Three-sided fortress?

Oldham Carlisle

Some weeks in football are best described as simply a bit daft. After a routine 2-0 home win over Wycombe, Paul Dickov’s Oldham Athletic headed off for two consecutive away games. They packed up the kit, the half time jelly babies, even the box that Dickov stands on to look Jean-Yves M’voto in the eye. The one thing they left piled up at the side of the road outside Boundary Park was their senses.

After seeing out a professional home victory against a struggling team, the boys in blue travelled to Deepdale ready to entertain. Half an hour into the game one could question exactly who they were trying to entertain. It certainly wasn’t the travelling 1,310 Latics fans as Preston raced into a two goal lead with both goals scored within four minutes. By half time however the away following were much happier when their side emulated Preston’s lightning quick double salvo to make the score 2-2.

There were rapidly increased heart rates, profuse sweating & raucous renditions of numerous Latics chants at half time. And that just from me in my front room.

Forty-five minutes later, after a comical goal put Latics behind again & a thunderous late strike from James Wesolowski salvaged a point the Oldham fans went home delighted, convinced they’d witnessed the thriller of the season.

That was until Saturday anyway. Carlisle versus Oldham at Brunton Park. Now I don’t think in my decade following Latics I’ve ever known them to beat Carlisle, particularly in Cumbria. So you can imagine the surprise when the away team race into a three goal lead. The Cumbrians pulled a goal back before half time but it was still just a simple job to keep hold of the lead and take the points in the second half.

Apparently not. In a carbon copy of last season’s corresponding fixture Ivorian Francois Zoko popped up to snatch a draw deep into injury time. 3-3. Again.

This time the 3-3 felt like a defeat. If you’ll forgive the use of a tired platitude it was two points lost rather than two gained.

November, though, is a new month. A month that starts with a Lancashire ding-dong when Bury visit Boundary Park on Saturday. The Shakers have been in indifferent form of late and their struggle to keep clean sheets combined with Latics’ eight goals in three games might fool you into thinking this could be a goal-fest.

You’d be wrong though. And not only because I’ll be attending. This Latics team – indeed any Latics team since the early days of John Sheridan’s reign, if not the height of Iain Dowie’s tenure – simply do not seem to enjoy playing at home.

Home wins in recent years have invariably been hard earned and workmanlike, with a number of surprising away results coming from a team playing with a distinctly superior sense of freedom. The last week has shown this, with a comfortable yet somewhat flat home victory being followed by two exciting games yielding six goals. Admittedly the defence hasn’t been too solid and the whole team collapsed at Brunton Park, but despite this the team still appear to be more comfortable away from the OL postcode.

The reasons for this division are debatable. Some might argue that a three sided ground isn’t the most welcoming environment to play in. However I see that as the exact reason Boundary Park should be a fortress that visiting teams should dread and be keen to get away from as quickly as possible. Others, including myself, argue that there is a negative atmosphere that emanates from the home support, with more angry cat-calling than encouraging chanting & singing. There’s nothing wrong with negativity per se, but it is to see how a blizzard of boos & cries of  “get on with it you dozy sod” can motivate a set of grown men into playing at a higher level.

Maybe it will just take one performance. Maybe an early goal, followed by another couple to round off a comprehensive win complete with a clean sheet would satisfy those fans with a penchant for negativity and make them think twice before they next tell a player just how his grandmother could tackle better. Only time will tell.

This is certainly the right time to tell, as the Latics embark on a sequence of four consecutive winnable home games. Bury, Crewe, Burton Albion & Chesterfield will all come to Boundary Park with the belief that a point would be a decent result and in turn Paul Dickov will tell his team that each of them are beatable.

A win in all four is slightly unrealistic. However four points and a place in the draw for both the FA Cup 2nd round and the Johnstones Paint Trophy Northern Semi-Final is surely not. I’m convinced that is the least Dickov will demand, however it will take an improvement in home form for that target to be realised.

Written by Christopher Platt, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger

Chris tweets at @chrisbradman

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