WITH five clubs chasing three Betfred League 1 play-off spots — and four of them on 26 points — Oldham can’t afford to slip up in Sunday’s vital clash with Whitehaven at the Vestacare Stadium (3pm kick-off).
Bradford Bulls or York City Knights, who are way out in front, will either go up automatically or fill the first play-off place.
That leaves Workington (28 points) and Oldham, Doncaster, Hunslet and Whitehaven (all on 26) locked in an arm-wrestle for the remaining three slots.
If it comes down to for-and-against points difference Oldham are in the strongest position of the five with by far the best ‘difference’ which would effectively be worth another league point.
The flip side to that is that, of the Roughyeds’ remaining six games, they have still to play joint leaders Bradford and York — Bradford at home, York away.
Their other four games are Whitehaven (home this Sunday) plus three against clubs which are already out of the race; Newcastle Thunder (away), Coventry Bears (home) and London Skolars (away).
Doncaster and Hunslet are both at home on Sunday against bottom-three sides so defeat for Oldham would push them down from fourth to seventh.
“Say no more,”
was Scott Naylor’s reaction when asked about the importance of Sunday’s big clash at the Vestacare and the likely scenario of what defeat would mean for Oldham.
“It’s a must-win game, simple as that. We can’t afford to lose many more games and this one is a four-pointer.
“In terms of retaining or improving our position in the table it’s a very important game. Hopefully, it will be the start of a winning run which we have not enjoyed since we lost at Hunslet to bring our eight-match winning run to an end.”
Roughyeds are asking fans to turn up in numbers for this one in the knowledge that strong home support on a compact little ground can effectively be the home side’s 18th man.
They reported no new injuries after the win at Hemel and stressed that Danny Langtree’s withdrawal at half-time with a sore rib was merely precautionary with the Whitehaven game in mind.
A bonus from the Hemel game was pack leader Adam Neal’s successful return after three months out following concussion.
With Neal up and running and ‘Langers’ back on song, Oldham’s forwards will have enough fire power to compensate for the long-term loss through suspension of Danny Bridge.
The value of a fully-fit Neal can’t be over-played. He’s the club’s most experienced forward, cool, calm and collected in all situations and a leader who sets a supreme example to the rest.
Back-row forward Adam Jones, out for a few weeks with a back injury sustained at work, is expected to be training on Thursday and could be available by Sunday.
“It’s looking like all 23 of our own lads will be available for selection.”
Whitehaven, currently the lowest of the five play-off hopefuls in seventh spot, concede that the Oldham game is, for them, a ‘must win’ encounter.
“Defeat at Oldham isn’t an option,” said player-coach Carl Forster.
“It’s massive for us. We can’t afford back-to-back defeats (they lost 46-0 at Bradford last week and suffered a serious-looking arm injury to hooker Stuart Howarth) and hope to get into the play-offs.
“Our confidence might have been knocked at Bradford, but spirits remain high, we’ve got a never-say-attitude and we know what it means to win at Oldham.”
Equally, Roughyeds know what victory means to them and especially to their fans and to two former Whitehaven players in Paul Crook and Ben Davies.
This time last year points-machine Crook was in a promotion battle with ‘Haven.
The roles are reversed now and it will be intriguing to see how it all unfolds.