Lee Johnson’s Sunderland face Harry Kewell’s Oldham tonight in round two of this season’s EFL Trophy at Boundary Park.
The Black Cats finished second in their group, having beat both Carlisle and Aston Villa under-21s, but losing to Fleetwood Town.
Oldham won all three of their group stage matches, against Doncaster, Bradford and Wolves under-21s, but their league form has been inconsistent as the Latics sit 16th in League Two.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Oldham fan Aaron Diskin to discuss how Kewell’s side have faired so far this season, as well as what Sunderland fans can expect from the match.
MC: Newly appointed Sunderland manager Lee Johnson started his managerial career with Oldham - how did he perform during that period and how did the fans view him?
AD: Lee Johnson’s play style was some of the best football Latic’s fans have witnessed in recent years. He played fast expansive front foot football and left us to go to Barnsley halfway through the season when we were lying in the play off places of League One.
Many fans, like myself, believe that if Johnson would have stayed we would have gone up to the Championship in that season but, our form fell off when he left. In terms of how the fans view him many fans would say he was our best manager in recent years but some fans will be left with a sour taste in their mouths with how he left just to get more money.
MC: Oldham are currently sat 16th in the League Two table, five points away from the playoffs and seven points clear of the relegation zone - what position should the club be aiming for?
AD: I feel this season we have been the most inconsistent side I’ve ever seen. One week we’ll play really attacking positive football and batter teams and get results, and the next week we’ll play a defensive formation and lose to teams we should be beating.
Our away form is the second best in League Two after six wins out of six in all competitions, but in contrast to our home form we lie 22nd in the form tables. In terms of what we should be aiming for this season, if we can sort out the horrendous home form I would back us to be dark horses in the play off race.
MC: Oldham appointed former Australian international and Premier League player Harry Kewell ahead of this season, how is he performing so far and are you happy with him?
AD: I personally feel Harry Kewell is doing a good job given the circumstances he finds himself in the role.
Many people are probably aware of the off-the-field issues we at Oldham have faced for a number of years now with interference and a high turnover of staff becoming the new norm. I think Kewell is doing a satisfactory job considering many fans know that his hands are probably tied.
MC: The club won all three of their EFL Trophy group stage matches, beating Bradford, Doncaster and Wolves under-23s - are the club taking the competition very seriously?
AD: I think Oldham view this competition as a competition they can heavily rotate players in, but it also presents an opportunity of a realistic piece of silverware we can win at the end of the season.
For us it’s about the balance of priorities by playing a strong enough team to compete, but making sure we don’t get injuries for the more important league games.
MC: The Latics have won all of their home cup matches this season, but have won just one of their eight home League Two matches this season - why is the team struggling so much at home?
AD: To be honest, I think this is a question that all Latic’s fans wish they had the answer to, but nobody really knows what that could be because with no crowds being in we can’t use the excuse of fans getting on players backs.
I wonder whether they just prefer to play away from home when the pressure of the result is a little less expectant. Long may the away form continue.
MC: Who are the three Oldham players you believe Sunderland will have to look out for during the cup tie?
AD: For me, our strongest three players this season have been Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Danny Rowe and Connor McAleny.
These three players for me have been our stand out performers. McAleny is our top goal scorer in the competition so far with 11 goals in all competitions and for me Danny Rowe is one of the best strikers in the league, he is unafraid to shoot from all angles with quite often spectacular consequences for the opposition.
As for CBJ, after a slow few weeks in the opening of the season, he seems to be getting stronger and stronger. He has made that left-back position his own, he always produces some powerful runs and possesses great crossing ability in his arsenal.
MC: Oldham signed former Sunderland academy player Keillor-Dunn in the summer - how has he performed so far for the Latics?
AD: Davis Keillor-Dunn we can already tell is bright on the ball but sometimes for my liking he tries to do too much with the football and gets dispossessed in areas where we don’t want him to get dispossessed.
His role in the squad so far has been rather sporadic, due to our stronger attacking form rather than his bad performances.
MC: Who are the eleven Oldham players you predict Kewell to select tonight (formation included) and what style of play can Sunderland expect to face?
AD: Laurence Bilboe, Tom Hamer, Carl Piergianni, Will Sutton, Jordan Barnett, Dylan Bahamboula, Bobby Grant, Callum Whelan, Davis Keillor-Dunn, Zach Dearnley and George Blackwood. (4-4-2)
I think we’ll play on the counter-attack trying to keep quite a lot of bodies behind the ball to then attack quickly on the wings with pace.
MC: Lastly, are you expecting Oldham to secure a shock win, or will Sunderland advance to the next round?
AD: I’ll go 1 all in the match and Oldham to win 5-4 on penalties.