PETE WILD'S Oldham welcome prime promotion contenders Mansfield to Boundary Park on Easter Monday and EFL pundit Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) picks his best bet.
Oldham v Mansfield | Monday 22nd April 2019, 15:00 | Sky Sports
It looks very possible that, for the first time since 1971, Oldham could begin a season a division below Mansfield.
The Latics have a proud history under Jimmy Frizzell and then Joe Royle, with the latter leading them to the top-flight. They won at Villa Park and Stamford Bridge, then beat Manchester United and Liverpool at Boundary Park, which was then graced by the likes of Graeme Sharp and Andy Ritchie.
More recently, alas, they have been hamstrung by ownership issues: a perceived lack of ambition contributed to 21 consecutive seasons in League One, with Abdallah Lemsagam taking over and instantly overseeing relegation to the fourth-tier, where they now reside in mi-dtable.
By contrast, Mansfield might not have the biggest history, at least not in comparison with some of the clubs on their doorstep, but the financial backing from John and Carolyn Radford has enabled them to shop in a market they would not otherwise be able to.
Who will come out on top in this Monday meeting?
Oldham in flux
Early in Oldham’s campaign, the bulk of their points came from grinding out away results through the centre-back pairing of young talent George Edmundson, guided by the seasoned Peter Clarke.
Assistant Andy Rhodes then left in October, followed in late-December by the dismissal of manager Frankie Bunn after a 6-0 loss at Carlisle.
Pete Wild then enjoyed a magnificent period in charge, including overseeing a shock 2-1 FA Cup win at Fulham, but his hesitancy to take the permanent job tipped Abdallah Lemsagam – keen on a big-name appointment – towards Paul Scholes.
The Manchester United legend though, oversaw just one win in seven before walking out. Although Scholes inferred blame on Lemsagam, it might be that he found it difficult to adjust to a different environment, a different type of challenge and wanted to preserve his reputation.
Wild – a local lad, local legend and lifelong Latics lover – looks a better fit, having accrued 11 points from a possible 15 in his second stint in caretaker charge, but has indicated he does not want the job permanently.
Whoever takes on the baton has a big job turning them into promotion contenders in 2019-20.
Oldham have produced striking moments of individual quality – often from Callum Lang and occasionally Jose Baxter or Gevaro Nepomuceno. However, they do not create a high volume of chances, averaging 1.07 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game over the whole campaign and 1.26 Against, giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 45.92%.
That is well off the performance levels we would expect from a team representing a club of Oldham’s stature in League Two.
Stags party to come?
Mansfield are in a strong position to secure automatic promotion. Good Friday’s 4-0 win over Morecambe, combined with defeat for Bury at Newport, means that three wins from their final three matches would mathematically rubber-stamp promotion.
It’s hard to see Mansfield being caught – they post and boast the best shot data in the division over the whole campaign, attaining an Expected Goals Ratio (xGR) of 62.71%.
In that sense, David Flitcroft is doing a good job in Nottinghamshire.
‘Flickers’ has not been universally popular at every club he has managed but his passion and emotional commitment to the game is not in question. His track record is better than sometimes given credit for; aside from a poor half-a-season with a limited Barnsley squad he’d done well to keep up previously, Flitcroft has rarely failed to meet expectations in terms of results.
The question is how he will alter his team’s strategy from the blueprint that was successful on Friday. Having technicians Jacob Mellis and Jorge Grant in the same XI is a luxury they are usually able to afford at home, especially against deep-lying opposition – Mellis’ ability to switch play plus Grant’s capacity to pick up pockets and thread through balls through can be an asset in Nottinghamshire.
Away from home though, opponents commit to the press and transitional attacks that bit more and that’s where question marks over Mellis and Grant’s work without the ball become relevant.
One of the duo could be replaced by controller Willem Tomlinson or dynamo Alex MacDonald, should Flitcroft anticipate an opponent’s higher line of engagement.
The Betting Angle
Mansfield are 29/20 to win at Boundary Park. That looks an appealing price; especially when we consider Leeds are odds-on to win a similar fixture at Brentford in the Championship, while in League One, Sunderland are shorter to win at Play-Off chasing Peterborough.
Plus, Mansfield largely outplayed Oldham in the reverse fixture, when they outshot them 15-4 – and were held to a goalless draw by a combination of the crossbar and a goalkeeping masterclass from Daniel Iversen.
Six of the first eight teams they have drawn with and since played again, they have beaten in the reverse fixture, which highlights how they have found a way to convert strong performances into wins.
If there’s one team you get behind on Easter Monday, make it Mansfield.
Oldham v Mansfield – Mansfield to win 29/20 (Marathon)