Thursday 31st January 2013
Paul Dickov was given a stay of execution by the Oldham Athletic board just a couple of days after their fantastic win against England’s most successful club in the shape of Liverpool. But he is far from safe. Seven defeats in the last eight league games (at the time of typing) have left Dickov’s side 19th in League One, only a point clear of the dreaded bottom four. For Oldham though this is not exactly alien territory. They have been in the third tier for 16 years now – currently the longest unbroken run in one division out of the three leagues below the Premiership – and apart from a couple of finishes in the play-off positions since their relegation from the old division one (now the Championship) their league record has been pretty abysmal. The Latics have been in their current position many times and more often than not ended up in mid-table or lower. The closest they have come to getting out the division during this period was just two seasons after falling through the first division trap door in 1997 when they narrowly avoided relegation from the third tier on the last day of the 1998-1999 season.
In their fourth round FA Cup tie with Liverpool, they ran the Reds ragged at times particularly in the first half and yes, it wasn’t all long balls hit into the box for six foot six striker, Matt Smith, to latch onto – no, they played quick pass-and-move football, and although often using their physicality to unsettle Brendan Rogers’ side (then again, who doesn’t?), the performance had the hallmarks of a team who know how to play and work well together. Apart from a few lax moments in defence it was a fine showing from Dickov’s team. The Scotsman has certainly got them playing good football – they’re just not doing it often enough. So it could be purely psychological aspects that are holding back his side from transporting their obvious ability into the league matches.
Dickov has to do something with his players much like Harry Redknapp has done at clubs throughout his career and is currently doing at Queens Park Rangers in transforming poor results into good results with the same group of players. The players at the stricken clubs where Redknapp worked his magic had the ability before he arrived, but something in their minds must have changed in the way they approached matches. His reputation as a great man-manager is well known, but whatever he does to change the same group of players from losers to winners in a short space of time is remarkable. It’s a secret formula that only those close to him know, but it can’t all be tactics. Would the same group of players at Manchester United show the same hunger to win, snatch and claw back games that they are losing or drawing in the final minutes if they were not playing under Alex Ferguson? Probably not, but it is something that he and/or others have instilled into their minds.
This desire to win week in week out was of a similar brand that Oldham displayed when they went full throttle at Liverpool, throwing their bodies in front of the ball as if their lives depended on it, which gave them the aura of a side that was not two divisions below the team from Merseyside. The problem is, those same players don’t show the same commitment regularly. That may sound insulting, but it has to be the truth when one considers their performance in that cup match and their current league position. They have to feel like that in every game they play if they want to get results and climb the table. As Dickov has pointed out himself they have lost many games by the odd goal (it’s a wonder they didn’t concede one against Liverpool in the dying minutes), so this and the whole aspect of match-day preparation in League One is something that he has to iron out. Before the game with Liverpool maybe Oldham’s players didn’t fully believe in themselves and their ability, which carried itself into the way they approached matches, but that cup tie should demonstrate to them that they are a good side, and that they can play in the style that saw them dominate the Premier League side at times. Imagine if they had the exact same thoughts in their head against League One opposition as they did against Liverpool. It’s an exciting thought for Oldham fans.
The club have had 14 managers (including caretaker ones) in the period that they have been stuck in League One. There’s some good managers with a proven track record amongst those that took charge including Neil Warnock and Ronnie Moore, but this unstableness has not proved dividends for the Latics, so why go through yet another transition when Dickov’s side have shown great promise? Compared to the glory years of the early 1990s the past 16 years have been treacherous for the club, but the level that they are at now is probably fitting for one of their stature when you look at their history, size and the resources that they have at their disposal. Even Neil Warnock, the most successful manager in English football history when it comes to promotions, couldn’t save them in 1997 or get them back up the following campaign. So it’s an extremely tough job. Dickov seems like a tough guy, but is he the right guy at this point in time?
What are your thoughts?
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