of balls out of play as well as missing a first half cross that Harry Smith nodded onto the post.
However, after two crucial penalty saves in the 89th and 94th minutes, Ripley showed his quality infront of 500 Millwall fans who’d been jeering him all game.
Infront of Ripley, Peter Clarke and Brian Wilson were their solid, reliable selves, and full-backs Rob Hunt and Ryan McLaughlin did well against Millwall’s busy front line.
Leading Latics was Ollie Banks, who bossed the midfield and was unlucky not to score with a couple of long-range shots.
For detailed player-ratings, see my Trust Oldham matchday blog.
Millwall Maniacs say: “Well as predicted Harry Smith started instead of Fred and had a couple of chances at Oldham but the two Oldham centre backs got to terms with him quite quickly.
“Aiden O’Brien seemed to be at sixes and sevens at Oldham, but Shaun Williams was significant at keeping the Latics at bay.”
Millwall will be looking to put consecutive 0-0 draws against Latics and fellow relegation rivals Chesterfield behind them with two home games against Peterborough and MK Dons. They then have an FA Cup quarter final at Tottenham, before 3 out of 4 games against more teams around Latics – Shrewsbury, Bury and Swindon.
Millwall Maniacs say: “Tuesday sees us welcome Peterborough United to the Den. The Posh have four wins and six losses in their last ten. They sit one place below us by one point but have played one more game.
“Squad wise Neil Harris will probably have both Jed Wallace and Steve Morison returning to the squad. Both have the potential to start replacing Worrall and Smith respectively. Whether Fred Onyedinma or Lee Gregory will start as the partner to Morison is debatable but I am sure Lee will want to get going and put those to penalties behind him.”
Latics have now lost just one in six games, and just three since John Sheridan returned ten games ago. They now fance two away games against mid-tables sides Northampton and Walsall. Then, they return for an important home clash with Bury and then Oxford.
Despite improved form since Sheridan replaced Steve Robinson, Latics remain just two points ahead of Port Vale in 20th, who have two games in hand. The club are certainly not free from safety yet, and most of their remaining fixures are against top half teams.
If they are to complete another great escape, key players Peter Clarke and Connor Ripley will have to continue their fine form through to May. Both players have kept Latics in games, and Ripley’s heroics against Millwall underlined his quality.
The Player of the Year award will undoubtedly go on one of Clarke or Ripley, but determining which one is already looking like a difficult decision. Captain Clarke has lead by example all season, dragging his side out of multiple messes. He is also the club’s top scorer, scoring important goals in away draws at Bradford and Charlton, and recently netting in crucial wins against Chesterfield and Coventry.
Clarke’s goal-line clearance on Saturday was a prime example of his commitment to this side. Alongside Ripley – who is arguably Oldham’s best keeper since Les Pogliacomi, the pair have given Oldham a chance of survival in a team that struggles to score goals.
Ripley’s 14 clean sheets is a league high, and he has regularly kept defeats to respectable scorelines with point blank saves. Saturday’s double penalty saves are his most high-profile contributions yet and Ripley is surely going to have a career in the Championship and Premier League in the near future.
As for Player of the Season, Clarke’s leadership and weekly 8/10 performances will probably see him earn the accolade. But in any other team, Ripley would walk away with the prize. If he manages to break Pogliacomi’s club record of 19 clean sheets, Ripley will have an even stronger claim to be Oldham’s Player of the Season.