Groundhog day for Oldham Athletic as cup tie set to replay
In Groundhog Day, the movie, a meteorologist will cover the groundhog’s annual emergence from his hole. He is caught in a blizzard he hadn’t expected and finds himself trapped in a time warp. He is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he succeeds.
Having taken the lead in each of the last four games to win none, anyone associated with Oldham Athletic can understand.
After scoring the first against Wrexham and losing 2-1; scored first against Scunthorpe and had to come from behind to draw 2-2; scored the first against Maidenhead to concede a penalty and draw 1-1, the Latics were hosting a break from the league and a chance to break this cycle when they faced Chester for a place in the FA Cup first round proper say.
But the demons that made them lose points did not abandon them. Not even against the part-timers of the National League North.
Instead, after establishing a deserved lead in the eighth minute and capitalizing on the positive start they took to the game again thanks to Mike Fondop’s third goal in six games, the Latics once again fell back further. away in their shell with every missed opportunity that followed.
Rather than gaining confidence by going up front, it seemed to have the opposite effect, just as it had against Scunthorpe in their previous home game.
The Latics are more than capable of getting up front early, but they lack the confidence to push further and gain a bigger cushion. And that leads to an overwhelming sense of inevitability when the opposition win a goal.
“I just think that, and I’m not trying to disrespect anyone who came before me – absolutely not – because they struggled as well, but there’s a feeling when we concede. I can feel it. , I can feel it, I can see it in the eyes of the players that it’s ‘here we go again’,” observed manager David Unsworth.
“We just have to keep beating the drum.”
Unsworth was speaking in a metaphorical sense, but so is the real, real physical beat of the Athleticos drum, which was drowned out by an army of Chester fans who spent the second half effectively sucking the ball into the sharp past them, coming through in the 78th minute when Harrison Burke converted Declan Weeks’ corner.
There were some miffed boos from the full-time home fans, which, given what has happened over the Abdallah Lemsagam years in particular, is understandable.
Few people will feel the frustration of recent events more than manager David Unsworth, his behind-the-scenes team and his players, let alone the board. But for the fans – the paying audience – it’s an accumulation of years of disappointment and despair that continues to pour out amidst a new dawn.
The wounds at this club run deep, and while the Rothwell family takeover has paved the way for a full recovery, the process of repair and healing is going to take some time.
Anyone expecting a quick fix under the new regime is likely to be disappointed. Because while there was one rebuilding project this summer under John Sheridan, new boss David Unsworth faces another to create the caliber of team capable of returning to the Football League.
Some of that will come from within, with key players who have missed much of the season through injury moving closer to a comeback, allied with continued work on the training ground to develop skills. declining fitness levels.
But Unsworth will also look to outside influences in the form of new recruits. One of the benefits of not being in the Football League is the freedom to trade without transfer windows, and that’s something the Latics boss is keen to take advantage of. But it’s unclear how simple it will be given the squad overhaul already undertaken by the former manager. It is hoped that there is enough margin in the budget, otherwise the benefit of the decline could be brutal.
All the Latics can do now is look forward, securing a place in the first round as their most immediate objective, and overcoming the mental block of a second goal.
They have to do it, on Tuesday, without their first-choice full-backs. Jordan Clarke was influential in goal, providing a smart cut for Fondop to finish, as well as fresh chances. Mitchell Roberts combined effectively with Ben Tollitt on the left to create further opportunities. Their first outings – Clarke at half-time with a suspected broken hand and Mitchell four minutes into the second half with a knee injury – prompted two line-up changes and led Nathan Sheron to take three positions in around 90 minutes. , after starting in midfield, briefly switching to right-back before ending the game at left-back, as Unsworth opted for attacking changes from the bench.
There is an ongoing outcry among supporters of Harry Vaughan’s involvement, and he might have made an appearance had the circumstances been different.
In the end, not taking risks and staying in the hat became essential.
Its time will come, and so will this new-look Latics. But it will take time to iron out the repetitions and get it right.