Having a small squad inevitably affects form and results as the season nears its end. This is certainly true of Oldham whose current form has dipped dramatically over the last 8 games and, is now the same as Notts County’s who are staring into the abyss of non-league football.
Many of our players appear to have burnt themselves out having played three home games on a heavy pitch in seven days. They certainly found a reserve of effort in the first half against Bury, but tired legs were evident and the result was almost inevitable.
Having caught up with the games in hand we had due to our extended run in the FA Cup, the club is currently on 46 points, 8 short of the playoffs. Given that seventh place has only been obtainable by teams reaching 70 points or more over the last few seasons, Athletic need to win at least 8 of their remaining 12 games and that does not look likely by any stretch of the imagination.
Instead, manager Paul Scholes might take the opportunity to introduce several younger players who have not been given a chance yet this season. Being mid-table, with no real danger of going down and an even slimmer chance of moving in the other direction – should enable Scholes to start thinking about his retained list early.
For those players who might find themselves surplus to requirements, there’s the chance to show that they are worth keeping at the club. The seven-day break also gives players carrying knocks time to recover. I would not expect any professional footballer to see the last 12 games as a burden, given that there’s little chance to progress so a fighting spirit must still be demonstrated especially for the supporters who have paid to see them.
There are several options for Scholes to experiment with. We know that the players we have on a loan will be leaving in May and unless there are moves to sign them, Daniel Iversen and Callum Lang who have played an immense part this season will need to be replaced. Currently in the wings and on the cusp of being named in the starting line up are winger Harry Robinson, midfielder Jack Williams and the wonderfully named Ryan Scholes-Beard, nephew of Paul and worthy of an appearance on the pitch just to give the match commentators the chance to announce in true Monty Pythonesque style “Here comes Scholes-Beard“.