Today, even more than usual (if that’s possible), all we wanted was (in order of priority) an easy win, pay respects to Peter Croker, stay warm, stay dry, and get home. It didn’t turn out that way, but there’s not a lot to carp about. There was nothing wrong with the players’ attitude or commitment and nobody took it too easily. It just proved to be one of those days when we should have won but didn’t. Against a team that would have embraced 0-0 from the start, if it had ended up that way you would have thought ‘hard lines, credit to Oldham for riding their luck, move on’. Having made the breakthrough in a game where we were patently better than the opposition it does, however, it does feel worse as I doubt that any Oldham fan would have put money on them squaring it. They did, with a decent enough goal, and if there is any criticism it’s that we didn’t show enough composure in the closing minutes to carve out a stab at a winner; indeed, thinking about it I don’t think we created a serious chance after we’d gone ahead. Perhaps the feeling in the crowd that one would be enough extended to the pitch. Learn from it and move on.
The team pretty much picked itself, the only mild surprise for me was that neither Hayes nor Benson made the bench, leaving Euell as the only available replacement forward. That seemed more pertinent as a nasty clash of heads saw both Kermorgant and their defender both leave the pitch for some stitches and both return bandaged up. That injury break didn’t help the flow of the game in the first half, which was more detrimental for us than them, as we had a spell of 10 against 10, leaving both teams not sure how to adjust; and Kermorgant must have started bleeding again as he had to take another break. What became clear through the first half was that we were by a distance the more potent force and when we got it right they couldn’t cope. A Morrison header from a set piece went wide, Wright-Phillips saw an overhead kick go just wide (although he was flagged offside), and after a delightful pass by Hollands Green found himself clear but put the shot just the wrong side of the post. It wasn’t a case of just a matter of time, but leaving aside the extensive use of the long throw Oldham had really just one moment in the first half when the ball flashed across the box.
Attacking the Covered End in the second half you hoped that the intensity would increase and that one chance would be taken. It seemed to arrive as Wright-Phillips was played in but having rounded the keeper BWP allowed said keeper to thrust out a paw and prevent him from putting it in the net. Wright-Phillips had another that went into the side-netting, while Green shot narrowly wide from a free kick, although in both cases their keeper probably had it covered. Finally on the hour the goal came. A decent ball in from the right saw Russell time the run right and get on the end of it to head home. Celebration and relief all round, but still a third of the game to go.
The fact that Oldham had caused us next to no problems was only a qualified comfort. They made two substitutions in response and clearly they would have nothing to lose. This was the time for the wingers to make more of an impact in exploiting the space and for the forwards to finish off the game. That proved not to be the case as neither Ephraim nor Green managed to come up with telling contributions and, although Kermorgant was chasing and competing for everything, seemingly locked in a battle of the headbands with their centre-half, our play with the ball became a little sloppy when the requirement was to keep possession and not give them encouragement.
None of this looked like mattering as the clock wound down. But they worked a move down their left which seemed to catch Solly out. It came to nothing but just a couple of minutes later there was something of a repeat and having been pulled out of position Solly lost his man, who squared it for another to hit home well from around the edge of the area. Wagstaff came on for Ephraim for the final five minutes or so, but during that period the anxiety set in as Oldham sat back again and happily headed away balls coming into the box. No final chance, no last-minute winner.
Disappointing for sure, but really only in terms of the result. Fact is it was a decent game of football played in a good spirit by both teams, only slightly marred by a ref who was overly fussy from the start (albeit consistently, giving free kicks to both sides for innocuous challenges). On the balance of play and chances we would have won it nine times out of ten, but today it wasn’t to be. A second consecutive draw makes it a little more difficult to just shrug off; you’re tempted to say don’t be greedy, we’re still five points clear at the top. Nothing wrong with being greedy this time of the year and nine would have been nice.
Hamer: 7/10. Didn’t have a serious shot to save aside from the goal, for which he had no realistic chance. Handled the crosses well enough and an unremarkable rating only reflects the fact he had little to do.
Solly: 6/10. Has to be at least partially culpable for the goal as he was caught out and that led to the ball being squared and finished off, just a couple of minutes after a similar situation. Didn’t really get forward either. So be it, he’s been outstanding this season.
Wiggins: 8/10. Another superb game; he took the ball out of defence twice in a fashion which showed how on top of his game he is.
Taylor: 8/10. He and Morrison covered and cleared just about everything through the game, not giving their forwards a look-in. That included dealing with the long throws.
Morrison: 8/10. As for Taylor.
Ephraim: 6/10. Struggled to have a real impact today and our lack of penetration down the flanks, with two genuine wingers out there, was apparent.
Hollands: 8/10. Might just get edged out for man-of-the-match by Kermorgant, but it’s a close call for me.
Russell: 7/10. Timed the run into the box well for the goal and generally competent.
Green: 6/10. Perhaps a little harsh, but today I felt we didn’t get enough going down both flanks. No shortage of effort, however.
Wright-Phillips: 6/10. Didn’t come off for him today in front of goal and after scoring in five league games in a row that’s three consecutive without one. So what, the guy’s a natural. He could easily have had a couple today.
Kermorgant: 8/10. Absolutely full marks for commitment as he went for everything despite the head injury. Crying out for a decent ball into the box from the flanks (the one that did come in saw Russell get ahead of him to score).
Subs: Wagstaff (no time to make an impact).