It was tense, tough and seldom pretty but, after 90 minutes of armwrestling, Sheffield United were forced to settle for a share of spoils at Boundary Park this afternoon.
Whether or not this was a case of two points dropped rather than one gained, however, remained open to debate.
Oldham Athletic, fighting for rheir League One lives, would ordinarily have been dispatched by a United squad which remains on course to reach the Championship next term. But on a pudding of a pitch, which both Chris Wilder and John Sheridan both appeared toi conclude made playing pretty football impossible, the visitors were probably happy to finish the match relatively unscathed.
Nevertheless, Billy Sharp could, probably should, have snatched a late winner when he blazed over the crossbar after combining with substitute Paul Coutts.
Although United were from from their free-flowing best, the contest did allow them to showcase the battling spirit which has proved invaluable in recent weeks. Trailing to Tope Obadeyi's effort, Wilder's men drew level when Jay O'Shea pounced early in the second period. Injuries to Caolan Lavery and Matt Done will cause Wilder concern ahead of Tuesday's meeting with Millwall.
But he will have been satisfied by the spirit his charges displayed. United have produced some scintillating stuff since Wilder's appointment. But, for a whole host of reasons, this was pretty turgid fayre. Both sides spent long periods lumping the ball from one end of the ground to the other after deciding, quite understandably, that the surface was not conducive to anything else.
Intriguingly, however, the fixture's two pivotal moves were pieced together with precision and care. Paul Green's pass, which led to Obadeyi's opener, was a peach. Likewise the shot O'Shea powered into the back of Connor Ripley's net after James Hanson turned the ball into his path.
Perhaps it was possible to play football after all.
Blazing sunshine and a part grass, part sand pitch, United and Oldham could have been forgiven for thinking they were already holidaying on the beach when they emerged from the tunnel before kick-off. Both sets of players, though, entered the match knowing plenty was at stake.
The visitors, looking to claw themselves out of the division at the sixth attempt, remain 10 points clear of third-placed Fleetwood Town with seven matches remaining. Sheridan's side, despite piecing together some encouraging results of late, remain deep in trouble at the opposite end of the table.
But they looked anything but a team which could find itself in League Two next term. Obadeyi's pace and Chris Taylor's crossing caused United all manner of problems during the opening exchanges. Kieron Freeman went close from the edge of the box with a powerful snap-shot. James Hanson, midway through the first period, was inches away from connecting with a Matt Done cross.
Oldham, however, continued to threaten. Indeed, in the 31st minute, Josh Law wasted a good opportunity when he headed wide from inside the area. But Obadeyi made no mistake when he pounced moments before the break.
The former Bolton Wanderers and Kilmarnock centre-forward's effort was cancelled-out early in the second-half by O'Shea who, shifting his balance well, beat Connor Ripley from 20 yards out.
United's worst fears about the poor state of the playing surface had earlier been realised when they arrived at the stadium. Wilder adjusted his tactics and his team selections as a result with Chris Basham moving into midfield while Jay O'Shea, Jake Wright and Matt Done were all recalled.
Inevitably, Wilder's players struggled to get to grips with the conditions which forced them to 'go long' more often than they would otherwise have liked. |Jay O'Shea, one of the more technically gifted members of Wilder's squad, needed four touches to bring the ball under control after being released by John Fleck. Ethan Ebanks-Landell required five or six moments later.
At the other end, Law should have done better when he was picked-out by Erwin before Obadeyi broke the deadlock in the 45th minute. Green spotted Law's run and, quickly calculating his angles, threaded the ball inside Done.
Obadeyi engineered just enough space to prod home the resulting centre.
United have proven adept at clawing themselves back into games in recent weeks and, five minutes into the second-half, they did exactly that. Hanson used his height to tee-up O'Shea and the midfielder, on loan from Chesterfield, did the rest. Sharp blazed Coutts' centre over three minutes from normal time before Lavery was forced off after colliding with the defender as he attempted to connect with Freeman's centre. Sharp's header was saved by Ripley in added time
Oldham Athletic: Ripley, Law, B Wilson (Edmundson 46), Gerrard, Banks, Taylor, Erwin (Ngoo 87), Fane (Flynn 89), P Clarke, Green, Obadeyi. Not used: Kettings, Croft, Mantack, Osei.
Sheffield United: Moore, Ebanks-Landell, Wright, O'Connell, Freeman, Done (Lavery 77, L Clarke 90)), Basham, Fleck, O'Shea (Coutts 72), Hanson, Sharp. Not used: Long, J Wilson, Chapman, Carruthers.
Referee: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne and Wear).