Hoof ball or pure football?

Last updated : 03 September 2006 By Michael Chadderton
The transfer window came and went at Boundary Park last Thursday, and despite speculation linking the clubs with two Argentinian 'superstars' (apparently they signed for some tin-pot East London club instead) Latics are still painfully short of attacking options up front.

Prior to yesterday's two goal burst from Andy Liddell (pictured) in the defeat to Bournemouth, a solitrary Maheta Molango strike in the victory of Swansea had previously been Athletic's grand total of goals in the current League 1 camapaign.

When analysing manager John Sheridan's first month in charge at Boundary Park, it is obvious to see where the deficiencies lie within the team. Some witty fan may point to the need of a spiritualist to remove the apparent gyspy curse that seems to engulf our goalkeepers, but our real problems lie within the front line.

Three goals in the opening six matches is a poor return in anybody's books, let alone from a team that also has an un-canny knack of conceding soft goals that, although may not be in frequent occurance, are still costing Latics valuable points. Points that we can ill-afford to throw away.

One very positive aspect of the Sheridan regime has been the introduction of a far more attractive style of football, with the former midield maestro having brought to the table his own methods and tactics from those employed by ex-Latics boss Ronnie Moore. Under Sheridan attacks are now built from the back, and with an enforced midfield this term the team looks to have more purpose and bite to it, things which were lacking under Moore.

There is also evidence to argue the case that there hasn't been one opponent thus far that has outplayed Athletic. Though only four points have been taken out of a possible eighteen Latics have yet to lose by more than one goal (excluding the League Cup defeat at Rotherham). This would suggest that each fixture has been a tight, close-fought affair, but one that more often than not ends in defeat.

Perhaps Latics can be best compared to another League 1 team from last season. Yeovil were widely renowned for their passing abilities last term and were praised throughout the league for being a side that played 'pure football'. The only trouble is that for most of the campaign Yeovil were bogged down towards the relegation zone, surviving by just 6 points. This must beg the question as to whether or not such a style of football can be successful in this league or whether the 'hoof ball' merchants such as Brentford stand a better chance of getting out of a division not many teams particularly want to be in.

Another cause for concern has been the shocking attendances Latics have incurred. In the three home fixtures this season, the club has failed to attract 5000 home supporters, coming nowhere near to that mark so far. Whilst the same excuses may be handed around that matchday prices are too high and that people won't pay to watch a side that are struggling at the bottom of the table these arguments hold little weight, especially due to the mass approval that greeted Sheridan's appointment as manager. If a supposed 'Latics Legend' cannot gain some measure of support from his own fans for his opening few weeks in charge, then what can be expected when we are told of cost cuttings and players having to be off loaded in order to balace the books?

To offer a prediction of where we are going to finish this season would be churlish, especially as I doubt we have seen Sheridan's first choice eleven play for a succession of games. What can be said at this stage however is that unless Latics remedy their goalscoring problems soon, a long hard winter will be facing fans. One that may yet see us become engrossed in a relegation battle. And as previous experience tells us, such a fight is difficult to break away from.