High-pressing Oldham take positive point at the Pirelli


John Sheridan – www.bbc.com

Oldham Athletic continued their progress under John Sheridan with a 0-0 draw at league leaders Burton Albion. The East Staffordshire hosts came close on occasion but never quite found their rhythm as key forward men endured a frustrating afternoon. A point was the least Oldham deserved, as the relegation strugglers showed relentless tenacity and aggression.

Such qualities were embodied by Curtis Main and Aaron Amadi-Holloway, who ran and hassled at will. Main caused some nervous moments for left-back Damien McCrory early on while Holloway exploited Burton’s high line, beating Tom Flanagan and John Mousinho to win free-kicks in dangerous areas. Unfortunately for the striker, the efficiency of his runs was not matched by the set piece deliveries from Mike Jones.

Burton tried to press, but their opponents did so more successfully, as the Brewers struggled to settle and kept passing the ball to players already marked. Under Nigel Clough, midfielders Calum Butcher and Tom Naylor have often excelled at making late runs into goalscoring positions, yet this game required them to be proactive with their movement off the ball. Both players were more disciplined than necessary and that was partly why Burton were unable to create space in the opposing half.

Behind Butcher and Naylor sat holding midfielder Hamza Choudhury, the man tasked with marking Carl Winchester out of the game. Every time Winchester picked up the ball, Choudhury would look to shackle him. In doing so, the Leicester loanee made some rash tackles and lost his positional discipline at times. Winchester grew in influence when he drifted towards the right side, creating space for some impressive combination play between Main and right-back Cameron Dummigan.

The confidence with which Oldham approached the game seemed surprising. Not only is Sheridan a notoriously cautious manager, his side were playing away to the league leaders. Most would have predicted the visitors to sit deep and hoof the ball forward, but in fact they committed strongly to the offensive side of their game, allowing full-backs Dummigan and Tareiq Holmes-Dennis to push forward.

However, aside from the latter’s blocked shot midway through the first half, Oldham did not create many chances, Burton having the best opportunities of the game. Lucas Akins latched onto a loose ball in the box and rounded the keeper, only for his effort to be cleared off the line. Shortly afterwards, Flanagan headed Mark Duffy’s well-flighted corner onto the crossbar and Oldham were off the hook.

It was a break that they deserved. The away side put in a committed performance, in spite of the enforced defensive re-shuffle, with Anthony Gerrard out through illness and Brewers loanee Matt Palmer ineligible to play against his parent club. James Wilson, who had been criticized for his past displays at right-back, started at centre-back and looked well at home alongside namesake Brian.

Similarly, Timothee Dieng is a centre-back by trade, yet he oozed quality in his central midfield role. The Frenchman combined the physical presence needed to win the ball with the touch of class required to spray it wide and dictate play. Wilson and Dieng’s performances in their new positions will give Sheridan a real dilemma ahead of Monday’s clash with Chesterfield.

In the second half, Burton had a brief spell of pressure when Duffy’s free-kick was pushed wide by Coleman, before Butcher’s improvised effort on 65 minutes was headed over by Beavon. However, the respective levels of bravery shown by both teams was typified by the substitutions with 20 minutes to go. Burton put on another midfielder in Robbie Weir, arguably more defensive than Naylor, the man he replaced. On the other hand, Oldham looked to add more energy up front, as Jake Cassidy replaced a tiring Amadi-Holloway.

Cassidy looked lively when he came on, opting to roam into the left channel to occupy Phil Edwards, who had not enjoyed his most comfortable afternoon. Some of Oldham’s attacks down the left could have come to more, but for the defensive diligence of McCrory, who ensured that Main could not get ahead of him to the back-post.

Knowing that a draw would not be a satisfactory result, Clough bit the proverbial bullet and put Mason Bennett on for Choudhury. Bennett, he hoped, would take advantage of Dummigan’s attacking mentality and get in behind the Oldham defence. The former Derby man broke down the left on a couple of occasions, as the game became stretched and both teams won corners, Duffy’s delivery forcing a desperate punch from Joel Coleman under pressure.

There was to be no twist in the tale, however and Oldham held out for a well-earned point. The Latics are only one point off safety with games in hand on those above them and Saturday’s display will fill the team with confidence. Burton were a long way off their energetic best and with a potentially challenging run-in, they have missed an opportunity to further cement their place in the top two.