THERE may have been only 3 points separating OLDHAM ATHLETIC and BURY at Boundary Park on Tuesday night. The local rivals were either side of the safety mark in the only League One game in midweek. But the mood amongst each set of fans could scarcely be any more different.
Richie Wellens restored Latics’ belief after becoming caretaker boss and has given his players licence to attack. They went 5 unbeaten to climb out of the bottom 4 and earn Wellens the job on a permanent basis. They then scored 4 at MK Dons last Saturday, only for the hosts to score twice late on to salvage a 4-4 draw.
Bury, meanwhile, were going down to a 1-0 defeat at Southend, stretching their winless run of away games in the league to 12. The Shakers had actually played well at Blackpool the previous Tuesday but a 2-1 defeat saw them slip back into the relegation zone.
Many of the 752 Bury fans that made the short trip to Oldham were therefore already calling for manager Lee Clark to be sacked. Latics fans are flooding back, though, with Tuesday night’s derby attracting a total of 5,183, and the hosts team started on a high.
Strike pair Eoin Doyle and Craig Davies linked well in attack while Wigan loanee Jack Byrne was lively on the wing and ex-Droylsden midfielder Dan Gardner looked a far better player than the one that had previously been on loan at Bury (in 2015/16). The same could be said of Oldham centre-half Kean Bryan as the Manchester City loanee never got a chance to demonstrate his potential during an injury-hit loan spell at Gigg Lane last term. The 20-year-old went on to be named the Latics’ star man.
Bury fans have endured some dismal derby games in recent years. This season alone they’ve lost 4-1 at Wigan, drawn 0-0 at Rochdale and were then thumped 4-0 by Dale in the Checkatrade Trophy. But this game soon looked like it would buck the trend as the Shakers gradually began to give as good as they got.
The fit-again Jay O’Shea, making his first start since the opening day, was linking well behind the front two, while recalled centre-midfielder Rohan Ince was trying to spread the play. But some neat passes between Gardner and Davies cut open the Bury defence for Doyle to open the scoring on 24 minutes. It was the finish of a man who already has 10 goals this season.
Leo Fasan made a decent save from Davies shortly after before Bury finished the half strongly, and from a quickly-taken free-kick they equalised just 2 minutes after the break. O’Shea got to the byline and crossed for Tom Aldred to head in his first Bury goal. His celebration suggested the Shakers are still playing for their boss, with the centre-half punching the air and letting out a scream of joy.
The Shakers have actually been playing better than recent results suggest. Clark varied his formations and tactics early in the season but has settled upon a 3-4-1-2 formation. It doesn’t matter whether it came about by accident or design, they look a more accomplished outfit. But Clark himself admits they have to start turning performances into results.
They pressed for the goal which would put them in front. Mihai Dobre’s build-up play with Greg Leigh was superb. His skewed finish not so much. Dobre had just replaced Chris Humphrey while Ince made way for Josh Laurent with 11 minutes left. Fans have been questioning Clark’s substitutions and some argued those changes allowed Oldham to regain the initiative.
Byrne and Doyle forced saves from Fasan. Byrne then fizzed a long-range effort just over before Davies fired into the side-netting, and the ex-Bolton striker went close twice more. The crowd had already got their money’s worth but now we were set for a frantic spell of stoppage time, of which 3 minutes were indicated. It looked as though Oldham sub Paul Green had spurned the chance to win it when he headed wide from Gardner’s cross.
Yet Bury’s top scorer Jermaine Beckford, who had been quiet, turned sharply on the edge of Latics’ box and fired in a shot which Johny Placide gathered at the second attempt. Bury fans thought they were about to celebrate their 1st away win in the league since February, but the Shakers failed to deal with Placide’s punt upfield. Aaron Amadi-Holloway, who only came on in the 87th minute, raced clear, and with the clock about to tick into a 4th added minute, he volleyed goalwards to give Fasan no chance and send the home fans into raptures.
One moment Bury are set to clinch a much-needed away win and climb above Oldham on goal difference. The next Latics go 6 points clear of the drop zone, leapfrogging Rochdale to 17th.
It was rough luck for Bury but you can’t keep pointing to poor fortune when you’re in the relegation zone – and have brought in the calibre of players Clark did during the summer. Most previous Bury managers were hampered by poor training facilities, insufficient support staff and ‘cheap’ players. None are those are problems Clark has had to contend with.
I created a Twitter poll this week asking about the manager’s position. At 8pm Friday there were 221 votes, with 66% saying Bury should let Clark go now. When he finally emerged for his post-match interview on Tuesday he was utterly deflated, saying it was a “tough one to take”. Although he wouldn’t criticise his players for going for the win, he admitted they only have themselves to blame for the way they defended for the winner.
The Shakers are now at home to Doncaster this Saturday and Rovers are just 3 points above them in 19th. From the poll, 20% feel Bury have to beat Donny for Clark to keep his job; 14% believe the club should reassess his position after next Sunday’s FA Cup game at non-league Woking.
Amadi-Holloway’s last-gasp winner, however, saw Wellens become the first Oldham boss to win his 1st 3 home league games since Andy Wilson in 1927. Latics have also averaged 2.1 goals per game under Wellens, compared to 1 per game in John Sheridan’s most recent spell and 0.5 under Steve Robinson last term.
Not a bad start to your managerial career. And Oldham are at home again on Saturday against 8th-placed Scunthorpe, when a 6th win in 8 games for Wellens could send them into the top half. No wonder Latics fans are buzzing.
Just 11 miles and 6 points separate Oldham and Bury but right now it feels as though they are worlds apart.