A much changed Oldham Athletic made the short hop over the Pennine hills for a Boxing Day clash at Sheffield United, looking to bounce back from the disappointment of Saturday’s home defeat to Colchester United.
Injuries to a number of first team players forced manager Lee Johnson into both a change of personnel and system. James Tarkowski partnered Korey Smith in the centre of midfield as Genseric Kusunga and Matteo Lanzoni formed the central defensive partnership with Jonathan Grounds moving over to left back. Higher up the pitch the returning Jonson Clarke-Harris played through the middle of a front three, with Adam Rooney to the right and Mike Petrasso to the left. Connor Brown also returned to the starting XI at his former club.
Latics took the lead after only 5 minutes with their first attack of the game. Korey Smith won possession 35 yards out, his pass fed Adam Rooney on the right hand side, who composed himself and produced an inch perfect cross to find the head of the on rushing Jonson Clarke-Harris, who's header gave Blades keeper George Long no chance as the frontman notched his fifth goal of the season.
Former Latics loanee Aidy White was forced off with an injury after only 10 minutes for the hosts, Jamie Murphy taking his place.
Only a linesman's flag denied Clarke-Harris a second goal on 20 minutes, Korey Smith unleashed a 25 yard pile driver that Long could only parry into the path of the returning striker, however his superb finish was adjudged to be offside.
Ex-Latic Chris Porter was foiled by a superb covering challenge from Matteo Lanzoni after a through ball by Jose Baxter, Lanzoni chasing Porter down and putting a tackle in as he was about to shoot. Porter was again found by a right wing cross but his weak header was bravely cleared by Connor Brown as Latics took the lead into half time, much to the disapproval of the home supporters.
Latics started the second half well and saw a well struck Jonson Clarke-Harris free kick very well held by George Long in the Blades goal.
The Blades equaliser came on 55 minutes. Sheffield United were awarded a free kick some 30 yards out in the centre of the pitch after Kusunga was adjudged to have fouled Porter. Up stepped Jose Baxter who hammered the ball through the wall and high into Mark Oxley's goal, giving the Latics keeper no chance and levelling the game. Baxter’s celebrations were reserved out of respect for his former club.
The goal seemed to galvanise the hosts with the home side having a period of sustained pressure with several crosses being pumped into the area, however the Latics defence held firm with Kusunga and Lanzoni impressive throughout.
At the other end, McGinn was booked for halting Petrasso whilst in full flow and David Mellor's resulting free kick caused chaos in the Blades area, George Long fumbling the cross before it was eventually cleared for a corner. Adam Rooney led a counter attack and his low drive was again scrambled behind after Long could only parry the initial effort.
Tarkowski and Lanzoni both picked up bookings for Latics for mistimed challenges as the game approached the final 10 minutes.
With 5 minutes to go Nigel Clough’s Sheffield United made a double change as Lyle Taylor and Ryan Flynn replaced Jamie Murphy and Shaun Miller. Whilst Latics manager Lee Johnson introduced Kirk Millar in place of Mike Petrasso.
Latics suffered 3 late scares within the 4 additional minutes, first Kusunga deflecting Baxter's effort onto the post, then from the resulting corner Latics defended heroically to produce 2 goal line clearances to secure a hard earned and well deserved away point in a much improved display.
Full-time: Sheffiled United 1, Latics 1.
Attendance: 19,551 including 1,088 Latics supporters.