Warning: This is not for the faint hearted.
Latics went into 2015 full of a hope and expectation not felt for many a year. On the pitch the team were playing good football and had their sights set on a play-off place under the tutelage of Lee Johnson.
Off it, the long-awaited new stand was set to be completed signalling the start of a new era at the club. It’s fair to say it’s not all gone to plan and Oldham leave a torrid year behind them lying in 22nd place in League One and with a functional but uncompleted new stand. Here’s how it happened:
January saw Boundary Park at the heart of media attention for all the wrong reasons. A second rumour emerged that the club were looking to sign Ched Evans and this time it came with a vengeance. National news covered the saga and every man and his dog had an opinion, resulting in a petition signed by 75,000 people in protest. Eventually public pressure told and the club pulled the plug on the deal. Chairman Simon Corney threatened to resign over the ordeal and the club was left licking its wounds. On the pitch Latics picked up seven points in four games and ended the month in 10th place.
After the Evans saga, February looked set to be a better month for Latics. However things are never straightforward at this football club. After a pathetic 3-0 away defeat to bottom four club Leyton Orient, Lee Johnson jumped ship to lowly Barnsley leaving Latics in limbo. To his credit, Johnson left Oldham in ninth, just two points off the play-offs. Assistant manager Dean Holden took charge of the next and final game of the month, overseeing a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Preston. Clearly not the right man to take the team forward; the fans were excited to see an experienced hand come in and finish the play-off push.
As March wore on, it became apparent that Dean Holden would be given the manager’s gig until the end of the season. Three wins and four defeats saw Latics’ play-off aspirations fade away and with it all the promise which early-season performances had induced.
Two points from six games saw fans in their natural habitat; desperately calculating how many points needed for survival. The 2-0 away defeat to a desperately poor Crawley Town side summed up Dean Holden’s short reign as manager and as the final game of the season loomed, attention turned to the 2015/16 campaign. With a self-confessed brilliant list of applicants to choose from, Simon Corney was tasked with finding the right man to lead the club forward.
The final game of the season saw a 1-1 draw at home to Peterborough United and confirmed a 15th placed finish. A season which had promised so much had been curtailed by the crazy pursuit of Ched Evans, the loss of manager Lee Johnson and the subsequent appointment of Dean Holden. May also saw the long awaited appointment of a ‘permanent’ manager. With the new stand’s competition on the horizon and a squad which had obvious ability still largely under contract, the right appointment could have signalled an exciting year to come. In the end, Corney opted for Darren Kelly; a relatively unheard of former-player whose managerial experience began and ended at Sunderland’s youth system.
June and July:
A relatively quiet summer saw the squad stay largely intact for the first time in years with, what looked like, some canny additions. George Green seemed a hot prospect while David Dunn looked to offer genuine quality and experience. Pre-season optimism was abundant and there were no reasons to suggest that Latics couldn’t be challenging at the right end of the table. It was even announced the new stand would be ready in time for the start of the season and season tickets began to sell.
Defeat in the League Cup to Middlesbrough aside, Oldham finished August in a respectable position. One win and four draws signalled a steady start for Darren Kelly and while performances were dour, Latics looked tough to beat. Only five goals scored in six games highlighted Oldham’s weakness and a long-term injury to Jake Cassidy did little to allay any fears. Despite season tickets having been sold for the new stand, it remains incomplete and empty.
Defeat in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and two home defeats, including a 5-1 humiliation at the hands of Peterborough United, were enough for the board to decide that Kelly wasn’t up to the job. Since his arrival, rumours had been circulating that he was incapable and that the board knew it. Fans pleaded for an experienced head to steady the ship but such calls were left unanswered. Up stepped David Dunn to take the hot-seat and the month ended in three 1-1 draws.
With twelve games gone, Latics had failed to score more than once in a game so far. However October saw that run ended with an exhilarating 3-3 away draw at high-flying Gillingham. Early scepticism at Dunn’s appointment began to be questioned and Latics finally looked to be getting their season off and running. However any optimism was to be misguided and two draws and three defeats to finish the month left Dunn still searching for his first victory. The new stand finally opened to full seating capacity but its other amenities such as the club bar remained unfinished and unopened.
November saw the first round of the FA Cup and Latics travelled to League Two Mansfield Town. Oldham scraped a 0-0 draw and earned a replay in which they dispatched the Stags 2-0. The league told a familiar story however. While Dunn accrued his first victory as manager away Chesterfield, it was completed only by the aid of a Tommy Lee clanger. Three more league defeats rounded the month off, including at home to Lee Johnson’s Barnsley who had gone into the encounter on the back of eight straight league defeats. Latics slipped into the bottom four.
The FA Cup second round provided a nice distraction as the final month of the year approached. Latics went away to equally-out-of-form Sheffield United, however it was the Blades who won out. To add insult to injury, the victors drew Manchester United away in the third round draw. Focus returned to the league where a late Danny Philliskirk header rescued a point at Coventry. After the boxing day fixture at Blackpool was postponed, Latics played host to Doncaster Rovers in the final game of the year. Rather aptly, the visitors won and took all three points back to Yorkshire. Another day, another home defeat and Oldham finish the year in 22nd.
There it is folks. Perhaps a story more befitting of Halloween than the new year, it’s safe to say that Latics fans will not be looking back fondly on 2015.
Four managers have been in charge, equalling the number of home wins for the calendar year. Off field disputes combined with the dross and disappointment served up on it has left many fans at their lowest ebb; completely disaffected from their beloved club.
From play-off aspirations to relegation candidates; from the promise of a fully-functioning brand-spanking new stand to one hampered by delays and still not fully complete; from a manager who looks helpless, a chairman who seems disinterested to a group of players lacking leadership and direction.
Today the inevitable rumours began that captain Liam Kelly could be off. It’s dour and it’s depressing but it’s Oldham Athletic. It’s our club and however apathetic you may feel at this time, it will only make future success taste sweeter. 2016 can’t be any worse than 2015, can it?