Oldham Athletic Season Preview: summer exodus

oldhamOldham Athletic’s turnaround under John Sheridan prompted a feeling of optimism around OL1, but that was to be short-lived. ‘Shez’s exit for Notts County provoked an exodus of 19 players including last season’s loanees, the club slow to find replacements in the dugout and on the field. Steve Robinson takes on the unenviable task of keeping the Latics in the third tier – can he do it? The Football Lab spoke to supporter Mike Hawksby to find out.

Firstly, I’m sure everyone connected with Oldham Athletic will be saddened to hear of the passing of Jimmy Frizzel, who had a successful time in charge during the 70s and 80s. Did you see Oldham play under him and if so, what are your memories?

My time as an Oldham fan only began in the early 90’s so its hard to comment on Jimmy Frizzel. He’s obviously a name intrinsically linked to Oldham and perhaps has been overshadowed by the “pinch me” era under Joe Royle.

Oldham conceded just 58 goals last season, fewer than two top half sides. Presumably it was your defensive organization that kept you up?

Well it clearly wasn’t’ our goalscoring ability that kept us up!! We did very much tighten up once John Sheridan came on board. The real catalyst for this change was the re-signing of Anthony Gerrard just prior to the Shrewsbury game in February, who ironically was signed from Shrewsbury where he was playing on non-contract terms. Our form as you point out turned around from that point onwards and it was that “play-off” form that turned things around and led to safety being secured two games before the season ended.

You won nine league games in 22 under John Sheridan, having only managed two wins in the previous 22. What contributed to that turnaround?

As I mentioned earlier Anthony Gerrard was the vocal leader we’d been crying out for all season long. We needed a character on the pitch and in the changing room who wasn’t afraid to say what he was thinking, to stir things up. As to why he wasn’t signed earlier in the season it remains a mystery, but needless to say he was a huge factor. The sight of him kicking out at the post in frustration at conceding a late equaliser at Scunthorpe says it all. Allied of course to Sheridan’s lower league nous, the organisation he brought to the squad and his astute loan signings. Eyebrows were raised when he loaned a Burton reserve player in Matty Palmer, a League Two striker warming the bench at Wycombe in Aaron-Amandi Holloway and a striking flop from Doncaster in Curtis Main. Ultimately they all played their part in keeping Oldham up and it’s a shame that none of them will be plying their trade with Oldham again next season.

It took the club until 9th July to appoint a manager and sign a single player. Why has Oldham’s transfer business been so slow?

Well the player acquisition was always going to be dependant on the appointment of a manager. John Sheridan leaving so soon after the season ended caught everyone by surprise and I’m sure recruitment plans had been set in place before his departure.

New boss Stephen Robinson had been manager of Motherwell and assistant at Northern Ireland. What are your thoughts on his appointment?

I’m sure like most Oldham fans I was straight onto Wikipedia trying to find out just who Stephen Robinson was. After the extremely questionable appointment of Darren Kelly last summer there’s an element of nervousness when an appointment of a “young and upcoming” manager is announced. In Stephen Robinson’s defence though his resume is unquestionably stronger than that of Darren Kelly, or indeed Lee Johnson’s was prior to joining Oldham. His career in the lower leagues as a player, allied to his management apprenticeships with Motherwall and N Ireland leave me feeling on the whole positive.

Midfielder Liam Kelly has left the club this summer. Does it concern you that he was happy to drop to League Two in order to leave Oldham?

Without doubt it’s a concern, but no secret that there are clubs in League Two with bigger playing budgets and offering longer term contracts. Whilst its concerning it does leave me questioning the players’ ambitions as surely he is good enough to be plying his trade at a level higher than League Two?

Centre-back James Wilson has joined Sheffield United this summer. Was he a player that divided opinion among supporters?

He blew hot and cold, but when on form looked a very assured and comfortable “footballing” centre half. On the whole during his time with Oldham he was a success, even when asked to play as a full back. I guess he’s a contrast to the popular Anthony Gerrard in so that he is not the “commanding and vocal presence” centre half who would leave everything out on the pitch. Who can blame him for joining Sheff Utd though, fair play to him it’s a good move.

Goalkeeper Joel Coleman has signed for Huddersfield. Are you disappointed to lose him for just £100k? And can loanee Connor Ripley replace him?

I would imagine there are some sizeable sell-on clauses attached to the deal. He was out of favour early in the season and the target for abuse from certain sections of the crowd, so at that point I’m sure many would have driven him to Huddersfield in a taxi themselves. £100k for Oldham is a fairly big fee and given alleged cash flow concerns, especially during close season I’m not surprised the offer was accepted. As for Connor Ripley, again he’s someone I know, and I’m sure majority of fans know nothing about. At least there’s a blank canvas for him as no-one has any pre-conceived expectations of him!

Right-back Cameron Dummigan and midfielder Matty Palmer, along with forwards Curtis Main and Aaron Amadi-Holloway had impressive loan spells last season. Are you annoyed that none of them had stayed on?

Its slightly annoying although with Sheridan having moved on, along with most of his squad then there’s little to connect them to Oldham anymore. When Holloway signed for Fleetwood whilst Sheridan was still with us I think there was a level of frustration as to why he’d gone to Fleetwood under our noses. One can only assume they offered him better terms and indeed that may have been the catalyst that lead John Sheridan to look at other managerial vacancies. Matty Palmer was always going to stick with Burton in the Championship, Cameron Dummigan I would imagine will be loaned to a Championship club and Curtis Main was again probably offered better terms by Portsmouth in League Two.

Josh Law joins from Motherwell while Jamie Reckord signs on a free. How do you assess your strength in the full-back areas?

Other than Conor Brown who seems out of favour with Oldham fans we had no contracted full-backs so clearly needed to strengthen. Again without having too much knowledge of Scottish League football they are two names of which the majority of Oldham fans will be unfamiliar. Again they come with no expectations as a result of the lack of knowledge most will have of these players!

Timothee Dieng seemed to have a good season last year but is another who have left the club. What are your thoughts on new holding midfielder Marc Klok?

Dieng finished the season strongly and is one the fans would have liked to keep. Again with the squad having decimated and the manager gone I guess he felt it pertinent to assess his options elsewhere. He’s secured a decent contract at Bradford it seems so, again, who can blame him and good luck to him. I’d be extremely surprised if anyone following Oldham knew anything about Klok! He’s certainly announced himself as someone who likes a selfie on Instagram/Twitter – let’s see if his playing is as good as his posing!

Midfielder Mike Jones was arguably your best player in the 14/15 season. Are you surprised the club released him?

It was a decision seemingly made by John Sheridan before he departed to Notts County. I think Mike Jones was unhappy at having been dropped by Sheridan and they perhaps didn’t see eye to eye. His body language when he came off the bench to score a winner in the relegation six pointer against Chesterfield suggested he’d rather be plying his trade anywhere else.

Ryan Flynn signs from Sheffield United. Your views?

The highest profile signing yet and the only one offered a two-year contract. Allegedly he turned down a contract with Walsall to sign for Oldham. He’s one of the few players signed that Oldham fans will know of and as such more would be expected from him. It’s a positive signing, no doubt and hopefully he can be a creative spark from the midfield.

Aside from Jonathan Forte’s five-month purple patch, you’ve never had a reliable goalscorer in the last three years. Are loanees Billy McKay and Lee Erwin capable of stepping up?

Other than Chris Porter and Lee Hughes I struggle to name any prolific Oldham strikers in the last decade! Both players strike me as having “potential” but on the whole they haven’t delivered on that potential in recent seasons. Reliable strikers are sought after commodities across all divisions so it was unlikely we were ever going to land anyone proven as they’d be beyond our budget! If either of them can score 10-15 goals then I would guess they could be labelled a success, 20 plus goals would give them folklore status (until they left us the following season!)

What are your thoughts ahead of the League One season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

Burton’s promotion and Walsall’s form last season mean that you don’t necessarily need the biggest budget in the division to succeed. People will look at Sheffield Utd once again as they always do and Millwall look pretty handy under Neil Harris. I’m expected one of Oxford or Bristol Rovers to continue their momentum from last season into League One and mount at least a play-off challenge

Where will you finish?

The bookmakers have us down as favourites for the drop and I can certainly see why. The managerial saga which led to the appointment of Stephen Robinson means he inherited a handful of contracted professionals and has had less than a month to cobble together a squad prior to the first game of the season. Allowing for some optimism I imagine we’ll settle into a rightful place of 16th-19th place come January/February and see out our 20th consecutive season in League One with a lower/mid table finish.

The Football Lab’s verdict

Oldham have lost almost their entire squad and been dreadfully slow to rebuild, not to mention appoint a new manager. Fourth tier football for the first time in 53 years looks likely. 24th

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