Great Britain

SIMON PARKER'S VERDICT: Same Old outcome brings new fears

RICHARD O’Donnell is unlikely to forget his 100th appearance in a City shirt.

The rest of us wish we could.

The FA Cup in 2020/21 hardly carries the usual allure of the famous old competition.

A third-round draw at the likes of Liverpool or Manchester United is not the same financial dream ticket, given the country’s strict tier systems, at a thinly-populated Anfield or empty Old Trafford.

But Saturday’s exit at the hands of Valley Parade bogey team Oldham was the heaviest 2-1 defeat City are ever likely to suffer.

That is what will stick in the memory; two teams separated by three places and four points in the League Two table but looking miles apart.

That was the most chilling take from such a one-sidedly miserable afternoon.

O’Donnell, at least, could look back on reaching a personal milestone with some pride.

He did his bit with a string of saves that prevented Oldham from the landslide victory that their dominance would have merited.

As for the rest of the City side? The less said the better.

With only seven of the current players contracted beyond the end of the season, McCall can take a chainsaw to the squad in the summer.

Between now and then is the transfer window in January – that siren call for every struggling team.

How often have we been promised a feverish month of mid-season activity at Valley Parade? And how often are we then left so flat with the outcome?

This time, more than ever, McCall must get it right with the emergency recruitment to steady a ship that appears to be lurching dangerously.

The fear currently gripping anyone of a City persuasion is how the club can stagger along to get to New Year’s Day.

High-flying Cheltenham’s visit to Valley Parade on Tuesday is the first of eight games in December. The League Two table could look very different by the end of the month.

But right now, there is a genuine concern about where the next win is coming from.

A patched-up team full of players trying to ward off further injuries by being strictly monitored in their minutes.

An out-of-sorts team that cannot score and equally cannot stop conceding.

An increasingly-unpopular team now being slated by the absent fans as possibly the poorest in living memory.

“Let us in so we can boo them!” wrote one supporter as the City section of Twitter went into its seemingly twice-weekly meltdown during the game.

City fans won’t care that Harry Kewell called it Oldham’s best performance or that they scored from the “two hardest chances”.

They won’t give two hoots about the neat symmetry that the Latics have now won five out of their last six games, five out of their last six at Valley Parade and five out of their last six away in the FA Cup.

Their only thought is that it could still get worse in the coming weeks. The worry is that City’s miserable campaign may not have bottomed out.

McCall has been here before during his testing debut year in management in 2007.

City were 22nd after 14 games with just 12 points; they finished with 62 in the comparative comfort of 10th.

How the Bantams boss would snap your hand off for a similar conclusion this time around.

But it’s going to be a mighty challenge with a mixed group of players either held together by sticking plaster or clearly not up to it.

The manager had bellowed constantly through the rain, not so much in encouragement but half the time simply to tell them where they should be.

He sounded like an exasperated teacher reaching the end of his tether with an unruly class unable to take the simplest commands on board.

“It’s a lack of concentration,” he grumbled afterwards – and not for the first time this season.

“We have meetings to show people what the opposition will try to do and what they are good at.

“One good thing without the crowds at the moment is that I can shout and scream. But I shouldn’t have to after we go through it.

“But I’m not standing for that anymore. If you’re not going to focus on what we’re telling you and take it on board, then I’m not going to play you.”

Part of the pre-Oldham discussions centred on how strikers Danny Rowe and Conor McAleny liked to cut in and try their luck from outside the box.

No prizes for guessing the manner of both Latics goals.

Both were great strikes, both offered O’Donnell absolutely no chance – and both came straight off the wipe board that McCall had pointed out to his players barely 24 hours earlier.

To think, City had even scored first.

McCall would love to give Clayton Donaldson a breather from the relentless, thankless task of trying to lead the line every minute of every game.

But the veteran earned and scored the penalty that briefly put them in front on 11 minutes.

The signs of City’s sloppiness, though, had already been apparent with loose passes from Zeli Ismail and Bryce Hosannah in the Oldham box that both rolled carelessly out of play.

That set the tone for much of what followed.

Ismail’s day was soon done with a hamstring injury to add to the list of setbacks he has suffered in his time at the club.

And then Oldham took over, McAleny rifling into the top corner from outside the box.

From that point, City’s penalty area became the Alamo; blue shirts swarming here, there, everywhere with the home side unable to lay a finger on them.

The defence had a torrid time; the midfield could not keep the ball; the attack were anonymous spectators.

O’Donnell bailed them out as did the crossbar and a couple of wayward close-range misses as the shots peppered the City goal. Somehow, amazingly, it was still level at half-time.

Hosannah was sacrificed as a precaution as McCall switched defensive shape to try to quell the onslaught. But the dam broke within two minutes.

Again, it was a cracker of a finish from Rowe; but only after Ben Richards-Everton had been sold a dummy that left him in a different postcode.

Gareth Evans did have one sniff to bring it back when a loose ball landed between his feet. But his hurried effort deflected wide.

Unlike his busy counterpart, Oldham keeper Ian Lawlor was not called upon to make a single save.

December does not promise to get any easier.

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