Royle banking on survival

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Oldham Athletic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Queen's Park Rangers . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

FOOTBALL at Oldham comes with a sense of fun and, while Joe Royle may present a straight public face as he addresses the possibilities held by the next seven days, deep down he will allow himself a chuckle.

It is within his team's power to inflict huge damage on Manchester United during that time, a heady prospect for a club that regards merely being in the Premiership with a certain incredulity. They go to Old Trafford in the league today and meet United again in the FA Cup, at Wembley, on Sunday.

Royle is in no doubt which match is the more important to Oldham, whose joy at running up their biggest home win of the season was tempered by Sheffield United's success at Liverpool, and Manchester City's defeat of Aston Villa.

'If United would promise me the three on Monday, they can have the Cup tie,' Royle said.

Oldham may periodically have to pinch themselves as they reflect on three years in the top flight, but they do not intend yet to see their most successful era pass into history.

Things took a turn for the better for them in an inconsistent season after they lost at home to Liverpool on 15 January, since when they have been beaten only once in 13 starts, gaining 18 League points as well as a passage to the semi- finals of the Cup.

What is more, they have only once in that sequence conceded more than one goal, which is an admirable record for a side that has never had much truck with serious defending.

Rangers might have made more of their chances on Saturday, particularly in the first half, but apart from a 30-yard free-kick dispatched with considerable power by Les Ferdinand, they could not answer Oldham's invigorating commitment to attack.

Three goals in the space of eight minutes either side of half-time effectively settled the match. Richard Jobson equalised when he met Rick Holden's corner with a powerful header, Darren Beckford nosed them in front when the rookie defender, Alan McCarthy, allowed him a second stab at Neil Pointon's through-pass, then Sean McCarthy nodded the third after Beckford's header had come off a post.

Oldham's fourth involved both McCarthys, the forward's shot rebounding out of Jan Stejskal's grasp into the stride of the defender, who propelled it into his own net.

Goals: Ferdinand (34) 0-1; Jobson (44) 1-1; Beckford (46) 2-1; S McCarthy (52) 3-1; A McCarthy (og 89) 4-1.

Oldham Athletic (4-3-3): Hallworth; Makin, Jobson, Redmond, Pointon; Brennan, Milligan, Holden; S McCarthy, Beckford, Sharp (Palmer, 80). Substitutes not used: Ritchie, Gerrard (gk).

Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): Stejskal; Yates, Ready, A McCarthy, Wilson; Impey, Holloway, Wilkins, Barker (Penrice, 69); White, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Maddix, Roberts (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).