WE reproduce the following article from League Express with the permission of managing editor Martyn Sadler and the reporter concerned, Alex Davis.
As part of a series previewing the prospects of Championship clubs, the article by Alex was headlined: ‘Oldham have the numbers to compete.’
Here it is:
THE aim is clear for Oldham in 2021. They don’t want to be fighting for survival.
In reality, this is their first season back in the Championship after gaining promotion from League 1 back in 2019. Oldham were beaten in four of their five Championship games last season but managed a credible victory in Cumbria over fellow promoted team Whitehaven. In order to avoid a fight for survival this season, coach Matt Diskin has beefed up the squad with plenty of young faces coming in from Super League sides. But he has also invested in some Championship experience too to balance the squad. Most of all, though, with all of his signings, he has added depth.
Players like Ben Heaton, Liam Kirk and Martyn Reilly join Oldham with plenty of experience behind them in the second tier while Diskin will be hoping that the talents of young stars such as Tyler Dupree, Ben Holcroft and Max Roberts, among others, can provide the spark.
“Some of these kids who have fallen out of Super League systems are very good but probably a year or two away from that level of roughing it in the lower league with some grown men,” Diskin told League Express.
“It’s a totally different kettle of fish but it’ll do their development a world of good. In this division, I’ve experienced it myself as a coach, you can’t rely on just young kids, you’ve got to have some quality Championship experience as well and we’ve gone for that also.
“I’m really happy with the depth. You can see with our recruitment that we’ve invested heavily in the forward pack where we’ve been low on numbers last year. So, we have some competition for places there which gives us a good solid front foot to play, which should help our halfbacks and threequarters to look a little better than last year.
“We had a very thin squad last year and we started the season as favourites for relegation, probably rightly so, with the depth of squad we had. We’ve addressed that as soon as we could this year.
“Chris Hamilton has worked really hard making sure we’ve got the right people in and got that depth throughout.
“We’re not just bringing people in for the sake of numbers. The people brought in will be competing for starting shirts so I’m going to have some real selection headaches.”
Oldham’s pre-season preparations were given a major boost when star player Danny Bridge was cleared to return to action this year. When he was handed his ban for use of an illegal substance, he was set to miss the entirety of 2021 but because of the nature of his indiscretion and the changing of the rules at the start of the year, his ban was reduced and Oldham were quick to provide support to their player and sign him up for the campaign.
“From our point of view, you can’t condone what he did but you can give him all the support he needs to make sure those mistakes don’t happen again and that’s what we’re doing,” Diskin continued.
“We’re working closely with Danny. He’s a smarter kid than he lets on. He knows he’s made a mistake, knows he needs to redeem himself and where better than at his home town club.
“You can only judge on how they’ve worked for you and from my point of view he’s been very good in and around the squad. He’s got a wealth of experience and on his day, when he’s in the right frame of mind and in good form, he’s one of the best backrowers in the competition. So we’re really pleased to help him through a tough part of his life and give him the opportunity to make amends.”
Diskin knows that the task is tough for some of the teams with smaller budgets and fewer resources to challenge the teams at the top of the Championship pyramid but he’s keen to stress that they can all spring surprises on the table-toppers if they don’t turn up well prepared.
“I think there is a disparity between those top five teams and the rest of us if you look at spend and where they’re at. There are kind of two leagues really but we’re capable, like anybody else around us in the table, of some upsets. If these teams don’t come in the right frame of mind then we’re there to keep them honest and that’s what we’ll do.
“You look at the season as a whole, we don’t know whether there is any promotion or relegation, how the average points system works. There are so many unanswered questions before we start the season. But rather than looking backwards and looking at things we can’t control, we’ve just got to take care of the stuff within our squad that we can do really well. We’re looking to climb that ladder one step at a time and by the end of the season, we’re confident we’ll be far up it.