None of the Premiership's inaugural members have fallen as far or as fast as Oldham. Their eight-match winning run may have ended in a stirring struggle in the Potteries sunshine, but the impression is of a club geared for revival rather than survival.
Throughout the Nationwide League, the demise of ITV Digital has made the search for a rich benefactor more desperate than ever. Port Vale diehards dream of Robbie Williams putting his money where he says his heart is and collect coins in buckets to put towards the completion of a stand. In contrast, Oldham have found their sugar daddy chairman in Chris Moore, a computer mogul reputedly worth £300m.
Moore, who was raised on a Stockport council estate but travels to matches by helicopter from his Oxford home, has combined with the manager, Iain Dowie, to give Oldham the leadership they have lacked since Ian Stott and Joe Royle filled these roles. As recently as 1994 they competed at the same level as nearby Manchester United. The ensuing decline seemed set to dump them back in the basement section – until they underwent a spot of regime change.
Dowie's impact in his first season has been such that Oldham arrived at Vale Park as Second Division leaders with eight clean sheets in 12 games. While they maintained neither their position nor their parsimony, a draw was no disgrace against a side who knocked Wigan off the top in a previous away fixture, even if the former Northern Ireland striker's reaction suggested otherwise.
"I told my players it was nowhere near good enough," said Dowie. "I'm not much into psychology. I call things as I see them. I think if you're honest, you'll take the players with you. But our run was always going to end at some stage, and we're still unbeaten away.
"I'm just making my way in this profession and it's not easy. To be around as long as Brian [Horton, the Vale manager] you need special qualities. You've got to try to switch off though I'm finding it enormously difficult. Saturday nights, Sundays; it's never out of my mind. It's a 24-hours-a-day job. That's why I look 55 [he is 37]."
Dean Holden put Oldham ahead with a deflected shot after a fine cross-field pass by Laurenco Da Silva. The latter's loan signing from Sporting Lisbon has enhanced the cosmopolitan quality of a squad boasting players from France and Surinam plus an Australian-Italian keeper.
The player who created the equaliser has less exotic origins but could yet raise the revenue to pay for Vale's unfinished stand. We will hear more of Billy Paynter, a Scouse striker just turned 18. His cross handed Stephen McPhee his first goal in 18 games just 45 seconds after coming on. Dowie was down, but Oldham are upwardly mobile again.
Goals: Holden (49) 0-1; McPhee (66) 1-1.
Port Vale (3-4-1-2): Goodlad; Brightwell, Carragher, Collins; Cummins, Durnin, Rowland (McPhee, 65), Charnock; Ashcroft; Paynter, Angell. Substitutes not used: Boyd, I Armstrong, Burns, Delaney (gk).
Oldham Athletic (3-1-4-2): Pogliacomi; Hall, Baudet, C Armstrong; Sheridan; Holden, Carss, Duxbury (Da Silva, h-t), Eyres; Corazzin (Killen, 70), Wijnhard. Substitutes not used: Andrews, Haining, Miskelly (gk).
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Bookings: Port Vale: Collins. Oldham: Sheridan, Corazzin.
Man of the match: Paynter.
Attendance: 5,563.Reuse content