Out to equal a 14-year recordDate published: Tuesday, August 18, 2015
SCOTT Naylor’s promotion-chasing League One leaders will equal a 14-year club record if they beat Barrow Raiders at Whitebank on Sunday in their penultimate home game of the regular season.
In the biggest, toughest and most competitive third tier for many years, which includes five clubs who were in the higher Championship division last year, Oldham were tipped pre-season to finish in mid-table and just outside the play-off qualifiers.
But they’ve caught out pundits, bookies, rival clubs and league officials by winning 16 of their 19 league games to command a four-point lead at the top of the table with, in their case, only three games left.
York, Keighley and Swinton, lying second, third and fourth, each have a game in hand on Roughyeds, whom they trail by four, four and five points respectively.
Naylor’s men won their first five — four of them against the weaker southern teams — and then had the doubters questioning their ability and their bottle when they lost three out of four from early May to early June.
They beat Newcastle at Whitebank, but fell to Barrow and Keighley away and North Wales at home — their first home loss in the league in two years.
They couldn’t live with the division’s big boys, said the critics.
That hurt Naylor, his club chairman Chris Hamilton, his backroom staff and his players, who closed ranks, developed a siege mentality and set out on a mission, not so much as to prove the doubters wrong as to prove to themselves that they could compete in present company.
They were to take the division by storm, winning their next TEN games in a row, six of them against the stronger northern teams.
York, Rochdale and Keighley were taken apart at Whitebank, while Swinton, North Wales and Newcastle were seen off away from home.
Now, with Barrow arriving at Whitebank on Sunday (3pm), they are one more win away from equalling an Oldham RLFC (1997) Ltd club record of 11 straight wins set in the Mike Ford days of 2001.
It was the year they finished fourth in the Northern Ford Premiership behind Leigh, Widnes and Rochdale but reached the Grand Final, only to be denied entry to Super League because they were beaten 24-14 by Widnes at the last hurdle.
In their 11-game winning streak they beat Doncaster, Keighley, Barrow, Swinton and Workington at home and Batley, Swinton, Chorley, Gateshead, Whitehaven and Keighley away.
Said Hamilton, who was also chairman back then: “Now, as then, every club we play wants to lower our colours.
“As each win is ticked off, the next one becomes an even harder challenge, but the boys have learned to meet these challenges head on, as they had to big style up in Newcastle at the weekend.
“Barrow on Sunday will present us with another huge test. To start with they’re fighting for every point they can muster to get into the top five.
“They were beaten at Keighley on Sunday by one point and they come here in search of a league double, having beaten us 30-18 at Craven Park in May.
“We weren’t quite on our mettle that day, but the boys are looking forward to Sunday and to the opportunity to show them what the real Oldham are like.”