Match Report: Oldham Athletic 1 Sheffield United 1

Chris Porter levels the scores
Chris Porter levels the scores
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It will have been scant consolation given how their bid to become the first League One team to reach the FA Cup Final turned out.

But Jose Mourinho’s decision to namecheck Sheffield United’s march on Wembley earlier this month during a recent eulogy about the health of the English game confirms there is much to admire about Nigel Clough’s side.

Polar opposites in terms of personality and working to vastly different briefs, there are nevertheless plenty of similarities between the Portuguese’s methods and those which have enabled his United counterpart to inspire a dramatic upturn in fortunes at Bramall Lane.

Both command the absolute loyalty of their players, both are pragmatists and both are capable of delivering results despite being unable to call upon the services of a prolific centre-forward.

Like Chelsea, United’s success of late has been built on an almost impenetrable defence, with James Wilson’s opener for Oldham Athletic only the third time it has been breached in seven league matches.

But, having enjoyed enough territory and possession to have potentially secured all three points, on this occasion their lack of firepower nearly proved costly with only six minutes of last night’s contest remaining when substitute Chris Porter levelled.

Clough, who has placed a new striker at the top of his wanted list during the forthcoming transfer window, will feelaggreived not to have secured even more from United’s penultimate fixture of the season.

Terry Kennedy glanceda header against the woodwork, Conor Coady was thwarted by an assistant referee’s flag towards the end of the first half and Stefan Scougall went close seconds before the final whistle.

Jose Baxter, who made 50 appearances for Oldham before joining United earlier this term, once again impressed in the false-nine role Clough believes best suits the options at their disposal until attacking reinforcements are acquired.

However, it was another former Oldham player who was ultimately responsible for the visitors’ most telling contribution.

Porter, whose contract expires at the end of the campaign, received a hostile reception when he replaced Coady midway through the second half.

But he enjoyed the last laugh by claiming his 11th of the season - and second in as many games - to provide Clough with another timely reminder about his qualities in front of goal.

“It was well worked, well created and well taken,” Clough said. “Chris wants to start more and so the challenge for him now is to do that when he’s on straight from the off.

“He’s done ever so well coming on for that final period, as his record proves. But he won’t want to be tagged as a ‘super-sub’ and he knows what, in order to rid himself of that, he’s got to do.”

United, playing their 23rd match in only 88 days, resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes, although Kennedy was tasked with deputising for the injured Neill Collins at centre-half. Kennedy, one of five Redtooth Academy graduates on display at Boundary Park, produced a typically whole-hearted display despite being confronted by the dangerous Jonson Clarke-Harris who has matured both on and off the pitch since becoming the youngest player to represent Coventry City four years ago.

Kennedy, who headed away a barrage of crosses as Lee Johnson’s men peppered Mark Howard’s penalty area with a series of high balls, required treatment to repair a wound just above his eyebrow following one such intervention before being denied by the crossbar as United went in search of an equaliser.

That honour fell instead to Porter who ensured a combative performance did not go unrewarded by converting from point-blank range a quarter of an hour after entering the fray.

Like United, Oldham have proven remarkably resilient of late, keeping five clean sheets in their previous seven outings and climbing to 15th in the table courtesy of an eight-match unbeaten streak.

United attempted to seize the initiative, with Scougall and John Brayford both testing their opponents’ resolve during the early skirmishes but Johnson’s side had managed to build up a head of steam by the time Wilson headed them into a 16th minute lead.

Connor Brown, who progressed through the visitors’ youth system before moving to Greater Manchester, delivered the cross which the former Bristol City defender converted moments after Gary Harkins had forced Howard to make a smart reaction save.

Baxter and Ryan Flynn led the response, with the latter seeing an angled drive deflected wide midway through the opening period before Scougall, dancing through a crowded midfield, curled just wide of Paul Rachubka’s far post.

In Baxter and Brayford, United possess two players capable of playing at a much higher level.

During the closing stages of the first half, the two combined to release Conor Coady but his ‘goal’ was ruled out for offside.

United, despite failing to place Rachubka under any sustained pressure, had nevertheless enjoyed enough territory and possession to be on level terms.

Brayford went close with a first-time effort after Jamie Murphy had seen a snap-shot blocked while Coady was inches away from converting Flynn’s centre.

Kennedy hit the crossbar following another scramble in front of Rachubka but, with United committing increasing men forward, Adam Lockwood swept a deft backheel just wide of Howard’s far post.

Porter, though, ensured they had the last word when he swept home, with Murphy providing the assist.

GOALS: Wilson (16), Porter (84).

OLDHAM: Rachubka 6, Brown 7, Smith 6, Clarke-Harris 7 (MacDonald 59), Wilson 7, Lockwood 6, Dayton 6, Kissock 6 (Winchester 73), Byrom 6, Worrall 6, Harkins 6 (Philliskirk 73). Not used: Coleman, Dunfield, Millar, Byrnes.

UNITED: Howard 6, Brayford 7, Maguire 6, Flynn 6 (Davies 78), Doyle 6, Baxter 7 (Paynter 86), Coady 7 (Porter 68), Scougall 8, Murphy 6, Freeman 6, Kennedy 6. Not used: Hill, McGinn, Long, Dimaio.

REFEREE: Scott Matthieson (Cheshire).

CAUTIONS: Clarke-Harris (52), Maguire (55).