Football: Flo exposes Oldham's frailties

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Sheffield United 2

Oldham Athletic 0

FOR years, these two were the creaking gates of the Premiership. They finally fell off the hinges together at the end of last season, so this reunion was both a reminder of better days and a test of who might make the better job of picking up the pieces.

Relegated sides who manage to hold on to their better players expect to do well in a lower sphere, but although Dave Bassett and Joe Royle have retained their Premiership squads almost intact, neither has exactly set the First Division alight.

Alan Kelly, the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper, was the man most likely to be lured away from Bramall Lane, but he has now signed a new contract, and with Scott Marshall arriving on loan from Arsenal to join the admirable Brian Gayle in the middle of the back four, United's defence remains their best asset.

Their downfall was a failure to score goals, but the long-ball merchants have discovered that it can also be played to feet, and chances are flowing freely for Jostein Flo and his striking partner, Adrian Littlejohn, who has now added tenacity and better ball control to the raw pace of last season.

That most of them went begging would have been a matter for concern had they not been playing Oldham. Yes, it is still the same old Latics, too - as profligate as ever at the back.

They reminded us of it after only five minutes when Flo's cross from the left was helped on by John Gannon, and there was not a marker in sight as midfielder John Reed tapped in his first League goal for his hometown club. Minutes later, he hit the post in almost identical circumstances but even so it was three minutes into the second half before United got the cushion their constant pressure warranted. Oldham failed to clear Dane Whitehouse's cross, Reed knocked it back and Flo headed in from underneath the crossbar.

Oldham are still trying to play their way out of adversity, but a couple of typically inspired moments from Andy Ritchie were the best they could produce, and that their most incisive player will soon be 34 does not bode well.

Royle knows it. 'We can't buy anybody because we haven't any cash. We'll just have to soldier on,' he said afterwards.

Dave Bassett knows that feeling well but, with five straight wins behind them, he now feels moved to warn his players against complacency. For the Blades, that is luxury indeed.

Goals: Reed (5) 1-0; Flo (48) 2-0.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Gage, Gayle, Marshall, Scott; Reed (Ward, 75), Rogers, Gannon, Whitehouse; Littlejohn (Blake, 80), Flo. Substitute not used: Bibbo (gk).

Oldham Athletic (4-3-3): Hallworth; Halle, Redmond, Jobson, Makin; Brennan (Richardson, 77), Henry, Graham; Sharp (Holden, 60), McCarthy, Ritchie. Substitute not used: Gray (gk).

Referee: A Dawson (Jarrow).

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