AT THIS stage of the season, it’s the result that matters most, and the record books will show Town claimed the win which put them three points clear in that crucial sixth spot in League I.
While the home side struggled to find any kind of fluency, Theo Robinson’s goals shortly before the break, then in the third minute of stoppage time at the end, were enough to get the better of Oldham, who continued to prove stubborn opposition even after having right-back Kieran Lee sent off in the 76th minute.
Robinson’s second of the game and 13th of the season, slotted home from Gary Roberts’ cross, not only put gloss on the scoreline but provided a further boost to Town’s goal difference.
Home boss Lee Clark fielded an unchanged starting side for the third match running.
Oldham included ex-Town striker Pawel Abbott, but former Galpharm skipper Jon Worthington had to make do with a place on the bench – Andy Holdsworth was missing due to being out injured.
It was the 38th league meeting between the pair, with Town chasing a 17th win and Oldham a 10th.
The opening exchanges were lively, with Robinson running onto Jordan Rhodes’ pass and forcing a corner with a teasing centre in the second minute.
Oldham hit back, Chris Taylor crossing for Lewis Guy to nod over before Reuben Hazell’s header from Dale Stephens’ 15th-minute corner was held by Alex Smithies.
When Town then forced a flag kick, taken by Roberts, Rhodes headed onto the roof of the net from Peter Clarke’s flick on.
Robinson and Rhodes were both ruled offside as Town tried to pierce the Oldham defence with through balls from the halfway line.
But the home fans’ frustration turned to relief as Town had two let-offs in quick succession.
First, on 19 minutes, Danny Whitaker picked out Abbott who, one on one with Smithies, tried to chip the Town keeper, only for his effort to be blocked.
Then, on 20, a foul by Dean Heffernan yielded a free-kick which Stephens floated in for Hazell to nod back across goal.
Abbott, Oldham’s 13-goal top scorer, powered in a header which thumped against the bar and bounced back out.
Sean Gregan’s misplaced clearance allowed Danny Drinkwater to pump the ball forward for Robinson to chase, but visiting keeper Darryl Flahavan reacted smartly to kick clear.
Smithies held Hazell’s 31st-minute header comfortably before the big centre-back nipped in to clear as Robinson awaited Roberts’ 36th-minute cross.
Whitaker curled a shot onto the roof of the net as Oldham continued to look dangerous – but it was Town who made the breakthrough in the 38th minute.
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Anthony Pilkington’s persistence paid off with a cross from the left, and when Hazell stooped in a bid to head clear, he could only loop the ball into the path of Robinson, who flicked a shot beyond the reach of Flahavan.
Oldham stuck to their task, and it took a fine recovery tackle by Drinkwater to rob Taylor as he cut through, while Whitaker shot narrowly wide from the edge of the area in the 42nd minute.
Town’s hunger to hold onto their lead was well illustrated in the 52nd minute, when skipper Peter Clarke, ex-Oldham man Neal Trotman and Drinkwater all threw themselves in the way of Stephens’ goalbound long-range shot.
Moments later at the other end, burly defender Sean Gregan did enough to knock Robinson out of his stride as he put in a shot which was saved by Flahavan.
Town weren’t firing on all cylinders, and manager Clark made changes in the 62nd and 68th minutes, first replacing 21-goal leading marksman Rhodes with midfielder Tom Clarke, then bringing on James Berrett for Michael Collins.
Oldham were reduced to 10 men in the 76th minute when right-back Lee, already booked after a foul on Roberts, walked after a late touchline tackle on Dean Heffernan.
Nathan Eccleston replaced Pilkington before play re-started, and soon after Roberts tested Flahavan with a curling shot from 20 yards out.