Football: No boundary to ineptitude: Oldham's grim stalemate

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The Independent Online
Oldham Athletic. . . . .0

Manchester City. . . . .0

Spring was in the air. The sun shone, flowers bloomed and even Boundary Park, not in every guide book of the North's beautiful walks, was unveiling its discreet charms. Then some damn fool had to spoil it all.

Forgive Eric Cantona, excuse players who trade punches, exhonerate managers who berate officialdom, no man stands more guilty of bringing football into disrepute than referee Keith Hackett. To have blown the whistle that started this was a grisly crime.

This match - a designer collection of mistakes - had an interest only to those who appreciate the art of defence against inept offence. 'You were lucky,' Joe Royle, the Oldham manager, said. 'You could leave after 10 minutes. I had to stay for the whole thing.' He was wrong. After 10 minutes spectators' eyes had glazed over, limbs had gone rigid, movement had ceased. In short, everyone was bored so rigid that escape, though hugely desirable, had become impossible.

Escape was also paramount in the minds of the players, who were so gripped with tension at the prospect of relegation that every movement seemed restricted. Many had come to see how Peter Beagrie, a pounds 1m purchase from Everton, would take to City's wing but they left not much wiser as his colleagues found five-yard passes an improbability never mind sweeping moves to his flank.

To be fair, he, Paul Walsh and Andy Ritchie did occasionally get their heads above the ocean of errors around them but, like drowning men, they were dragged back. Beagrie had two shots at goal, Walsh a further two while Oldham had two long-range efforts from Mike Milligan, and Ritchie.

None threatened to score so the principal talking point was Tony Coton's bid to get over the wire and leave early. He manhandled a linesman in the 32nd minute and some referees would have sent him off but Mr Hackett made him suffer more by making him stay and watch. The caution was a trifling punishment by comparison.

'I thought the referee handled the incident excellently and I told him so at half-time,' Brian Horton, the City manager, said. 'Tony would not have reacted like that unless he was convinced the ball had not gone out for a corner. Decisions like that can cost you a game or even relegation.'

Horton then racked his brain for something else to comment on. 'It was a bad game, I'm not sure I can say anything else about it.' We knew exactly how he felt.

Oldham Atletic (4-4-2): Hallworth; Makin, Jobson, Redmond, Pointon; Ritchie, Milligan, Henry, Holden; Beckford, McCarthy. Substitutes not used: Palmer, Graham, Gerrard (gk).

Manchester City (4-4-2): Coton; Hill, Curle, Vonk, D Brightwell; I Brightwell, Rocastle, McMahon, Beagrie; Rosler (Sheron, 63), Walsh. Substitutes not used: Karl, Dibble (gk).

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).