THERE have already been some dramatic twists in the plot of another eventful League One season but few, if any, quite as surprising as this.
However, while observers of England’s most unpredictable division try and fathom why even managers whose clubs are on the cusp of play-off qualification now find themselves joining the dole queue, the factors behind Sheffield United’s capitulation during what should have been a routine fixture against Oldham Athletic were abundantly clear.
Two goals down and having offered precious little to suggest they could mount a comeback, the visitors were seemingly braced for a heavy defeat until a combination of profligate finishing, terrible luck and atrocious indiscipline ensured it was United who instead ended the afternoon suffering from an acute case of embarrassment.
It left manager Danny Wilson bemoaning their negligence and Andy Taylor, making his first appearance following a 14-month absence through injury, not knowing whether to laugh or cry after seeing colleagues Matthew
Lowton and Harry Maguire both dis
missed during a chaotic second half.
“We were comfortable and then just seemed to implode,” Taylor said. “We had so many chances to kill the game off and the fact that we didn’t was very unprofessional.
“There’s a lot of anger in our dressing room because we gave Oldham too much encouragement. But we’ll take that as a kick up the backside.
“I’ve got mixed emotions because, from a personal perspective, I’m delighted to be back playing football.
“But I’m very, very disappointed with the way that match turned out.”
Wilson’s mood was not helped by confirmation that Lecsinel Jean-Francois, who departed the pitch on a stretcher following an accidental collision with Oldham’s match-winner Shefki Kuqi, will join fellow defenders Lowton and Maguire on the sidelines when United return to action at Walsall tomorrow.
Taylor, having only just confirmed his recovery from a serious knee problem, would ordinarily be excused from travelling to the Midlands.
But, recalled when Neill Collins’ withdrawal due to what Wilson described as a “personal, family matter,” prompted a hasty reshuffle of United’s defence, he will instead volunteer for duty.
“It’s at times like this that we all have to regroup and get together,” Taylor said. “This is where the lads with experience come in and play a big part because we might have to bring some of the younger ones in.
“But it’s also at times like this that you can show the type of spirit which brings promotion.”
“The gaffer pulled me in at about 1.30pm, just before his team talk, and asked me if I was ready to play,” Taylor added. “I’d told him I’d been waiting to hear that for 14 months.
“I always knew that I’d go down with cramp and after being out for so long it’s strange to have leg ache again but I was still buzzing.”
Having dominated the first-half, second-placed United appeared to enjoy an unassail
able lead when Ched Evans claimed his 22nd goal of the campaign having created Lowton’s opener.
Oldham had shown glimpses of potential, most notably when Tom Adeyemi tested Steve Simonsen, but, with Michael Doyle hitting the foot of the post with a curling effort following Richard Cresswell’s delicate touch, even their manager, Paul Dickov, must have feared the worst.
Nevertheless, Oldham kept scratching away at the veneer of quality coating United’s performance and ultimately exposed the under
current of carelessness which changed the course of a memorable match.
Lowton’s first caution - for refusing to hand over the ball after Cresswell’s own goal had reduced the deficit - seemed harsh but he could have no excuses about the second having inexplicably lunged towards James Tarkowski less than two minutes later.
Wilson, whose side are now four points clear of Sheffield Wednesday in third, also acknowledged Maguire could have no complaints after conceding the late penalty which sparked joyous celebrations on the Oldham bench.
“I’ll criticise the ref for the first booking on Matty because it’s our possession and he was walking back to the centre-spot with the ball when one of their lads tries to rip it off him but the second was right,” he said. “Harry also got himself out of position and when you bring someone down in that area then you know what is going to happen.”
United had seized control from the kick-off with Lowton, who opened the scoring when Evans pounced upon an error by Jean Yves M’Voto, going close from a corner and the returning Taylor also shooting wide.
Evans doubled United’s lead courtesy of some excellent work involving Michael Doyle and Stephen Quinn.
Cresswell turned Filipe Morais’ corner into his own net before the previously excellent Lowton collected two yellow cards in quick succession and Kieran Lee produced a wonderful equaliser.
Maguire joined him in the dressing room after hauling back Oldham substitute Reuben Reid and presenting Kuqi with the opportunity to convert from the spot.
“Fortunately other results went our way a bit so there’s not been too much damage,” Taylor said.