Mark Perrow reports from Ashton GateCity dug out a win to extend their unbeaten start and bring a halt to Oldham’s own invincible streak with a performance meriting more than the single goal it produced.
Steve Cotterill will have been much happier with the defensive side of his team’s display after back-to-back 2-2 draws, not to mention the inventiveness of Kieran Agard’s superb 57th minute winner.
The City boss stuck with the same starting XI who extended the unbeaten start at Barnsley last time out.
It was a typically fast start to the action at Ashton Gate – quicker than the norm, as City bombarded the away penalty area with cross after cross.
The hosts had already threatened an opener before Oldham attacked for the first time inside two minutes, as leading scorer Jonathan Forte attacked the near post to meet James Dayton’s low ball but could only steer his shot wide.
It was an early wake-up call that sparked a flurry of chances for a home team who looked on top of their game.
First a defensive mix up allowed Agard and Aaron Wilbraham to hunt down a loose ball running towards the byeline, before Agard’s low cross was just inches beyond his sliding strike partner.
That came from the right flank, but Joe Bryan would soon try his luck down the left, producing a slightly overhit delivery which temporarily looked destined for the net only to kiss the face of Paul Rachubka’s crossbar and bounce back into play.
City were getting in behind their in-form visitors at will. A positive burst from right wing-back Mark Little paved the way for a slipped pass into Agard, who again crossed low with Wilbraham and Bryan in support but ex-City man Brian Wilson was on hand to clear the danger.
From the resulting corner, Luke Freeman’s kick was met by Wilbraham at the near post, whose glancing header fell agonisingly between the far corner and the stretching Derrick Williams peeling away around the back.
All this was inside the first 10 minutes, but City did not show many signs of slowing down as the first half wore on.
Bryan and Freeman exchanged clever lobbed passes over fluorescent yellow shirts before the ball sat up kindly for Agard to strike from 20 yards but Oldham keeper Rachubka stooped to deny what would have been a goal to remember.
Aden Flint then met Freeman’s resulting corner from the left with a powerful header back towards the same side that did not sail wide of the post by more than a couple of yards.
But all of City’s pressure was not being rewarded with goals, and the Latics were not prepared to sit back when presented with chances to break.
Dayton led a charge on 34 minutes in which Oldham had four against three in their favour before the slightest of touches from Williams helped Forte’s shot disappear inches wide.
Kusunga then beat Frank Fielding to a Joseph Mills corner but could only send his header over the top, while a Mills mistake at the other end saw his header back to Rachubka fall short only for Agard to lift the ball over keeper and crossbar as he intercepted the ball just in the nick of the time.
Ironically City did not start the second half anything like as sharply, but 12 minutes after the interval Lee Johnson’s side were finally breached.
As Wade Elliott held the ball aloft after Freeman was fouled 30 yards from goal, the smart money looked to be on a chip towards the far post as Flint ran around the back.
But instead Elliott’s kick was short into Wilbraham, whose first time pass around the corner freed Agard
off the back of the Oldham wall, who took a touch and slotted the ball just inside the far post.
So simple. Brilliantly effective.
City finally had the goal their first-half efforts had warranted, and Agard was suddenly full of confidence.
Within four minutes of breaking the deadlock, the striker was on the hunt for a goal of the season contender.
Following an Oldham free kick in a crossing position only half-cleared, Elliott completed the job with a drilled pass down the line which initially looked too far in front of Agard as Rachubka thought about sweeping up the danger.
But the goalkeeper was reluctant to advance what would have been up to 40 yards from his own goal and left himself stranded on the edge of his box, inviting Agard to attempt an audacious lob from near the right touchline.
It looked on target with Rachubka back-pedalling only to drift away from the far post at the last, prompting the summer signing to sink to his knees at what might have been.
From then on City rarely threatened a second goal but defended stoutly. The one time Fielding was called into action, when Dominic Poleon was put through by fellow substitute Carl Winchester, the keeper was strong and brave in turning a shot hit with tremendous power over the bar.
Oldham were a team high on confidence having not lost since August – a run spanning 13 games in league and cup – and were determined not to surrender their own proud record.
The luminous shirts pushed higher and higher up the pitch in search of an equaliser but in doing so left gaps at the other end.
Another big burst from Little fed Bryan in acres of space ten minutes from time. If anything his shot lacked conviction, but Rachubka could still only parry into the path of Agard who looked certain to score only to be crowded out by a sea of retreating bodies.
It was to end with City penned in their own box and Williams making a priceless last-ditch tackle to halt Forte in his tracks.
But end it did, eventually, with Cotterill’s men five points clear at the summit.