Football: Otto strikes in a flash

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Southend United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Otto 88

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

Attendance: 4,435

THIS IS the sort of thing Oldham Athletic must have been dreading when they fell apart in the closing stages of last season's Premiership and faced the reality of life in the First Division. A long trip to unglam

orous opposition, and no reward from a match they largely controlled in spite of playing most of it with 10 men.

At the very least they would have expected a goalless draw to show for their efforts, which included numerous squandered chances. But then, with only two minutes left, the threat from Southend, which you felt Oldham had never quite taken seriously enough, materialised in the form of a winning goal from Ricky Otto. It was their first victory of the season.

A scrappy, occasionally ill- tempered match in which neither side seemed to value possession very highly nonetheless produced plenty of goalmouth incident, most of it at the home team's end. But the goal apart, perhaps the most decisive moment came after 34 minutes when Paul Gerrard, the Oldham goalkeeper, came out of his area to challenge the on-rushing Otto, was adjudged to have brought him down, and was, as he had to be, sent off.

Until then, Oldham had been much the better side, showing more than enough nous and physical superiority to suggest that victory was just a matter of time. The Southend defence was repeatedly exposed by the aeriel strength of Sean McCarthy and Graeme Sharp, and it needed Chris Powell, the Southend left-back, to kick McCarthy's header off the line to stop his side going behind.

Oldham were little changed from the team that reached the FA Cup semi-finals five months ago, other than the introduction of Lee Richardson, a probing midfielder bought from Aberdeen. Their method was much the same, too - get it forward quickly and wait for the breaks. But McCarthy's shooting was wayward, and after the sending-off Southend began to believe in themselves more.

Making a promising debut for them was Jamie Forrester, a 19-year-old striker on loan from Leeds United. At 5ft 6in, he needs more precise service than the Southend midfield was generally able to provide, but in spite of that he showed some skilful and imaginative touches. The legacy, perhaps, of a spell with Auxerre in France.

The flashier contribution came from Otto, all twinkle- toes on the left wing, but not a player, you would have thought, to trouble the wise heads in the Oldham defence. But as long as Oldham kept failing to score - Holden came closest when he hit the bar from a corner - the possibility remained that Southend might steal it.

That is exactly what happened. Oldham complained bitterly that Otto was offside when he ran on to Andy Sussex's through-ball and tucked it under Jon Hallworth. But that is all part of the reality too.