It’s been much of the same for Oldham Athletic this season; heading for a low league finish, a decent cup run including a match against Liverpool for the third year in a row, and players catching the eye of team higher up the pyramid. Lee Johnson has been in charge for 10 months now, however on the face of it, it seems as if little has changed.
Hovering a precarious 2 points above the relegation zone, there are definite worries this season, even if nobody from the club is explicitly saying so. Goal-scoring is a particular worry, with only 27 goals in 26 games, and an extremely disappointing 11 in 11 home games. Johnson’s three main strikers: Adam Rooney, Charlie MacDonald and Jonson Clarke-Harris have each notched 4 league goals each, putting them top of Latics’ goal scoring charts. Rooney especially has suffered from a lack of confidence and a lack of service – his recent 8 minute cameo against Walsall ended with a scuffed effort from only 6 yards out missing the target, and an injury time penalty being pushed away. It perfectly sums up his and the club’s season so far, Rooney came with real high hopes, but has found it difficult so far, MacDonald has been injured for chunks of the season, with his predatory skills definitely missing, and Clarke-Harris, excellent at times, is in his first full season as a first-teamer.
Nobody has blown Latics out of the water: 11 of the 13 defeats suffered have been by the odd goal, with 6 of them ending 1-0. Nobody – barring Wolves away – have dominated Oldham, however a lack of creativity in midfield means very few chances are created, and out of form strikers are struggling to find the back of the net.
Johnson has a clear philosophy; he focuses on keeping the ball and patiently building up play, waiting for an opportunity to arise. Central defender James Tarkowski is exceptionally comfortable on the ball, and shows a willingness to carry the ball forward, with his direct play leading to rumoured interest from Liverpool, amongst others. Korey Smith and James Wesolowski have been extremely impressive in central midfield: but both are spoilers and ball winners, and whilst they keep the ball extremely well, however in the final third the final ball is definitely lacking. The arrival of Gary Harkins on loan is Johnson attempting to end this problem; however this has resulted in Danny Philliskirk – who has been excellent on his return to the club – being shunted out wide, minimising the effect he can have on a game. Although we do create attractive football, chances are extremely rare – it took until the 86th minute for a shot on target in the last outing, against Port Vale.
A lack of width is also limiting Johnson’s attacking options: Cristian Montano has been sacked, Sidney Schmeltz loaned out, and full back Joseph Mills and winger Mike Petrasso returning to their parent clubs. Only James Dayton, beset by injury and lack of form, and David Worrall – recently arrived on loan from Rotherham – are out and out wingers still at the club. Genseric Kusunga and David Mellor have been operating at full back, however neither are natural in that position, and their wariness to push on further contributes to a lack of width.
We’re not a million miles away from pushing up the table, however there are clear attacking issues that need combating; especially at home, when teams set up as a 4-5-1, Johnson has found it hard to break them down. Possession football isn’t resulting in goals or wins, so a plan B needs forming, to produce more chances and enabling us to grind out ugly victories, or Johnson needs to bring in a goalscorer to see us through until the end of the season.
Written by Joshua Bowker, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger
Joshua tweets at @JoshuaBowker