After wielding his axe menacingly subsequent to the Flixton defeat Margy went with an unchanged starting 11 for this testing visit to Oldham. It�€trade;s probably a lot easier to make that decision to stick with the same side on the back of an 8-1 win than it is after a hard fought draw or narrow victory. The only change to the squad saw Simon Carden rejoining on the bench at the expense of Chris Simms. Carden had only missed out on inclusion in the weekend squad because he needed to be at home with his ill child.
Oldham Town have had great results in various cups this season but their league performance has been a little inconsistent. The Oldham manger Tony Mills picked up the manager of the month award for February after a tremendous run of results including an extra-time victory over division one high fliers Alsager Town. This fixture against United sandwiched between two legs of the league cup semi-final against Salford City. Again Oldham�€trade;s confidence will have been boosted after winning that first leg match against division one opponents by the only goal.
This match might so easily have been postponed due to bizarre circumstances. Apparently the designated match officials had been advised that the fixture had been postponed so hadn�€trade;t travelled from Blackburn. Oldham Town officials only realised something was amiss just over an hour from kick-off. Happily local official Derek Brannick saved the day. Mr. Brannick had arrived at Boundary Park looking for a relaxing evening watching the match but ended up dashing home to get his kit before returning with whistle to step into the breach. Many thanks go to Derek and his assistants for their commitment in assuring that the match could go ahead.
The kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes or so, this was probably due to the aforementioned late arrival of officials rather than the spurious �€�problems on motorway�€trade; excuse offered by the official PA announcement! The home side kicked off attacking the Rochdale Road Stand end of the ground which was well populated by the United travelling support.
The first meaningful action came on the 5th minute as Tony Cullen tried a shot from distance. The home goalkeeper, David Carnell, struggled to gain full control of the ball after the initial save; Phil Power needs no second invitation to challenge �€�keepers who fail to make completely secure catches, on this occasion Power�€trade;s run was shadowed by his marker Timothy Buxton who ended up sprawling in the back of the net for his troubles. As the Oldham number 6 received treatment United�€trade;s assistant manager enjoyed a brief chat initiated by the referee.
A minute or two later Power received a pass with his back to goal. Power controlled well and then held the ball up before delivering a clever reverse pass for Dave Swarbrick who was galloping toward goal outside of Power. Things looked promising but just as Swarbrick aimed to pull the trigger the ball bobbled up and was despatched into the seats behind Carnell�€trade;s goal.
Oldham very nearly mounted their first proper threat on the United goal in the 11th minute after a Dave Brown clearance felled William Ahern at close range with the rebounding ball being quickly turned forwards to release the right winger. James Curley had commenced his run a little too early and play was brought back for the offside. Ahern is clearly made of tough stuff as he resumed with little fuss.
Carnell then had a real scare as a back pass to him from close range took an unfriendly bounce as he attempted to clear. The right-footed �€�clearance�€trade; cannoned off of a defender merely 12 yards from goal but luckily then went on to a blue-shirted colleague who completed the clearance. On another day the ball might have hit the defender and rebounded back to goal or onto an attacker.
On 19 minutes United mounted a couple of attacks, firstly Torpey saw a shot partly blocked with the loose ball coming to Ahern who saw his shot comfortably caught by Carnell. United quickly picked the ball up again from Oldham and this time Patterson fired a testing shot from 25 yards that Carnell got down well to push wide of the right post.
On the half hour mark Torpey broke down the United right flank before slipping a ball back to the supporting Steve Spencer. Spencer took a touch moving the ball inside and then fired a right-footed shot over the bar. Patterson hit a snapshot from the right side a few minutes later but that was also off target. In the 36th minute Will Ahern hurried a shot when he had more time and space than he seemed to realise; again this final effort did not trouble Carnell.
Halftime arrived with United having dominated possession and territory but also having failed to create any clear-cut chances. On the positive side of that equation �€�big�€trade; Phil Melville was enjoying another quiet game in the United goal as the backline in front of him were looking in complete control.
Early on in the second half Curley looked to threaten down the Oldham left flank but his early cross was expertly cut out by Cullen. Normal service was soon resumed as Swarbrick attacked down the United right side, Buxton did well for Oldham and even managed to win a goal kick for his side as his attempted clearance struck Swarbrick and went dead.
Swarbrick was then involved in the build up as United took the lead. Referee Brannick awarded a freekick to United just inside the Oldham half out towards the left touchline that Swarbrick took right-footed. Carnell came out to claim the high ball but could only push it out to David Chadwick near to the penalty spot. Chaddy improvised a first time shot with his right knee which sent the ball looping up and into the net near to the top left corner of goal despite Carnell scrambling back and a defender on the line doing their utmost to keep it out. Credit must go to Rob Nugent who challenged Carnell for the original cross and was probably instrumental in the �€�keeper failing to clear his lines. 0-1.
In the 68th minute United very nearly struck again with only some very desperate defending keeping the Oldham arrears at one. Swarbrick fed Power who saw his shot from the edge of the area rebound out to Patterson who, in turn, saw his shot parried. The ball went loose in a central position only 8 yards from goal and as Power looked to capitalise so a wild tackle came in from Buxton. There is no question about Buxton making contact with the ball, he clearly did, but his lunge went through Power leaving both the Oldham number 6 and United�€trade;s number 7 needing treatment.
At the other end the United defence was still looking strong. Dave Brown landed a great tackle as Oldham threatened to break down their right side. Moments later Tony Cullen nearly opened the door for Oldham as his pass inside to Chaddy had the United captain at near to full stretch to prevent the ball from slipping into the no man�€trade;s land between the United back four and goalkeeper. Bowker played a neat through ball for Taylor but again the Oldham attack floundered as a result of an upraised offside flag.
Inside the final 10 minutes and United spurned the 2 best chances of the night. Rob Nugent might have capped off another super performance with a goal but his header from a Swarbrick corner was off target. Patterson then showed why he is loved by many of the FC United followers and also why it must be very frustrating to play with him sometimes as he won the ball in the Oldham left-back position. The genius showed through as Rory drove along the bye-line towards goal. The flawed element then shone brightly as Rory seemed to have the goal at his mercy but skied his final shot from close range. Doubly frustrating as newly arrived substitute Joz Mitten was lurking in a great position inside of Patterson bellowing for a simple pass that would have left the big number 15 with a straightforward chance to make the game safe.
Margy used his final 2 substitutes as the minutes ticked down with Carden and Lyons coming on for Torpey and Swarbrick. Carden was nearly played in on goal in the 90th minute as Joz flicked on a Melville clearance but the ball just ran away from Carden.
The match drew to a close with most of the 1800, or so, present content with the result. As a spectacle this was far from a great game. Oldham were very disappointing, to my mind, only troubling Melville with a very late long distance chip that the United �€�keeper kept out with only minor concern. Maybe the home side had one eye on the second leg semi-final coming up at the weekend or maybe the United defence was just too good for them. Either way the victory took United another 3 points closer to celebration.
My man of the match vote would go to Rob Nugent. At times, early in the season, Rob looked like a centre-back filling in at right-back but he now looks very, very comfortable in the wider role. It�€trade;s a great benefit for United to have a fullback who is so strong in the air who can play his part both defensively and offensively at set pieces. Both of the centre-backs were on good form, Chaddy and Brown rarely were troubled in this match. I�€trade;m sure all of the backline would offer due credit to Steve Spencer, in particular, who provides so much protection to them with his tireless running in that defensive midfield position of his.