Sunday confirmed my deep-seated anxiety about travelling to Bramall Lane with anything resembling confidence in a win. The football gods (a.k.a. the referee) were against us that afternoon with a dour Sheffield United side triumphing via evading two red cards, two penalty appeals and the ball going over their own line, scoring the winner from one of their few shots on target.
Having calmed down from the tumult of last Sunday, there’s a strain inside me that wonders whether we might actually have deserved what we got. As poor as Sheffield United were, they registered more shots on target than we did. There was something either lethargic or complacent about our performance, with little urgency on show, aside from a spell early in the second-half.
The message that Tony Mowbray should be getting across to his players this week has to be to produce these intense spells for longer in games and take absolute advantage of them, such as we did against Gillingham. We remain in a strong position in the division and with some eminently winnable games coming up over the festive period; there is a massive opportunity here to re-assert ourselves in the title race.
For this upcoming game against Oldham, there are a plethora of attacking options, boosted by James Maddison completing 90 minutes for the under-21s and George Thomas returning from his loan spell with Yeovil. The three who lined up behind Armstrong against Sheffield United though have a credible case for starting again. Ruben Lameiras in particular, who was a surprise starter over Ryan Kent, stood out and appears to be another example of a player improving under the tutelage of Tony Mowbray.
Sam Ricketts’ red card on Sunday though leaves us light in numbers at the back. Ricketts hasn’t been in the best form of late but it will be the first time that we play without him this season and regardless of his form, he is a key leadership presence in this team. It will be interesting to see what the effect his absence from the team will have. With Martin Lorentzson some distance from match fitness, Aaron Phillips makes a timely return from a hamstring strain and has an opportunity here to prove his various doubters wrong.
Last Time We Met
This game will provide something of a progress report on Tony Mowbray’s leadership of the club considering the nature of our last meeting against Oldham. Back in April, Tony Mowbray’s side were unable to capitalise for all three points despite a strong showing against a side with nothing to play for.
The Sky Blues knocked the ball around confidently for much of the 90 minutes and with the intent of creating chances. A lack of concentration from a set-piece allowed Oldham to score a goal from one of their few attacks that night. After much huffing and puffing, Reda Johnson headed in a late winner to salvage something from the evening when really all three points should have been easily got.
How Are They Doing?
As often proves the case with sides that coast towards the end of the season, Oldham have struggled this time out. That sense of inertia has been made worse by financial difficulties which have led to players being paid late over recent months and a misguided managerial appointment made over the summer.
Darren Kelly had led the club at the start of the season after a lengthy recruitment process but lost the confidence of the fans from very early on in his reign. Kelly was sacked in September, and has since been hired and fired by Halifax in the Conference, replaced by David Dunn, who arrived at the club as a player/coach in the summer.
Dunn’s leadership has been characterised by two things, draws and loans. He has drawn 7 of the games he has been in charge of and the squad now features 7 loan players of differing quality. He has already made it clear that he is unsatisfied with the quality he has at his disposal but with the club in a perilous position both financially and in the division, there appears little wiggle room aside from making changes for change’s sake.
There is some quality in this Oldham squad though and they do have a strangely decent away record, losing just once on the road all season. Liam Kelly in the centre of the park is one to watch out for; his passing range clearly belongs to a much higher quality of football than this Oldham side are producing. Carl Winchester and Mike Jones are both mobile and industrious midfielders capable of either playing out wide or centrally.
Ex-Sky Blue Danny Philliskirk currently leads Oldham’s scoring charts this season with a respectable six goals. The attack also boasts Michael Higdon and Dominic Poleon on five goals apiece. All three though are inconsistent performers but will all be competent to take advantage of the kind of opportunities we have been giving away to teams of late.
Oldham’s weirdly strong away form makes this a potentially tougher fixture than we might otherwise be anticipating. Much like in our last meeting, Oldham will be fairly content to play the underdogs role which puts the onus on us to not only control proceedings but put the Latics to the sword. As we have seen in recent games, we have been on top without looking all too troubled only for the opposition to seize on the rare opportunities that we allow them when our concentration drops. It’s time to wipe the lethargy out of our recent performances and get back into top gear.
I’m fairly confident that we will be able to do that and as such, I am predicting a 3-1 Coventry City victory.