Football: Royle on the rack

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Oldham Athletic 0

Sheffield Wednesday 0

THE urgency is there for Oldham but the know-how is sorely lacking; they found it with three run-in victories last year, but it is well overdue this time round. Three matches, again, stand between Oldham and relegation, but if they cannot raise their level of expertise, then it is all the way to the Endsleigh.

And they thought it was all the way to Wembley. Their recent semi-final knockout by Manchester United has been the acknowledged cause of Oldham's terrible form - three successive defeats followed it - which made yesterday's single point seem something of a triumph. Joe Royle was certainly not displeased: 'A point's not bad,' he said. 'That semi-final knocked us sideways - at least today we started to do something about it.'

But with the crucial run-in against Sheffield United, Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich pending, Royle had no option but to put a positive light on the dire 90 minutes that had just been played out before him. Privately, he has every reason to be disappointed, and in particular with the performance of Sean McCarthy, the striker he purchased from Bradford earlier this season.

McCarthy missed a sitter from six yards out after only four minutes and, thereafter, for all his effort and enthusiasm, he lost both composure and sense of awareness. To his credit, he hit the Wednesday crossbar in the second half, but he then failed to make anything of two fine through balls, and he wrapped up his afternoon with a cross straight to Kevin Pressman, the Sheffield Wednesday keeper, that had him shaking his head in frustration. The willingness was there but not the ability.

And what of Wednesday? They came to this match on terrific form, having slotted in five against Ipswich last week, but the Boundary Park wasteland yesterday made them unrecognisable.

'I think any club in the country would have had problems on that,' said Trevor Francis, the Sheffield Wednesday manager, lodging a pitch protest afterwards.

Francis was happy to be off and away, but Royle was relishing the prospect of the coming week. And what of Sheffield United on Tuesday? 'We'll need a United Nations peace- keeping force to referee that one,' he said. A bit nerve- wracking, Joe? 'What's new?'