Saturday, March 17, 2007

Leyton Orient 2-2 Oldham Athletic

Well, I'm yet to see Latics lose this season, and while they came close to losing this match at Leyton Orient, falling two goals behind with twenty minutes to play, I am still slightly puzzled at how on earth Oldham didn't win this one at a canter.

Undoubtedly Latics were helped by Gary Alexander getting himself stupidly (and deservedly) sent off - first for dissent in the first half, and then a very late challenge on Haining. I've never understood football supporter logic - Haining was pole-axed by a terrible challenge, and Alexander deservedly sent off. Yet Haining still gets boo-ed by the Orient fans! What was his crime? Happening to be in the way of a horrific challenge from a clearly overheated player?

Goals were certainly to be expected in this match, and you could see why Orient have scored so many and conceded an awful lot too - they created chances going forward, but were wide open at the back.

Before the game was many minutes old, the pattern had been set, with Orient trying to attack, and doing so dangerously, but looking dodgy at the back. Then came a rather freakish goal by Orient, when a loose ball was chased down. Alexander, on the by-line, hit the ball hard across goal, and it must have caught in the wind, and perhaps he hit it with the outside of his boot, but one way or another, the ball hit the far post (I'm not convinced Alexander could see the far post!) and went in the net! Latics responded well, and Warne when given a clear chance forced a good save by the Orient keeper. Gregan headed over, and later in the half Warne hit a powerful shot which beat the keeper but rebounded off the bar.

The first half ended with Latics still a goal behind, and despite their chances, not playing particularly well. Orient had had very promising moments of their own, and could certainly have gone in at the break more than one goal to the good.

The second half began with a moment that changed the match; as already mentioned, Gary Alexander got himself sent off for a late and high challenge on Haining. There can be little doubt about the decision. This then set-up Latics to dominate proceedings. Rocastle hit the bar with a shot when in the clear, and easily the most controversial moment of the match followed soon after. More good football by the Latics, and a dangerous cross was headed towards goal. From my vantage point it had clearly crossed the line, and the Latics players also appeared to think so. Nevertheless, an Orient player had cleared it "off the line", and none of the officials saw anything. Another scramble a few moments later somehow saw the ball go over the bar when it should have gone in.

After all this pressure there then came another moment of madness at the back, as a long ball held up on the wind, and Latics keeper Pogliacomi misjudged it, leaving the Orient man Hooper with the task of lobbing the ball into the net, which he did well. At 2-0, the game looked up. However, Latics had fought back from two down earlier in the season against the same opposition, and immediately resumed their onslaught on the Orient goal. Not long afterwards, a far post cross looked like it had eluded everyone, but Taylor ran in from seemingly nowhere to nod the ball into the far corner of the goal, giving Latics hope at 2-1.

Having not scored in 51 Oldham matches, Taylor now has four goals in three games, and the goal rejuvinated the Latics. Clarke joined the club started by Paul Warne and Craig Rocastle by hitting the crossbar with a far post header, before on 81 minutes Warne hassled an Orient defender and won the ball off him, and in the ensuing scramble Richie Wellens won the ball only to be fouled by Brian Saah. Thankfully the referee pointed to the spot, and Liddell duly obliged with a cool penalty into the right hand corner of the net, just out of the reach of the keeper's outstretched arm.

Having fought back from two down, one would have expected Latics to have pushed for the winner, but in the match between these sides earlier in the season, Latics fell behind again after pulling back to 2-2. This didn't happen today, and Latics really ought to have gone on to win. No more woodwork hitting, but at least three important saves by the Orient keeper, the final one rebounding to Leon Clarke who thought finally he'd got the goal his performance deserved when he slotted home, only to see the linesman's flag contribute yet more to a frustrating afternoon for him and the Latics.

All in all, it was one of those matches, where somehow Oldham didn't win. Orient played their part, looking dangerous going forward, and battling fiercely throughout. Given the number of goals the their matches tend to attract, it'd be great to have them in the division again next season. Nevertheless, hitting the woodwork three times, having a goal ruled out, and another not seen by the officials (!), there can be little doubt Latics should have won. All the more frustrating were the 85th minute goals for both Bristol City and Nottingham Forest in other matches today. Latics are now a distant 8 points from 2nd spot, a position increasingly looking out of their grasp.

I always fancied the play-offs anyway...


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