Cheltenham 2 Oldham Athletic 1

Last updated : 11 January 2002 By Ross Coyne
There are some games where you walk away and hang your head in shame. The Latics first ever trip to Whaddon Road, and probably not their last ifCheltenham carry on their season in this fashion, saw fans head for theexits with that sinking feeling. Out of the FA Cup for another season, butit was more the manner in which the blues lost this tie, than the fact we were beaten by a better team on the day.

Alright, let's highlight the facts which others have been very quick to do.The visitors started without loanee Paul Rachubka, cup-tied David Reeves and suspended Dean Holden and Chris Armstrong, all of whom featured in the Latics unbeaten festive period. But to be brutally honest in grace, their replacements could not be wholly to blame for this shocking defeat.

The main surprise and in hindsight, grave error, was the omission of Julian Baudet from the team. The French loan star has hardly put a foot wrong since arriving and had looked as if he'd forced Balmer out of the side. However after this match, his opposite name-sake of 6' 5" in Julian Alsop showed what a mistake it was as he held Balmer in his pocket all afternoon. As soon as Baudet entered play late on, Alsop found his advantage taken away but along with partner Tony Naylor, the damage had already done.

So where was this match lost then, you might ask? Okay, McNiven played a poor game for a man whose future at Boundary Park has never been more uncertain, whilst John Eyre and Allan Smart looked lost, but this all stemmed from one area in which the Latics never, ever competed - the midfield. Eyre and Smart looked cut off, whilst Paul Murray, who blossomed in an out-of-position left back role, could clearly have been better employed in the middle of the park had the squad been able to cover for Armstrong.

Therefore, to seek explanation of this performance attentions must turn to Lee Duxbury, Darren Sheridan and John Sheridan. The trio clearly unachieved but it was Lee Duxbury who must have wondered what had to deal with as his midfield counter-parts put on a display so shocking, it makes you wonder what future the duo has at a more youthful Oldham Athletic now.

Darren Sheridan may have been harshly sent-off, however his enthusiasm lacked any real zest as he consistently found his initial tackles cleanly swept up and turned into Cheltenham attacks. His only brilliance of the game, something which is becoming a rarity for the man who was player of the season up until his Blackburn red card, saw a delicate chip to put in Eyre to create the equaliser. More on that later.

However, to highlight where or more to the point who lost this game for the Latics, I can cruelly single out one man. John Sheridan may have been a World Cup hero once and may have been a saviour for the Latics during the last few seasons, but this mans performances are deteriorating at a fast rate. Worryingly too, he knows it, as the Irishman increasingly bellows out at his teammates in an attempt to cover up his own inadequacies. Personally, I must have counted maybe 7 or 8 times in the 2nd half, where this aged passmaster gave such a diabolical ball that Cheltenham lapped it up and turned it into an attack. To say the Latics constantly invited pressure onto ourselves throughout the game would be unfair - John Sheridan constantly invited the pressure. Okay, the Latics often look for and depend on the 37year old to spin the ball around, but it was he who did so, but to a redshirt! The midfield looked overrun at best and comical at worst. I amused one man in front of me as I continually goaded the ex-Sheffield Wednesday man to pass to the opposition and he did so every time; right on cue!

Although Shez Snr., in my eyes, gave an incredibly poor game he did play his part for the opening 15 minutes though. As the match opened lively and fullyof energy, both sides looked for the early opening. Passing was aplenty and moves were being created, but neither side managed to show any punch up front in the early stages. However, it did look to have the makings of an entertaining end-to-end cup tie initially. For the Latics though, this died off after the opening quarter of an hour - soon after the games first real attempt at goal.

This came from a rare moment of decent play from Sheridan Snr. as he found David Eyres in space just outside the Cheltenham area. Eyres advanced and hit a rasping effort for goal, but keeper Steve Book was equal to the effort catching the strong effort whilst under pressure.

This though was where Cheltenham began to get hold of the game. The midfield became as leaky as a wet paper bag and the Robins became used to soaking up the odd bit of Latics pressure, waiting for the ball to be given away and then using it to good effect to threaten the visitors.

On 16, a clever midfield ball through to Naylor allowed the ex-Port Vale man to completely fool Berehall. Having beaten him Naylor placed a plum cross into the danger zone for partner Alsop to nod home. Had a Latics forward been going for the header, he would have missed by inches, but the towering Alsop connected well whilst unchallenged but fortunately John Sheridan had made it to the goalline and managed to nod to safety.

The pressure continued to rain down on the Latics goal and on 20, the blues survived strong penalty appeals as a corner ball seemed to hit the arm of Allan Smart. However, the breakthrough for Cheltenham finally came moments later and it was that man again - Tony Naylor who did the damage.

Naylor often enjoys scoring against the Latics and he won't net many better than this. Collecting the ball from a neat midfield pass, the Robins forward coolly lifted the ball past Balmer and opened up a sight at goal. Before Kelly could react, the ball was hit low and hard into the bottom corner from 10 yards to give the underdogs the lead. 0-1.

It was no more than the hosts had deserved as the Latics horror show continued with several poor corners and free-kicks from that man, Sheridan Snr., again. However, on 36 a free-kick for a foul on Eyres could have seen the Latics awarded a penalty when the former Eire-international's effort was blocked with an arm. The referee waved away the appeals.

As the Latics slowly began to forage forward, Murray escaped from his leftback berth to take on a number of defenders. Cutting back from the by-line the Latics man threaded in a neat, dangerous ball, however it became evident that the former Southampton man had mistaken the Latics forwards for Premiership forwards he used to play with. Book easily claimed the ball free from any pressure. Cheltenham replied via a stinging effort from Milton from the edge of the box. Kelly, returning from injury, did well to react to the ball through a crowd and get down low.

With 2 minutes remaining of the half, the Latics then played their best hand with a neat, incisive move. It deserved a goal, even if the Latics themselves didn't deserve to be on level terms. It began with McNiven who fed Darren Sheridan on the edge of the centre-circle. He spotted John Eyre's well timed run and with a neat, decisive chip Sheridan Jnr. played Eyre in behind the defence. With the defence chasing, the former Tiger headed along the edge of Cheltenham's box. Looking as though he might hold up the ball, Eyre played a superb early ball into the 6 yard box for David Eyres to steam in and poke home, off a surprised keeper. 1-1.

The Latics ended the half relieved and it looked as though that might kick-start them, however it wasn't the case as the hosts came out more alive and vibrant. Although neither side created much in the 2nd half, Cheltenham did continue to run the game as possession was often handed to them. And with their possession came numerous glimpses of goal and half chances but in truth, the main real note of the 2nd half proved to be the winner.

On the hour mark, Lee Williams found himself with space to cross in from the right. Balmer and Kelly both hesitated as Naylor stole in at the back post to nod in off the former Wigan defender. 1-2.

With this, the Latics then took hold of possession but created little. Referee Mr. Brandwood began to make a constant mark on the game and bizarrely booked Darren Sheridan after awarding a free-kick for a foul on him. And that proved costly, as after Book saved a sharp drilled effort on 78 from Eyres at the edge of the box, Darren Sheridan dived in for a 50-50 challenge to which the referee couldn't find his card quick enough. Off Sheridan Jnr. went to the disgust of everyone related to the Latics and from then on it appeared as though the referee was aiding Cheltenham, to create another FA Cup shock.

As the Latics huffed and puffed on, they nearly found themselves caught at the back on several occasion, had it not been for the excellent performance of substitute Baudet. And in the dying seconds, Eyres showed frustration as he uncharacteristically snapped at a Tipton lay off and volleyed wildly over, on the turn. It summed up the Latics day - they never really gotstarted.

After such a decent start to the season, the Latics had seen it dip and slowly begin to rise. Along with that came expectation again and after a superb 2nd round win at Hull and 3 festive wins, this game surely should have heralded better than this. It didn't and I for one am gutted - at least when Peterborough knocked us out last season we gave it our all. At Whaddon Road, the Latics humiliated themselves. Only Murray, Eyres, Berehall, Kelly and substitute Baudet can say they gave their best - the rest may as well have stayed on the coach. Roll on the LDV game. This time lads, let's get it right!