Two defeats in twenty-two league games with only twenty goals conceded, stretching back to last season, underlines the progress that Lee Johnson has overseen at Oldham Athletic. Whilst the end of last season was based around trying to pick up points to stave off relegation, this season has seen the introduction of a more attacking formation and mentality. Johnson saw several key players leave over the summer, most notably Korey Smith, James Wesolowski, and Jonathan Grounds. However, his recruitment policy has been exceptional. He has focused on bringing in players who, for a variety of reasons, have a point to prove. The above players were replaced by Liam Kelly, Mike Jones and Joseph Mills, who have all slipped seamlessly into Johnson’s new system.
Jonathan Forte, who didn’t manage a single game last season for Southampton, has already notched seven goals this season, and is a perfect example of the team’s development this year. His direct running from left-wing is perfectly complimented by Jones’ athletic box-to-box style, and the rejuvenated Carl Winchester’s playmaking from the right. While Kelly anchors the team, the other three offer a much more attacking and driving force compared to the midfield of last season. Winchester has been a revelation, after finally being given a chance in his fourth season at the club. Enjoying his first real run in the team, his creativity and confidence on the ball regularly haul the whole team forward, creating goal-scoring opportunities. Winchester’s sparkling form is all the more remarkable when considering that the intention was for him to be loaned out this season to gain experience.
The centre-back pairing of James Wilson and George Elokobi have been rock solid this season. Both picked up on free transfers and having played limited football before signing for Latics and seem to be relishing playing first team football again. Wilson’s composure is remarkable for someone with fewer than 100 league appearances, and he does an excellent job of leading the backline. Elokobi exuberates passion and self-belief, which has instantly made him a fans favourite, but also seems to be rubbing off on the team. Latics have trailed at some point in four of the previous five games, but still managed to pick up nine points. This never say die attitude has not been seen at Boundary, sorry, sportsdirect.com Park, for a long time… and has created an extremely positive atmosphere in the stands.
There are positive steps occurring off the field too. The club is finally approaching being a four-sided stadium again, and although the new stand is unlikely to be operational before next season, it is much more preferable to see the structure of a stand in its place, rather than a huge open space. The commercial side of the club is also developing, with the stand set to bring in additional revenue, as well as the long-term contract signed with sportsdirect. Furthermore, the positive atmosphere within the club is epitomised with ‘The Athleticos’, a group of young supporters who are encouraging a lively and positive atmosphere at games. This season is likely to be one of progress.
Whilst we all dream of sneaking into the play-offs, a comfortable year with no fears of avoiding relegation in April would be a welcome change! Although Forte has had a blistering start, the lack of an experienced striker may become a concern. Dominic Poleon, Danny Philliskirk and loanee Jabo Ibehre are expected to carry the burden, although none have particularly impressive goal-scoring records. However, a top half finish, combined with the extension of Winchester and Wilson’s contracts, would certainly be deemed an impressive season.
Written by Joshua Bowker, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger
Joshua tweets at @JoshuaBowker