Football: Linighan adds to gloom

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Oldham Athletic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Arsenal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

WITH two thirds of the season completed, Oldham's survival prospects are not looking good. Already lumbered with the poorest defence in the Premier League, they now cannot score either. This was the sixth game in the last seven in which they have not only lost but failed to find the net.

However, if they have the look of a side heading for the drop they are having the luck to match. By no means did they perform impressively but they were worth a point at least against unambitious visitors. But try as they might to cancel out the free header presented to Oldham old boy Andy Linighan early in the second half, nothing would go their way.

Much of their frustration was contained in the final 10 minutes, when Neil Adams drove a fierce shot against the inside of a post and both he and Andy Ritchie had goals disallowed when Keith Hackett spotted infringements in the box. Arsenal were relieved to hear the final whistle.

The finish lifted an otherwise uninspiring game, too much of which was compressed into the near grassless central third of the Boundary Park pitch. So little happened to stir the emotions in a drab opening half that the announcement of a new father amongst a 12,000 crowd was almost its most memorable moment. Ian Olney had a chance to offer some more widely shared joy but hooked his effort high from Adams' cross.

Without Ian Wright and Alan Smith, both injured, and with a record of only one League win since early November, Arsenal's mood was scarcely threatening during this time and Paul Gerrard, Oldham's 20-year-old goalkeeper, had only one noteworthy save to make, finger-tipping the ball wide after Paul Merson had won a tussle with Ian Marshall.

Through little fault of his own, Gerrard has yet to keep a clean sheet in 13 attempts behind Oldham's leaky defence and it must have been a galling, if familiar, experience when no one checked Linighan's run to meet Merson's free-kick. It was the centre-back's first goal in three seasons at Highbury.

In his usual bold manner, Joe Royle pushed Marshall into attack and left only three men on guard at the back, but gained no reward. 'It was a sad result but at least not a sad performance,' Royle said. 'When you're at the bottom it is amazing how things don't go your way.'

As for his opposite number, relief was dominant. 'Oldham took a chance late in the game by pushing four up front and it put us under a lot of pressure, but we didn't wilt,' George Graham said.

Oldham: P Gerrard; C Fleming, G Halle, N Henry, R Jobson, I Marshall, N Adams, I Olney (P Moulden, 45 min), A Ritchie, M Milligan, M Brennan. Subs not used: S Redmond, I Gray (gk). Manager: J Royle.

Arsenal: D Seaman; M Keown, S Morrow, D Hillier, A Linighan, T Adams, J Jensen, I Selley, K Campbell, P Merson, A Limpar (J Carter, 78 min). Subs not used: P Lydersen, J Will (gk). Manager: G Graham.

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield)

Goal: Linighan (0-1, 50 min).