Oldham Athletic look for a return to winning ways when they host Altrincham at Boundary Park on Saturday.
A tough 3-0 defeat at AFC Fylde in midweek saw Oldham’s seven game unbeaten run come to an abrupt halt, whilst it saw boss Micky Mellon suffer his first defeat in the hot seat.
Latics never really got going at Mill Farm, whilst the hosts hit a rapid one-two that gave the visitors an uphill battle. Luke Charman found dangerman Jonathan Ustabasi on the right, whose fierce drive brilliantly found the bottom corner.
Minutes later Connor Barrett went on a powerful run down the right flank before his powerful smash across the box was met superbly by Josh Kay, whose precise finish marked his first of the campaign.
The final score could have been a lot worse for Oldham if it wasn’t for Mathew Hudson in between the sticks. Nick Haughton, Ustabasi and Kay were all kept out by Hudson before the third goal.
Ustabasi’s second and Fylde’s third compounded the end of Latics unbeaten run on the road (four games), whilst it was the final of a three-game road trip, which saw a fairly successful return from that run (2 wins, 1 defeat).
The Turkish forward put the cherry on top of an impressive Fylde performance. Ustabasi won the ball back high before rifling a stunning effort into the top corner, sealing all three points.
The defeat marked the first time Oldham failed to find the net since their 3-0 defeat at Bromley in mid-September, whilst their return to Boundary Park this weekend could see them continue a five-match unbeaten run there, though they are without a win at home in their last two.
Mellon will hope to replicate the result Oldham got at Altrincham in the FA Cup qualifying round a few weeks back before his arrival, though he will have to do so without captain Liam Hogan, who was dismissed following two yellow card offences in midweek.
Latics boss will face a side who he hasn’t come up against since 2010 in the National League as Fleetwood Town manager, and he will want to pick up his first win against Altrincham after a 1-0 defeat in his only meeting with his upcoming opponent.
Now in 11th Oldham cannot afford to drop any more ground on those above them. Five points adrift of seventh placed Aldershot Town makes a win at the weekend imperative, whilst victory could see them climb as high as ninth.
A 1-1 draw at the J.Davidson Stadium on Tuesday with Kidderminster saw Altrincham continue their streak of eight National League games without defeat.
The hosts were generally dominant for large periods of the game, though a lightning start for the Harriers saw Reiss McNally bundle in the opener inside the first two minutes of the start.
Altrincham replied well however, both Isaac Marriott and Alex Newby struck off target with respective chances with under 15 minutes gone, though it was just short of the half hour mark when the hosts found an equaliser.
Centre forward Justin Amaluzor was involved in the goal, providing a neat inside pass to teammate Lewis Banks whose clever side footed finish was accurately placed into the bottom corner to bring it back to level pegging.
The final flurry of action in the game came in the final 30 minutes. Edward Jones struck a well hit effort on goal after a well-worked free kick that was beaten away by Christian Dibble.
A slick interchange between Southern-Cooper, Chris Conn-Clarke and Dior Angus in and around the box found the latter with space inside the area, though his finish lacked conviction as he blazed over the upright.
The visitors’ last opportunity came with a quarter of an hour to play when Samson Robinson produced a clever stepover to find space inside the box before his effort caused a few gasps from the crowd when it whistled just wide of the far post.
Altrincham’s final and perhaps biggest chance of the half came for Amaluzor whose initial attempt was blocked by the feet of Dibble before his follow up effort was disappointingly blasted over the bar with the goal gaping.
That final effort brought an end to an entertaining contest, which despite the fact it kept Altrincham unbeaten in league action meant they had now gone winless in their last two fixtures in all competitions.
Boss Phil Parkinson will certainly hope it doesn’t become a new trend for his side, especially considering the fact they had previously won five successive games.
Being back on the road this weekend could see Altrincham continue their success so far this season when they have made a visit to another ground. They currently have the fourth best away record in the league.
They also are one of two sides to have won their last three trips, whilst they have shown defensive stability away from home having secured two clean sheets in their last three on the road.
The draw in midweek saw Altrincham remain fifth but gave the opportunity to Halifax and Aldershot Town to close in to just a point behind. A fifth win on the road this weekend would prove critical to remain as one of the top playoff candidates, whilst it could see Altrincham climb above Solihull Moors into fourth.
As one of the top five sides in the National League so far this season, there were sure to be a range of threats to focus on ahead of the clash at Boundary Park, though it was the centre forward Amaluzor who was at the top of the pile.
The 27-year-old has netted just twice in the National League this season, his second coming more recently in the 2-0 win at Gateshead, and though his output hasn’t quite got up to scratch thus far, his overall play shows just how important he is to Altrincham.
Amaluzor poses an all-round threat as the focal point of this Altrincham side, whether it be to provide an outball for his teammates or link play and be a man to play off, the striker has proven to be a highly useful player in the final third of the pitch.
His performance against the Harrier’s in midweek, saw his tendency to drift into wide channels and provide an option, adding just another element to his game whilst his display at Gateshead showed his versatility.
He also had the ability to drive with the ball at his feet after dropping deep, whilst having the technique to take the ball on the half-turn. His goal in the game put on display his spacial awareness and movement without the ball which created the scoring opportunity coupled with a composed finish at the end of it.
Amaluzor has the traits as a centre forward that pose a real handful for National League defences. Strong, quick and technically proficient, Latics must show a big improvement defensively if they wish to keep him quiet.
In the dugout
In just his second managerial position of his career, Parkinson has seen to good progress at the J.Davidson Stadium. Initially in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League, it took him no time to lead Altrincham to a title winning season, clinching the honour in his first season (2017/18).
Up to the sixth tier of the football pyramid in the following season, Parkinson’s Altrincham remained a threat, finishing a solid fifth place whilst once again concluding the season as the highest scorers (85).
After suffering a cruel playoff exit in the season prior, the 19/20 campaign brought more success. Parkinson had lost his last two playoff appearances with defeat coming in the semi-final on both occasions, his first coming during his time at Nantwich Town.
A consecutive fifth place finish saw Altrincham comfortably into the playoffs which saw a convincing performance. Parkinson’s men got past Chester, York City and Boston United in the final, whilst both York and Boston had finished above them in the standings.
Parkinson managed to guide his men to a 17th place finish in his first National League experience as manager in the 20/21 season, though it was sure to be a wakeup call that their level had to go up another level.
A slight improvement the following season wasn’t enough to close the gap to the playoff spots, whilst this season has seen an astounding jump from Altrincham, who have made their best start to a league season under Parkinson after 16 games played.
Parkinson will certainly want to return to the winning column after a two-game spell without a win, whilst his side will have revenge on their minds when they come up against the side who dumped them out of the FA Cup.
Today's referee is Aaron Jackson, with Stephen Rushworth and Daniel Woolley taking up the lines and William Davis operating as fourth official.
Match coverage and information
Live audio commentary is available on Latics Player, guiding you through the match.
Alternatively, supporters can also follow the game with live updates on the club's official Twitter account: @OfficialOAFC
As this game is being played within the blocked broadcast hours stipulated by UEFA, live streaming will not be available through National League TV for supporters in the UK. The game will be available overseas.
As always, we will endeavour to ensure confirmation of the line-up is published as soon as possible.
However, supporters should note that team sheets in the National League are exchanged 15 minutes later than in the EFL and as a result, the line-up is likely to be published slightly later than in previous seasons.