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Happiness is a thing called Joe

So, the Rhinoball era is over, bookended by 3-0 defeats at Bromley. I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a little more zen than I did last Saturday.

It sounds like we were abjectly awful at Bromley, and given that Hudson saved a penalty and they had a goal ruled out for offside, the result could have been even worse. I’m told that the players looked like they’d thrown the towel in and had had enough, and people weren’t quite sure what formation we were supposed to be playing. It was, once again, a million miles from good enough.

Unsworth had the look of someone who knew he’d reached the end of the road in his post-match interview. It was, in fairness to him, refreshingly honest, and he apologised to the fans who’d travelled down south. He admitted there could be no excuses, that we conceded 3 poor goals, that we were second best, and accepted that the buck stopped with him – “everything’s my responsibility”.

Aside from how terrible the performances have been on the pitch, it became very clear on social media that Unsworth had lost the respect of the players. Our club captain was among the people commenting on Instagram on the fact that Alex Reid wasn’t in the squad. Reid was keen to let people know that he wasn’t injured, declaring himself ‘fit as fuck’.

The news of Unsworth’s departure appeared to be welcomed by several players. The list of Twitter accounts liking the tweet announcing the news made for interesting reading. Jordan Clarke posted on Instagram saying, “8 months too late let me tell ya”. To be honest, if I was Jordan Clarke, I’m not sure I’d be reminding people about my time at Latics, I’d consider staying quiet and pretending it never happened.

Speaking on Oldham Community Radio on Monday, Frank Rothwell was keen to stress that it was a board decision to part company with Unsworth and Ebbrell, and they hadn’t been influenced by fans – sorry, supporters – chanting. He spoke of how privileged he felt, as an owner, to be welcomed in the stands at away games. He was understandably critical of people shouting abuse at the game, but also acknowledged the investment that we make to support our team. He recalled confronting a supporter at Bromley who was shouting at the players, and how taken aback he was when the bloke told him that it had cost him £150 to travel down to watch the match. He appealed for the community to continue to support the club – “we need the whole of Oldham to help us along” – and gave a rallying call of “onwards and upwards, that’s where we’re going!” Imagine how much of a dickhead you’d have to be to think the Rothwells are no better than the previous regime.

There needed to be a reaction from the players, and there was. They looked relieved and more relaxed more than anything, and none more so than Joe Nuttall, who opened the scoring 7 minutes in. Willoughby did brilliantly to keep the ball in play and flick it back to Green. I thought it was a foul on Willoughby at the time, good advantage played, referee. Ahem. Green crossed it into the box to Nuttall and it was a lovely finish, almost passing it into the far corner. Wasn’t it lovely to see him so happy? He looked like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, and he was visibly absolutely delighted.

(Image © Oldham Athletic)

(If he’s that much happier, when he was playing regularly…. Imagine how overjoyed the players Unsworth didn’t like are.)

York are playing far better under new manager Neal Ardley and came into Tuesday’s game off the back of a 3-0 win at home to Southend. They looked a decent team and there was a spell at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half when they had a lot of possession and put us under pressure, and we defended really well. Hobson deservedly won MOTM.

The ‘free kick that never was’ incident was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen. It’s an incredibly weird situation, to be frantically searching the internet to try to find out what the fuck just happened on the pitch in front of you. The referee clearly signalled that it was our free kick, hence everyone – the players, the assistant referee – pushing up to York’s half. I thought he’d booked Kitching for dissent, but apparently it was for the ‘foul’. Did he signal it wrong? Did he change his mind? In any case, Kitching was still stood over the ball to take what was obviously our free kick, so why did he let York take it? The fucker probably thinks we should be grateful he didn’t give Kitching a second yellow for not moving 10 yards away. I thought he had a decent game other than that but fuck me what a colossal mess that decision was.

(Image © Phill Smith)

We’ve clearly got issues with fitness and stamina which won’t be resolved overnight, but thankfully Thompson appears to be much better at making substitutions when they need to be made, and bringing on Reid for Willoughby (who had an excellent game but was visibly tiring) proved to be the right decision (as did bringing on Hallam Hope, who we haven’t seen all season). Reid showed an absolute killer instinct in front of goal to double our lead, holding off the defender and burying the ball into the net on the half volley. Made it look easy. He’s fit as fuck, and he is back.

(Image © Oldham Athletic)

An excellent start for Steve Thompson, then. Sheron spoke after the game about the key messages the caretaker boss had given them in training – stick together, have a go, be positive – and it showed in how we played. We were further up the pitch, we were aggressive. Thompson also spoke about how important he felt it was for us to get up the pitch, take the game to the opposition and give support to the strikers. Music to my ears, Steve. Been saying it for weeks. Defend in the opposition’s half.

Thompson was keen to praise Nuttall, saying “Joe Nuttall, on his day, should be a league player”, and spoke about how pleased he was for him and how the goal should get his confidence up. He highlighted the need for a formation that suits the players we’ve got, and showed impressive diplomacy about his predecessor: “there’s still a lot to work on, and that’s not disrespecting the old manager”. Hmmmm. No comment. Well, no MORE comment on Unsworth. We move onwards and upwards.

(Image © Oldham Athletic)

It's a relief more than anything that the board have made the right decision. It’s horrible to celebrate someone losing their job, but the improvement on Tuesday showed it was the right move to make. I think it was well-handled – plenty of people were frustrated that Unsworth wasn’t sacked sooner, and a lot of people weren’t happy at Frank’s public backing of him at recent games, but in the long term, that sends out a good message about what kind of a club we are to work for. You’ll be given every chance to succeed, you’ll be given time and resources, and the chairman will vocally support you until your position becomes untenable.

I’m looking forward to seeing who our next permanent manager is, because it’s a perfect opportunity for someone to get a promotion on their CV. In the meantime, Steve Thompson is doing a great job of continuing the family tradition at Latics, and of steadying the ship. Hopefully it should be a good game today against Oxford ‘no not that one there’s another one apparently’ City. The city of dreaming spires visiting the town of hopeful owl pillars. See you in the Chaddy. KTMFF.

(Image © Phill Smith)

Written by Arlene Finnigan

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