Football: Weary Oldham not over Cup hangover

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The Independent Online
Oldham Athletic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

West Ham United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

AS Joe Royle said in his programme notes, it would have been better if his Oldham Athletic team had been beaten in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, rather than suffer the agony of Mark Hughes's last-minute equaliser and then their demolition at Manchester United's hands in the replay.

Such experiences exact a heavy toll, both physically and psychologically, and when Oldham got back to the much less glamorous though ultimately far more important business of the League on Saturday, it certainly showed.

As usual, they could not be faulted for effort, but a good deal of mediocre, clumsy and weary football meant there was only ever going to be one result. It leaves Oldham with six games in which to extricate themselves from the bottom three in the Premiership, starting with Tottenham on Wednesday. Royle remains optimistic: 'We're still in a far better position than we were this time last year,' he said.

Nevertheless, he sees the need for some fresh legs in the side, and the possibility that Gunnar Halle, Oldham's Norwegian international, might return for Saturday's match at Newcastle after three and a half months out with a knee injury, is a source of encouragement.

Oldham could have done with more solidity in their back four, who were all over the place from the outset, conceding a soft goal to Martin Allen in the first two minutes and never really recovering.

West Ham had every reason to fancy their chances when they went forward, and in Matthew Rush, their young right winger, had a player who if he was taking his text from Andrei Kanchelskis did so very effectively.

A swift break through the middle brought West Ham their second goal after 29 minutes, Trevor Morley scoring easily after Jon Hallworth had parried his shot only as far as Allen. Although Oldham pulled one back with a Rick Holden penalty just before half-time, and then brought Darren Beckford on for a defender, Neil Pointon, at the start of the second half, it was to no avail.

It mattered not to the outcome that West Ham had a goal disallowed in the closing seconds, although quite why the referee objected to Morley charging down Hallworth's clearance from which the ball ricocheted into the net, was a mystery. Goalkeepers these days might just as well take the field wearing cotton wool.

Goals: Allen (2) 0-1; Morley (29) 0-2; Holden (43) 1-2.

Oldham Athletic (4-3-3): Hallworth; Makin, Jobson, Fleming, Pointon (Beckford, 46); Henry, Milligan, Bernard; Sharp, McCarthy, Holden. Substitutes not used: Brennan, Gerrard (gk).

West Ham United (4-5-1): Miklosko; Breacker, Brown, Gale, Burrows; Rush, Bishop, Allen, Holmes, Marsh; Morley. Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Chapman, Kelly (gk).

Referee: K Barratt (Coventry).

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