Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough predicted on the eve of this afternoon’s League One clash that Oldham Athletic, the visitors to Bramall Lane, would mirror their manager Lee Johnson.
“We had Lee at Derby County,” said Clough, who handed recalls to Paddy McCarthy and Jose Baxter, to face his old club.
“And the little so-and-so used to torment us when he was at Yeovil and we were at Burton. He was a smart player and he liked to get the ball down and play football, so we expect Oldham to do the same.”
And so it proved, as the visitors - with Mike Jones orchestrating the play in midfield and Jabo Ibehre posing a threat up front - began the contest on the front foot, with Paddy McCarthy - returning after suspension - forced to twice be alert and deny Ibehre a clear sight of United goalkeeper Mark Howard’s goal.
United steadily began to grow into the game with Jamie Murphy once again their focal point and opposite number Ryan Flynn, fresh from his two-goal salvo against Crewe in the FA Cup, posed a real threat from the right.
But it was Oldham who took the lead through, of course, Blades old boy Jonathan Forte. The striker made no mistake from close range after meeting Daniel Johnson’s exquisite through-ball and placing past Howard.
Johnson, formerly on loan at Chesterfield, then fired over Howard’s crossbar as Oldham continued to pile forward. But the home side finally forced Howard’s opposite number, Paul Rachubka, into serious action six minutes before the break, when Bob Harris’ stinging shot was kept out by the former Manchester United goalkeeper’s strong left hand.
But that was as close as United got to regaining a foothold in the game, and they went into the half-time interval a goal behind.
They came out for the second half with a little more intent and purpose, but Johnson’s pace and power was still proving a real handful. Ibehre then hit the side netting with a powerful drive but the game’s turning point came when Jose Baxter was replaced, after a frustrating afternoon against his old club. His replacement, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, then dragged United level within minutes of coming on.
The winger received the ball from Craig Alcock’s intelligent pass, twisted and turned full-back Joseph Mills before unleashing a stinging angled shot which arrowed into the back of Rachubka’s net, via a slight touch from the Oldham goalkeeper.
The goal energised United’s fans and players alike and Flynn, Chris Basham and Murphy all threatened the away goal.
Ibehre was then shown a second yellow card for an off-the-ball altercation with Bob Harris and, for the final eight minutes of the game, United were tasked with breaking down the visitors’ ten men.
Referee Andy Davies was almost forced to even the game up at ten-each minutes later, when Jay McEveley brought down former Blades loanee Dom Poleon. But Davies decided the incident was only worthy of a yellow card and he brought the game to an end soon after to a mixed reaction from the home supporters.
Blades: Howard, Alcock, McCarthy, McEveley, Harris, Basham, Doyle, Murphy, Scougall, Flynn, Baxter. Subs: McGahey, Campbell-Ryce, Reed, De Girolamo, Turner, Kennedy, Adams.
Oldham: Rachubka, Mills, Dieng, Kelly, Jones, Philliskirk, Forte, Johnson, Wilson, Ibehre, Kusunga. Subs: Dayton, Poleon, Mellor, Winchester, Tidser, Lockwood, Etheridge.