Oldham Athletic 2 Blackpool 5

Last updated : 11 January 2002 By Ross Coyne
The Oldham Evening Chronicle recently had an article in its paper which highlighted the events of 2001. Indeed, with SAFE's help, the club's fortunes took a major turn - one which will probably be recited for many years to come. However, this piece failed on two parts - firstly because it failed to mention SAFE Day 2 at all and secondly, because the article ended with the following... "After a year of dizzying activity, stand by for a repeat." On the evidence of 2002 so far, this year could be heading downhill as fast as our fortunes headed uphill, last year.

Unlike on Sunday though, this script never indicated such a twist would occur midway through it. The Latics looked as though "Nightmare on Whaddon Road" had been banished from the system and as they were raring to go in this LDV Northern Semi-Final. Early dominance, fluent football and intelligent link-up play allowed the Latics to create an early lead and then proceeded to create numerous other chances before Blackpool moved out of first gear. Whether it be the dropping (sorry, resting!) of John Sheridan or the inclusion of suspended Chris Armstrong and in-form defender Baudet that allowed the first 25 minutes to be an easy ride, your guess is as good as mine. However, it was the latter of the two that changed the game forever and sent the Latics on mission impossible.

First things first though. A blistering start to the game saw Smart burst through in the 3rd minute, leaving himself with the goal at his mercy. 'Pool keeper Phil Barnes denied Smart with a superb fingertip save, pushing the ball onto the post, however Smart intelligently gathered the rebound and unselfishly picked out unmarked Duxbury to nod home. 1-0.

With the Latics looking reasonably comfortable and playing well on the break, Blackpool looked to use their new-found possession and frighten the hosts. In the 15th minute they did, as the defence found itself in disarray for a split-second when stepping up to play Walker offside. Fenton ran through onto a neat pass, but fortunately for Kelly he snapped at his effort and sent a tame effort at goal. And then came that twist.

With 25 minutes on the clock and the Latics looking slightly unruffled, Julian Baudet's pass to Darren Sheridan put the little number 3 under immense pressure from Walker. As the two tussled, Walker stole the ball and looked to set off for goal but under Sheridan's attention fell to the ground. Despite the referee taking a great deal of time to action the punishment, true Latics fans knew what was coming (despite some muppets disagreeing). A straight red for a professional foul - cue mission impossible.

That left the Latics' 4-4-2 formation left with a 3 man midfield and although the blues did manage to create under this formation, it made the defence much more susceptible to Blackpool attacks. And let's not forget, in Richard Walker (Aston Villa) and Graham Fenton, the visitors held two former Premiership players. No easy opponents to deal with.

Immediately from the sending off, Blackpool took on the ascendancy. Looking to immediately restore the scoreline, they did so within a minute as Fenton waltzed in past a shocked and static defence and squared for Walker to tap home. 1-1.

It wasn't too long before things went from bad to worse. Eight minutes later, Blackpool's passing opened up gaps all over the Latics defence and with Holden nowhere to be seen, Hills picked out Walker with a beauty of across. Totally unmarked the forward beat exposed Kelly with a bullet header to the top corner. 1-2.

Minutes after that, Hills almost stabbed home a 3rd but saw his effort runwide of the far post and then finally, the Latics managed to compose themselves and produce a good 5 minutes to end the half. On 41, Duxbury's mis-hit shot on the edge of the box sprayed loose to Eyres. He thrashed a decent effort for far corner, but saw it zip just wide. And then seconds later, Smart found space on the right wing to cross in for Tipton. It was a deceptive cross which a Blackpool defender went for but had no chance of meeting and Tipton cleverly pulled back for a free header. Barnes was equal to this though and produced a good stop.

The Latics began to look a bit more composed as the half closed, but Bullock did almost put the game beyond doubt as he got free on the left and saw Kelly just manage to save his deflected effort. And from almost being out of the game completely as the first half closed, the Latics put themselves well in the frame within seconds of the re-start.

With less than 60 seconds of the 2nd half gone, the changes of Dudley for Tipton and Eyre for Berehall made a 3-4-2 which had an immediate effect. The Latics broke with substitute Dudley bursting down the right and feeding Smart. With space aplenty, Smart had just Barnes in his way but he was too far out for a serious effort at goal. Nevertheless, the former Watford man tried his luck with a hopeful shot but he mis-hit and sent a perfect ball across the area for Eyres at the back post. The Latics hero netted his 3rd goal in as many games without breaking his stride, as he lashed it past Barnes into the far top corner. 2-2.

This meant game on. The pace and play flowed from end to end now and the 10 men of Oldham were giving as good as they got. John Hill made a stop-start run across the Latics penalty area as he looked for a gap to shoot and then put his effort over the bar. Holden responded at the other end as hit sent one over too, but this had the makings of a cracking tie now. On 56, Dudley burst away from midfield, ran 20 yards with defenders all around him and then was bundled over on the edge of the box. It was a threatening run and with Darren Sheridan sent off for something not too dissimilar, it was disappointing that the referee didn't even speak to the Blackpool player, let alone book him. Baudet stepped up to send a poor free-kick into the wall. In essence, that summed up his night.

From that spark of controversy, the Latics then strangely seemed to take their foot off the throttle. It became as though they were looking to holdout - maybe to catch a 2nd wind or something. But after 10 minutes of this, they were finally made to pay as Blackpool upped the ante and went for broke.

Hill, who had been a magician for 'Pool all night, broke free down the left and supplied substitute John Murphy with a superb cross. Unmarked and with the goal at his mercy, Murphy never looked like missing. 2-3.

The Latics responded again by piling forward, but you sensed it was too late now. On 68, Paul Murray stole some time on the edge of the box to test Barnes and his initial effort would have been tougher to save, had it not taken a deflection into Barnes hands. That summed up the way things were going for the hosts, who now look ragged and stretched. Attacking seemed their only saviour as defensively they looked tired, weak and bare. And in truth they were, it isn't easy playing the last 65 minutes of a game with a man less.

On 75, Blackpool should have netted their 4th. Fenton and Walker broke 2 on1 with just Armstrong in the way. Looking for his hat-trick, Walker ran onto his partners slide-rule pass and looked to have buried the ball into the far corner. He hadn't and it rebounded off the post to Fenton, who saw his follow-up cleared off the line by Armstrong. The reprieve didn't last long though as 5 minutes later, Martin Bullock stuck the final nail in. He was allowed to run through the box and hit a low effort. Yet again, luck played a part for 'Pool as a deflection left Kelly stranded, beaten and embarrassed. 2-4.

And that was that. The Latics had given their all with the exception of maybe Baudet, who was unusually poor. Losing Berehall at half-time to a foot injury didn't help either. However, with 10 men, no game will ever be easy and this proved to be mission impossible for the Latics. With 3 minutes remaining, I took the unprecedented step of exiting early (I hate fans who do that week in, week out!) I had commitments elsewhere to a pool team, however by the time I'd exited the ground, Richard Walker finished his demolition job by completing his hat-trick. And to complete my dour evening, even my pool commitments became short-lived as a text message told me "we don't need you now, we've lost 6-1."

But it's always better to look on the bright side; at least I got a nice Latics Christmas special poster as part of the unique programme on sale -even that cost £1.50! Seems it's been a case of daylight robbery all around.