Oldham v Scunthorpe Preview: changed approaches

Wellens has instilled confidence at Oldham – bbc.co.uk

At different stages in the last 12 months, something significant has changed about the way these two teams approach their games.

Last season, Oldham Athletic kept 18 clean sheets in 46, but served up the worst third-tier attack in 22 years, their games seeing a total of 74 goals for either side. So far this year, their 15 games have seen 57 goals and they are on course to have passed the 74 mark before December.

Having been playing to avoid defeat for much of John Sheridan’s reign, they now play with positivity under Richie Wellens. The footage of him controlling a stray aerial ball in his technical area with such nonchalance went viral, but in some ways it epitomized the confidence he has instilled at Boundary Park.

Dan Gardner has improved after a tough time at Chesterfield to add energy on the right while on the left, Nantes loanee Queensy Menig has some good footwork about him, as we saw with his late winner the other week.

The addition of Jack Byrne, a midfielder who came through the Manchester City academy, has injected creativity into the team’s play that wasn’t seen last term. All the play goes through Byrne and ends with Eoin Doyle, who has scored 10 goals in 10 appearances.

Doyle appears to be a streaky striker – he has had his dry spells in his career yet scored 21 goals in a five month period at Chesterfield. His partner, Craig Davies, struggled for form at Glanford Park but is adding physicality to Oldham’s attack, which is firing on all cylinders.

Scunthorpe played with similar intent up until around Christmas last year, but Graham Alexander and his coaching team then opted for a more conservative approach.

That change coincided with a dip in form and many fans were disgruntled by the team’s lack of ambition in the play-off semi-final with Millwall. This defensive approach has carried on into the current campaign, with the team playing in a manner that limits potential for chance creation, especially when games are tight.

Josh Morris had scored 14 league goals by this stage last season and only has four to his name now, while Paddy Madden is a more reliable goalscorer at this level than his two goals to suggest. While Doyle is getting the service to go on a purple patch, one must question whether Scunny’s big hitters are seeing enough of the ball in the final third to do damge.

The team has scored eight goals in the first 75 minutes of matches this season, fewer than any side bar Gillingham, Plymouth and Wimbledon, which highlights their lack of proactivity. Three of their 15 total league goals came when already ahead in the second half at 10-man Plymouth.

The one positive has been their strong defensive record. They have conceded just 11 goals despite the summer exit of centre-back David Mirfin, with Rory McArdle slotting in nicely alongside the ever-consistent Murray Wallace. That’s an area Oldham can work on: they’ve already conceded 32 goals, just 12 fewer than they let in over the entirety of last season.

Unlike last year though, the Latics are now capable of outscoring any team they face.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1