Oldham Athletic Season Preview: Baxter returns

With the 2018-19 League Two season coming up, The Football Lab spoke to Oldham Athletic fan Chris Stringer (@stringer_oafc)…

Had the 2017-18 League One season started when Richie Wellens took over in September, you would have finished 13th. Was it a case of that disastrous first nine games under John Sheridan giving you no room for error?

I think it would be unfair to put the blame entirely on either manager. Both made clear errors but I think the failure of the season stemmed from the events off the pitch – HMRC investigations and change in ownership. Whilst the poor start to the season clearly put us in a vulnerable position, I think we’d had had a similar start had Wellens had the summer as well – recruitment was difficult and Lemsagam’s insistence on using his talent made life very difficult for Sheridan. The failure of the season, at least in my eyes, came from the financial issues left behind by Simon Corney and naivety from Lemsagam, which I think meant the errors by the managers were worse for moral than they may have otherwise been.

Your signings since the start of last summer have represented 11 different nations, with Gabonese midfielder Johan Branger the latest to join. Are there risks attached to Abdallah Lemsagam’s policy of signing players from overseas?

Yes, definitely. Many of the foreign players struggled to break into the first team and many looked out of place. There is also rumours that it created a division in the changing room with some players only fluent in French and not English. Having said that, there is risk with signing any player. One thing I can say is that many of the players brought in by Lemsagam’s policy showed hunger and determination – it was their dream to play in England and they wanted to make it work , but at times their style of play let them down.

Frankie Bunn becomes a permanent manager for the first time after Wellens left. Given the financial issues the club faces, this looks a tough assignment for him and Andy Rhodes?

Bunn has done his time as a coach and has worked for this moment. I don’t see this in the same way as other rookie managers we’ve appointed. He already has a lot of players at his disposal and, with some clear out, will be able to sign more of his own. It appears that the finances are now turning for the better; as I understand (at the time of writing) Lemsagam has cleared much of the club’s debt and is pumping money into the club. I expect we’ll have a good budget for league 2 .

Options have been taken up on midfield ball-winner Ousmane Fane and right-back Cameron Dummigan. Do you see them being important players this year?

I still wouldn’t be surprised to see Dummigan move on – he’s far too good for league 2 but will be crucial for us if he does stay. As will Fane, whose character is wonderful. He’s hard working and strong and perfect for the physical nature of league 2 football.

Midfielder Dan Gardner was your most-used player in 2017-18 with 42 league starts. Does that show he was a key player, or that he was responsible more than most for the relegation?

He was a key player. Much like Fane, his character was superb and I really felt for him – his teammates let him down.

You only lost two of the 11 games left-back Wilfried Moimbe started after joining in January; although he also got sent off twice. Were his disciplinary issues an occupational hazard?

His red cards made him a liability. Though not the sole reason for our relegation, his red card against Gillingham cost us 3 points that would have kept us up. It proved a pivotal moment in our fortunes. Which is a shame because he looked a decent player. His comments in the French media, however, show that he had little respect for the club.

Haitian stopper Johnny Placide appears to make very risky decisions. Would you like to have a goalkeeper that can sweep and distribute well enough without causing undue panic?

I do like a calmer and cooler goalkeeper usually but I can’t help but love the flair of Johnny Placide. It is rumoured that be may leave the club soon and I do think we’d be best place finding a more consistent performer if that is the case – akin to what we had in Connor Ripley 2 seasons ago – but I’m quite happy for him to stay as our first choice keeper.

Defenders Peter Clarke and Anthony Gerrard had been important parts of previous Shezzurections. Can you still rely on them for pace?

Gerrard has never had pace and Clarke appears to have lost his pace. One of them next to a young centre half will be the ideal combination I think. The likes of Edmundson and Hamer can make up for what Clarke and Gerrard lose in pace.

Attacking midfielder Duckens Nazon appeared to have a huge impact on the team last season. Can Jose Baxter replace him?

Baxter is probably the best player I’ve seen in an Oldham shirt, but he’s a very different player to Nazon. We’ll need an out and out striker to replace Nazon.

The other loanee to make an impression was Eoin Doyle. Are you concerned that the only other strikers at the time of writing, Aaron Amadi-Holloway and Jonathan Benteke, have only scored 17 career goals between them?

It is certainly a concern, but I’m confident we can find a goal scorer before the start of the season.

Oldham aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

When I look through the league table there isn’t a team in there that I think is immune from failure or incapable of success. Mansfield look to be making some strong signings and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get promoted. Tranmere I think will also end in a solid top half position.

Where will you finish?

I think 5th, providing we recruit well and avoid too much off the pitch drama.

Thanks to Chris for his answers. The Football Lab’s Verdict on Oldham can be found on We Love Betting from late July.