Boreham Wood v Oldham Athletic
Saturday 4th March 2023, 3.00pm
Boundary Park, Vanarama National League
The Wood make the trip up north to take on Oldham Athletic on Saturday, looking to stretch their unbeaten run to 13 games after securing two wins on the bounce last time out.
IN FOCUS: OLDHAM ATHLETIC
Oldham Athletic became the first former Premier League side to appear in the non-league, after being relegated to the fifth tier following 25 consecutive seasons in the Football League. The Latics were a founding member of the breakaway division in 1992 but began a descent down English football just two years later, with two relegations in four seasons seeing the club find themselves in the Second Division where they would remain for more than two decades. The Greater Manchester-based outfit subsequently struggled throughout this time, only coming close to returning to the second tier on two occasions as they reached the play-offs in 2002/03 and 2006/07, but were unable to get beyond the semi-final stage as they spent the rest of the 21 years in League One largely enduring mid-table finishes. This struggle culminated in another relegation in 2018, before finding themselves in the National League after a 23rd place finish last season, 62 years after they had finished in the same position.
The beginning of the campaign saw former manager John Sheridan opt to step aside from his role after being unable to prevent their slide into non-league, despite previously agreeing to stay on ahead of the 2022/23 season. The Latics had added a number of seemingly positive players before the turn of the year including Magnus Normann, Nathan Sheron, Alex Reid, Dan Gardner, Peter Clarke, Liam Hogan, Mark Kitching, John Rooney, Timmy Abraham and Ellis Chapman from League Two along with Ben Tollitt and Joe Nuttall from fellow non-league clubs, while Mark Shelton, Devarn Green and Josef Yarney all made the switch to Greater Manchester during the winter window, but the poor form at the start of the season influenced Sheridan’s decision to leave. Indeed, the Latics struggled during the opening months of the season and battled at the wrong end of the table for much of it, with the threat of back-to-back relegations being very much on the cards. However, the arrival of former Everton caretaker manager David Unsworth in September has seen the Latics steadily climb the National League table though, and after winning just one of his opening 12 league games, Unsworth has guided them to just three defeats from their next 13 which has seen them rise out of the bottom four, currently sitting six places above the relegation zone with an eight point gap on Dorking Wanderers in 20th.
LAST TIME OUT
Barnet 1-3 Oldham Athletic
Tuesday 28th February 2023
Vanarama National League
Latics made it back-to-back away wins thanks to three goals and a Magnus Norman penalty save at The Hive, sealing another important three points.
Latics started the game brightly and were rewarded with an early goal, after winning a corner for their early attacking efforts that brought a move straight from the training ground that saw Ellis Chapman cross to the unmarked Mark Kitching at the near post, who slotted the ball past Laurie Walker. Both sides exchanged passes for a good chunk of the first half and Idris Kanu had a chance to equalise with a volley from inside the area, before Latics almost doubled their lead from Joe Nuttall’s glancing header but neither could find the target. The next goal did come from Barnet though, with Harry Pritchard’s cross being met by Kanu at the far post, who made amends for his earlier miss, leaving the scores level going into the break.
A double change at half time saw Mike Fondop and Alex Reid replace Nuttall and Chapman, and the substitutions brought clear attacking intent that paid off with a series of good chances during the opening periods of the second-half. John Rooney swung in a free-kick toward Fondop who could only aim his header straight at Aymen Azaze. Fondop would soon get his goal however after Reid was clattered by Walker which saw the Barnet defence coming to a standstill. Fondop didn’t though, and he ran onto the loose ball before slotting home to make it 2-0. Barnet hit back with Finley Potter firing a header towards goal that was destined to hit the back of the net, but Liam Hogan was able to get his own head on it and clear the ball off the line to deny a certain goal, keeping their two-goal deficit intact. Fondop then thought he’d got a second when he tapped home at the far post only to see his effort ruled out by the assistant’s flag, and they almost paid the price as the Bees won a penalty with 15 minutes to go, making the Latics think all their hard work had come undone. It was Dale Gorman who was tasked with beating Magnus Norman from the spot, but the latter got down well to make another great save from a penalty and keep the Bees at bay once more. Barnet subsequently threw the kitchen sink at the visiting defence with a number of shots being blocked and saved, and with the hosts vulnerable at the back, Peter Clarke secured the points with a terrific volley from a Rooney corner late on.
Barnet (A) W1-3
Chesterfield (A) W0-1
Gateshead (A) L2-1
Maidstone United (H) W2-0
Gateshead (H) D2-2
Dagenham & Redbridge (H) W4-2
At long last, the Latics have finally hit form since the end of 2022 and have risen up the National League table after recording just three defeats from their last 13 league games. Victory over Dagenham & Redbridge saw them bounce back to winning ways after losing previously against FC Halifax Town, and this sparked a run that saw them lose just one of their next five games. They would be denied a second win in a row after late goals from Kamil Conteh and Kenton Richardson saw them surrender a two-goal lead, but they followed this up with victory over Maidstone United as they continued to enjoy a positive streak. Defeat at Gateshead would prove disappointing in their pursuit of safety, but Oldham have won both of their last two outings, with a narrow win over Chesterfield being sealed thanks to Devarn Green’s first goal for the club, before another promotion hopeful in Barnet would swept aside after second half goals from Mike Fondop and Peter Clarke made Idris Kanu’s early equaliser redundant, and meaning the Latics enter Saturday’s game with high hopes of a third giant killing in a row.
IN THE DUGOUT: DAVID UNSWORTH
Former Everton defender David Unsworth took on his first permanent managerial role when he was chosen to replace John Sheridan as Oldham Athletic manager in September. Although he is perhaps best known for his time with the Toffees, his coaching career began when he joined Preston North End as a development coach following retirement, before the departure of Alan Irvine saw him promoted to the first team where he took over two separate caretaker roles after the dismissals of Darren Ferguson and Phil Brown. He later returned to former club Sheffield United as Head of Academy Coaching before being named assistant to caretaker manager Chris Morgan after Danny Wilson left the club, but his affiliation with Everton would continue in a coaching capacity after he opted to leave the Blades in 2013, going on to oversee various roles with the first team and Under-23’s during an nine-year spell back at Goodison Park.
This included a brief stint as assistant to Alan Stubbs in the youth team which he would later take sole charge of for the next eight years, along with caretaker roles of the first team when Roberto Martínez and Ronald Koeman lost their jobs. Unsworth departed the Toffees in April 2022 in order to pursue his ambition of becoming a first team manager and joined Oldham five months later, guiding the club outside the relegation zone after a disappointing start to the season which saw them inside the bottom four for much of the campaign before the turn of the year.
ONE TO WATCH: JOE NUTTALL
Joe Nuttall made the switch from Scunthorpe United to relegation rivals Oldham Athletic in early December, having scored nine goals for the Iron already this season before opting to depart Lincolnshire, and he has subsequently contributed to the Latics’ rise up the table while his former side remaining languishing in the bottom four. After beginning his career in the Manchester City academy, Nuttall moved across the border as a teenager and joined Aberdeen in 2015, initially featuring for the club’s youth team before making his senior debut in a Scottish Premiership game against Hearts. He would move on loan to Stranraer and Dumbarton, but his time in Scotland came to an end when he opted to join Blackburn Rovers in 2017 after initially featuring for them on trial. The striker enjoyed a breakout during the 2017/18 campaign and helped Blackburn win promotion straight back to the Championship, following a promising season in the Premier League 2 which saw him notch 14 goals in 15 games and join Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Lukas Nmecha and Harry Wilson on the list of contenders for the Player of the Season award.
He would depart Ewood Park in 2019 with 37 appearances to his name moving across Lancashire to join Blackpool, but after scoring just four goals in 33 games he joined Northampton Town on loan, before moving to Scunthorpe in January 2022. He remained at Glanford Park for a little over a year, scoring 11 goals in total for the club including two in League Two as they dropped out of the Football League, before signing a three-year deal with relegation rivals Oldham, where he has gone on to start every single game since his arrival at Boundary Park.
LAST TIME WE MET
Boreham Wood 2-1 Oldham Athletic
Tuesday 6th December 2022
Vanarama National League
Lee Ndlovu’s late winner brought the Wood’s winless run to an end, stealing the victory from the grasp of relegation strugglers Oldham Athletic after a battling performance from the Latics.
Despite 11 positions separating the two sides before kick-off, it was Oldham who got off to a more positive start and they could have taken the lead inside five minutes. when Hallam Hope forced Nathan Ashmore into the first save of the match from a tight angle, with the ball remaining in play as the Latics continued to apply pressure. Ben Tollitt kept it alive and ensured the danger didn’t subside yet, but the Wood were eventually able to clear. Peck was the architect to much of the Latics’ good play early on, and a couple of chances for Ellis Chapman saw them go close to making their pressure count. The Wood finally began to gain a foothold of proceedings Jamal Fyfield heading a corner wide, before George Broadbent and Zak Brunt later combined after Chapman lost control of the ball in midfield, with the former racing away before setting up the latter to send a shot into the danger area, but Oldham had enough bodies back to deny the Sheffield United man. The hosts had finally begun to gain momentum and almost broke the deadlock in spectacular fashion on the half-hour mark with Ndlovu attempting a bicycle kick, before Oldham almost took advantage of a counter attack with Peter Clarke sending a curling effort well wide. Femi Ilesamni had perhaps the best chance of the half a few minutes before the interval when he found himself free in the box to meet a corner, but he could only direct his header straight at Magnus Norman as the two sides went into the break goalless.
There was a marked improvement to the Wood’s play at the start of the second half and they looked a lot more threatening after the break, although the first shot of the half fell to Tollitt who sent a curling effort just wide of the near post after cutting inside, with the Everton academy product had a second bite of the cherry ten minutes later when he saw a powerful shot from distance crash off the crossbar as the Latics searched for an opener. The deadlock would be soon be broken though, as an instant impact from Dennon Lewis saw him pick out Ndlovu who was waiting to audaciously flick the ball goalward and give the Wood the lead. Danny Newton would go closer shortly after to doubling the Wood’s advantage, but Oldham hit back with Hope sending a shot straight at Ashmore as they looked for an equaliser. This would soon be on the way though, with Hope picking out Tollitt in the box who smashed the ball into the back of the net from a few yards out, and this gave the Latics the momentum once more, with John Rooney crashing a header off the crossbar. A succession of corners on the stroke of the full time whistle saw them go close again, the second of which forced Ilesamni to clear off the line as David Unsworth’s men almost stole the victory, but to the shock of those inside the LV BET Stadium Meadow Park it wouldn’t be a point apiece, as Ndlovu popped up again to score a late late winner when he fired into the bottom corner to steal the victory.
HAVEN’T WE MET BEFORE? ZAINE FRANCIS-ANGOL
Antigua & Barbuda international Zaine Francis-Angol joined Oldham Athletic in July following a loan spell at Stockport County, seeing him involved in the Hatters’ title-winning campaign in a brief capacity. This saw him win promotion for a second successive season having joined Stockport from Hartlepool United who had won the National League play-offs the season before, although the former Tottenham Hotspur academy player had only been at the Suit Direct Stadium for two months having joined Boreham Wood the previous summer.
Indeed, Francis-Angol made 16 appearances for the Wood during their own attempted play-off campaign, although this would prove unsuccessful as a poor run of form during the second half of the season meant they slipped down the table with an eventual 14th place finish. Having joined the LV BET Stadium Meadow Park from League One side Accrington Stanley, his time in Hertfordshire proved to be stop-start due to a string of niggling injuries, a spell of COVID-19 isolation and international duty followed by another close contact isolation period. Despite limited game time though, Zaine was a very popular member of Luke Garrard’s squad and departed as part of the Wood side that reached the Third Round of the FA Cup for the first time in their history, before ramifications of the pandemic resulted in the mutual cancellation of his contract before the end of the campaign. He subsequently made a swift switch to Hartlepool where he went on to win promotion, before finding himself back in the fifth tier a year later and has played seven times so far this season for strugglers Oldham.
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