I’m glad I’m not an Everton fan, a Liverpool fan or for that matter a Nottingham Forest fan. Not because Oldham have beaten two former European champions and could claim a third scalp of European pedigree this Tuesday, but because I’ve realised what the weight of expectation can do to you.
All three teams were expected to beat us, but now I understand why cup games can be a great equaliser. If you are a top six team then you are expected to beat everybody beneath you, so only playing those other five teams really holds any excitement and it becomes more about desire to perform against your equals.
This gets worse if your fans believe the team is better than they are, as losses to teams you think lower means more frustration from both fans and players. Oldham fans' expectations have plummeted since the days of Joe Royle (whilst Everton’s have grown), but in the back of our minds is always ‘we used to be Premier League!’
Our former manager Paul Dickov resigned a game after the Liverpool win. We’d dreamed of a mid table/push for play-offs and ended with a nightmare relegation scrap losing to teams we thought we should beat. When he arrived I was excited to see us playing a high tempo, pressing game, but after bad results we seemed to become defensive, nervous and worried about the opposition.
The only time we looked comfortable is when we didn’t seem to have a chance, as in the cup games. Now caretaker boss Tony Philliskirk has taken over he has us concentrating on our own play rather than the opponents (in part due to having no money for scouting teams) and we’re unbeaten in four.
In the first game I’d accepted it’d be a harder task as Everton had a more disciplined and organised team than their Mersey counterparts but again Oldham went in front with a great counter-attack from a lighter looking Lee Croft feeding Jordan Obita for our first. By the way it was clear in the initial replay that Croft hadn’t fouled Osman and if we were a Premier League team it would have been called something like ‘fluid attacking football’ not wondering whether anyone outside the top flight can actually mean to cross a ball – punditry at its finest from Southgate there.
Everton went up 2-1 early in the second half, Howard made some great saves to deny us in the last 10 minutes but then we entered ‘Fergie’ time and the whole crowd seemed to think it was inevitable that Matt Smith would equalise. (For further clarification to some of my Everton friends, Howard ran into Jagielka, our keeper didn’t touch the ball, we scored, replay, get over it.)
It felt better than beating Liverpool as I knew we’d beat them, but to snatch victory away from an expectant set fans is a joy all of its own – especially when all your Scouse mates had written off your chances (again).
So can we win the replay? Why not? Apparently we have less of a chance this time although I think we have less to fear.
Even if we lose we win: Roughly £1m for the FA Cup run is invaluable to Oldham for our survival. Our profile has been raised and mates are once again mentioning Andy Ritchie to me. Lapsed fans are slowly coming back and, hey, Everton fans and the media are already preparing for the Everton v Wigan clash anyway, so no pressure.
Everton’s back to front season: Usually at this point Evertonians wonder why they always start off shit and surge to a top six place near the end. Not this season as a small squad seems to have put everything into the start and now don’t look to have another gear.
Not fearing their players: Before the original game I worried for Connor Brown if not our whole back four. Loanee Reece Wabara was the preferred right back until his return to Man City and Brown was 21 and looked shaky at best. Surely the combo of Pienaar and Baines overlapping on the left would exploit this? Nope. Fellaini unplayable? Nope. In fact the defence is starting to look more of a unit each game. Obviously players can have off games and Moyes will be tactically astute to change things around but our players shouldn’t be scared of taking the game to them. Still, if you could play Heitinga please…
Loving our players: Our fans sometimes have a tendency to jump on our own players backs but when given a chance we can show some love. One of the reasons Baines wasn’t as effective was the workrate of Croft. I don’t know what they’re not feeding him but he’s shifted a bit of timber and is reaping Man Of The Match performances recently.
Jose Baxter is due a performance and maybe a return home will calm him and his ‘Hollywood’ balls down he has the ability to run a game if he just relaxes. The selection of his midfield partner will also be key. My preference is Wesolowski if fit but will club captain Dean Furman reclaim his spot after a good Africa Cup of Nations? Matt Smith will obviously be key but will Moyes have a game plan for him this time. Will he even start?
Philliskirk: We seem to be able to go the full ninety minutes now rather than running out of steam after an hour. The players seem to respond to him, seems to have be good tactically and isn’t afraid to blood the youngsters. He doesn’t want the job long term so allows us time to find a new manager (Dowie please, we’ll all chip in for your wages) a real pro.
It’s no embarrassment to lose to their full strength squad: What? That was their full strength squad in the first game? Ohhh, wait but we took them to a replay…
I can’t go to the game as my bluenose friend Pete and I run Liverpool’s Rawhide Raw comedy gong show on Tuesdays (come along if you want to see one of us cry after the match) I hope we win but expect nothing whilst he expects everything and hopes they don’t lose. I remind him of the last time we had know chance in 2008 and if you know your history…