As Oldham Athletic continue to fight between with its fans, ownership and players alike, they must face the test of a cup upset- away at Hampton & Richmond FC.
It's been a rocky season so far for the Latics, with a rivalry that has been going on for over a year now between supporters and owner Abdallah Lemsagam after the Moroccan owner refused to pay rent on the stadium, forcing one of the stands to be closed with no return in sight, and almost 90% of the 1134 Oldham fans who responded to an online survey voting that he is not the right man to take the club forward. Lemsagam has also been having problems with his players, after having problems with Anthony Gerrard when he first took over the class, he's having similar issues with David Wheater. The club issued a statement with several different reasons for why Wheater hadn't been involved with the first team squad, one of those even including how he was injured by picking up his dog.
Who's his dog? Clifford?
Opposing the Latics was National League South outfit Hampton & Richmond FC, who are currently being managed by Gary McCann. The Beevers sit in 14th position, after tallying 4 points in 4 games, and will be looking for back to back wins after defeating Oxford City last weekend.
This will be the second ever fixture between these two sides, with the two facing each other as recent as two years ago in the FA Cup first round. That game ended in a 2-1 victory for Oldham, after late goals from Rob Hunt in the 88th minute and Callum Lang in the 94th minute earned a pass for the Latics, despite an early goal by Chris Dickson from the spot.
Beevers boss McCann named a rather defensive line-up, shaped into a 4-1-4-1 formation. In between the sticks for Hampton & Richmond was 37 year old Alan Julian, who has previously contested in the EFL with the likes of Gillingham and Brentford, the two full-backs were Kyron Farrell and ex Latic Rene Steer, and the defence was concluded by a centre-back partnership of Dean Inman and journeyman Christian Smith. The midfield triangle consisted of Tyrell Miller-Rodney, Sam Deadfield and the talented Jake Gray, with Ruaridh Donaldson and Wilson Carvalho on either wing who would be supporting the isolated Niko Muir up top.
Oldham Athletic have been affected by injuries and coronavirus tests for this game, with star man Conor McAleny failing a late fitness test as well as Laurence Bilboe and Tom Hamer both self isolating. Nevertheless, Harry Kewell named the same formation to counter Hampton & Richmond, with loanee Ian Lawlor protecting his goal, a back four of ex-Manchester United full-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and youngster Dylan Fage, with the two-centre backs posing as Kyle Jameson and Harry Clarke. The midfield three was owned by a deeper role with Brice Ntambwe, with Ben Garrity and the highly rated Alfie McCalmont ahead of him. Supporting the midfield on either wing was Bobby Grant and Congolese international Dylan Bahamboula, who would be providing the assists for a lone Danny Rowe up top, who was in good form for Oldham.
Oh, and strange enough out of the 465 people who voted for who would be victorious on the Fotmob app, Hampton & Richmond were backed by 32% to Oldham's 28%- make what you want of that.
Following respects shown to those who gave their lives as part of Remembrance Sunday and the players took a knee for the black lives matter movement, Hampton & Richmond got the game underway.
3 minutes in and a clumsy foul by Borthwick-Jackson allowed Farrell to deliver the ball in from a wide position, but Lawlor was brave in punching the ball away before collecting the seconds.
A late foul by Donaldson on Borthwick-Jackson allowed Grant to have a free-kick on the wing, but his original cross was cleared back out to his feet, where he squared up Carvalho and fired a low cross into the box. The ball somehow escaped a clearance, as the ball tricked to the penalty spot where Garrity hungrily awaited before calmly side footing the ball past Julien to give the Latics the lead with their first stab at goal.
An attempt of a long throwing from Farrell on the right side into the box was half-heartedly cleared by Jameson, only to reach the feet of Miller-Rodney, who had far too much time on his hands on the edge of the box, but his effort was scuffed wide to the relief of Lawlor.
Some nice link up play between Borthwick-Jackson, Grant and McCalmont allowed Grant to have an opportunity on the left flank, but a coming together between him and Miller-Rodney allowed Rowe to have an opportunity on the wing to deliver a cross-shot free kick. His effort was ferocious, and upon a few deflections rattled the post thanks to a Julien parry, but his second effort was courageously blocked out for a corner.
As the ball was cleared, Clarke spread the ball out wide to Fage who drove forward and poked the ball through to Bahamboula on the wing, who'd looked lively, and he pulled out some gorgeous trickery to scoop the ball through Steer's legs but his strike was too high to worry Julien between the sticks.
However 28 minutes in and after Donaldson teased the gloves of Lawlor, the Beevers gained confidence and as Carvalho played the ball into Muir, the striker poked the ball through to Donaldson who was clearly fouled by Lawlor- and Hampton & Richmond had a penalty.
Sam Deadfield was the man brave enough to collect the ball and take the responsibility, but the midfielder was not intimidated by the occasion. Deadfield took the risk but fired the ball down the centre of the goal, as Hampton & Richmond found themselves level again half an hour in.
A short free-kick fell into the path of Carvalho, who appeared to be running nowhere but nevertheless Grant was foolish enough to bring the Portuguese down. Carvalho stepped up on the free-kick by the corner flag, but his cross was headed up and above the goal by Garrity.
Oldham's performance was summed up in the 34th minute, when a brilliant cross by Borthwick-Jackson fell to the feet of Rowe but the danger man got the ball stuck between his feet and fell over it, as Bahamboula attempted to remedy the chance he booted the ball straight out of play, to the dismay of Kewell.
Similar to Carvalho's chance again, Farrell this time crossed the ball in from a relevant position which was cleared into his path, causing the right-back to unleash a rocket of a strike from the edge of the box that was destined for the back of the net, only to be denied by the face of Jameson (who needed treatment after his block).
However the Latics drove forward once again with a sweeping counter-attack, as an emphatic piece of vision and technique lead to Rowe sending a looping ball over to Fage stormed down his right side and produced a teasing cross into an unmarked Grant in the centre of the six yard box, as the unmarked Wrexham loanee delivered the goods as he calmly fired Oldham back into the lead, despite the Beevers hard work.
An excellent performance so far from Grant, having grasped himself an assist for Garrity's early opener and now having clinched himself a goal too with some excellent movement to break free of the defenders and to spare Oldham's blushes in this FA Cup tie.
As Hampton & Richmond looked to get straight back into the game, Muir and Miler-Rodney linked up on the left side and set up Farrell on the edge of the box, who once again tried to test the Oldham back line as he fired a left-footed strike to Lawlor's near post, but the keeper parried his teasing strike away into the path of Gray, who had been quiet so far, but his effort was deflected away from danger.
As the pressure began to increase, the referee brought an end to the first half at the Beveree Stadium with Oldham leading Hampton & Richmond by two goals to one.
Heading into the second half, and Hampton & Richmond had an early opportunity to earn their second penalty of the game, as Farrell swept a silky through ball to play Muir in behind but the striker was supposedly dragged down by Clarke, but the referee turned down Muir's arguments and waved play on.
However it would be Oldham who would get the next goal, as Clarke did some impressive defensive work to carry the ball out and following pressure from Miller-Rodney, he poked the ball into the path of Bahamboula who forced his way down the wing and onto the byline before floating a ball into the box. His cross was headed clear into the path of Rowe, who used his experience and quality to fake shot past two on rushing Hampton & Richmond defenders before placing a world-class finish into the top corner, leaving Julien stranded in his goal.
The Beevers would not sit down however, as a ball between the Oldham midfield fell to the feet of Gray, and he cut the ball onto his left foot before striking, however his shot was narrowly wide.
It was Oldham's time to push for a fourth however, as Grant did some nice work down the wing and aimed for a second assist, as he cut inside and laid the ball back to McCalmont just outside of the box, but his curling effort was pushed away by Julien in goal to potentially keep Hampton & Richmond in the game.
And in the game they were, as Oldham found themselves on the back foot as a lobbed ball over the top fell to Donaldson's feet, but Lawlor made himself big to barricade his goal and deflect the ball into the feet of Muir. Lawlor rushed out once again, but Muir took him out and struggled with his heavy touch and the four Oldham players on the line, as Muir's eventual strike on his right foot was cleared from danger.
The Latics had to now withstand Hampton & Richmond's pressure, as successive attacks and corners followed, including a short pass into Farrell who unleashed yet another powerful strike, this one wayward of the target to Lawlor's (and I'm sure Jameson's!) luck.
Kewell's men continued to search for that final decisive goal and the three goal advantage, as Grant drove down the wing and found himself in space once again, but his low cross to the back post was too much for the outstretched leg of Fage.
However, as the clock neared the 75th minute the Beevers opened the game right up, as Deadfield played the ball into Muir's feet, who cheekily chipped it up and flicked it over his head into Donaldson on the wing, but with a swing of his left foot he powered the ball towards goal and into the feet of Deadfield, who got his second of the game with a composed finish into the roof of the net, leaving the match there for the taking.
Oldham had to be careful now, they didn't want to face the embarrassment of bottling a 3-1 lead over lower league opposition, and with this in mind Rowe did some nice footwork to win his side a corner. In came an inswinging corner towards the back post, and as Borthwick-Jackson's first header was cleared back to his feet by the Beevers defence, his second effort on the volley was rifled over the bar.
The complacent Latics continued to push, as Bahamboula and Grant linked up nicely alongside that right side but Grant's looping cross was cut out by Julien despite an oncoming Rowe.
McCann knew he had to throw everything he could at this game for one last push towards the FA Cup second round, which would be a record for the club.
But it was Oldham who attacked, after some excellent work from Bahamboula left him forcing his way into the box, but a push from Bassett wasn't enough for a penalty.
The Beevers tried to find their equaliser, as the home side came forward with Bassett who spread the ball onto the wing into the path of Gray, but his low strike was comfortably held by Lawlor who gratefully held the ball onto his chest.
Rowe teased the Hampton & Richmond defence, as he recieved the ball on the edge of the box and cut inside of his man, before striking towards the far post and leaving the post rattling.
However, late drama at the Beveree Stadium, as Bahamboula lost possession in the middle of the park and quick through ball fell to the feet of Gray, but as he headed towards goal he stumbled to the ground to the challenge of Jameson. Appeals rang around the stadium, but the referee opted to book Gray for a dive, which on relays proved a correct decision.
Into the ending minutes of the game, and Miller-Rodney sentenced his side to defeat, as he foolishly pushed Grant to the ground in an aggressive fashion, and so the referee gave the defensive midfielder his marching orders and Hampton & Richmond would end the game with ten men.
After withstanding tremendous pressure from an unlucky Hampton & Richmond side, it was a decisive Danny Rowe strike that gave Oldham Athletic a pass to the second round of the FA Cup, despite a Sam Deadfield double and a performance the Beevers can be proud of.
Despite Hampton & Richmond not being victorious after this game and they may feel depleted and disappointed they didn't make history, they should be very proud. A fantastic performance who at times matched Oldham, despite the fact they were two leagues above the Beevers, and should take this confidence and level into the league to really push on. The tactic from McCann for his side to be constantly pressuring and not allowing Oldham much time on the ball was the right decision, it may affect fitness but it meant that the away side couldn't play their football, as so often you see higher division teams come to games away at smaller teams and try to jus dominate possession, but the pressure forces Oldham to fire the ball long and giveaway possession or any potential chance.
Oldham performed very well and deserved their win, I was particularly impressed by Dylan Bahamboula who despite the fact he is six foot two, he looked very agile and had some quick feet which is what is expected of a small winger. His footwork at times was mesmerising, putting it through the legs of players and utilising as much space as possible, he seemed to bully the Hampton & Richmond defence at times. The Latics withstanded the pressure from their counter parts, with Harry Clarke being pivotal in the defence, using his head to win everything in the air, being very good with his feet and acting at times as a ball playing centre-back, such as when he carried the ball out of play that lead to Danny Rowe's eventual winner.