Oldham Athletic's youth: The key to survival?
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Oldham Athletic have endured a torrid couple of decades, falling from a founding member of the Premier League all the way to the bottom of England's fourth tier.

And to make matters worse, relegation looked all but confirmed across the previous few months, with both themselves and Scunthorpe United looking miles off the rest of the league.

However, since John Sheridan offered his services for free at the end of January and thus beginning his fourth stint as the Latics’ manager, the 57-year-old's side have picked up seven points out of a possible nine and have conceded just one goal in the process.

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The Blues still sit in the relegation zone and are currently two points from safety ahead of an extremely difficult trip to high-flying Newport County on Saturday afternoon, but hope has been restored at Boundary Park.

It is clear to see that Sheridan has brought the feel good factor back to his beloved Oldham – perhaps sooner than one might have thought – but he isn't the only person making Latics fans smile.

Although the squad has massively underachieved so far this season, academy graduates Junior Luamba and Harry Vaughan have shown real signs of raw talent when provided with first team opportunities.

Let's take a look into how two teenagers have come through this season, and why they just might be the different between survival and relegation.

  • Junior Luamba

At just 18 years of age, Luamba has already shown signs that he has an exciting career ahead of him.

Not only has the Englishman stamped his authority in a physical league at such a young age, but he has also demonstrated the ability to win his side points when the going gets tough.

Playing alongside a group of professionals that will be disappointed with their own performances respectively, Luamba has scored two late winning goals for Oldham across this campaign, despite only making ten appearances.

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These goals could not have come at more important times.

The first one came in added time away to Sutton United, a result that gave Latics their first win of the season, with the second coming last Saturday away to Scunthorpe – a fierce battle between the league's bottom two sides.

And that late goal against Scunthorpe is what has kickstarted the new hope around Boundary Park. Had that winner not have arrived, the prospect of relegation would have been much greater.

His recent performances have prompted praise from Sheridan, and Luamba now looks set to serve as a prominent figure in Oldham's survival push after injuries forced him into a spell on the sidelines.

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Speaking to Oldham's club media, the teenager said:

"The new gaffer's come in and he's given us all hope. He's got a clear plan that he wants to implement in the side and we've just got to trust him.

"He's said to the younger lads that we will get our opportunity. We've got to keep coming in training and giving 100%. So he's given us a chance and it's down to use to take it," Luamba said.

"I don't think any other team in the league is giving the youngsters opportunities as much as Oldham Athletic. It gives me good hope and that incentive to work harder for the future.

"The youth team set up nurture good talents coming through so the fans need to look after them as well," he continued.

  • Harry Vaughan

Another academy graduate who has made an impact this season is Harry Vaughan.

Despite only being 17 years of age and 166cm tall, Vaughan has oozed class every time he has taken to the field this season.

The youngster has scored in the league despite not being a regular starter at Oldham, and he also bagged the winner against Championship-seeking Sunderland in the EFL Trophy.

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There have been times in which Vaughan has shown more ability and composure on the ball than the entirety of his teammates, and it is scary to think that a boy so young could dance past seasoned professionals with such ease.

The teenager has recently been away with with the Republic of Ireland under 19's – a period in which he made his debut for the national side. But Vaughan is now back with his club side and looking to help the team escape relegation.

Speaking to Oldham Athletic's club media, he said:

"I settled in perfectly. Even being in the same changing room as the first team is different but I've got used to it now and I'm more comfortable with the boys.

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"I've seen the opportunity that the gaffer's given me so it's there for me to take. I've got to just keep performing and playing well and hopefully I can make it as a regular in the first team," Vaughan said.

"I'm obviously not the biggest boy but my low centre of gravity helps. I can just weave in and out of the big league two defenders. I just need to keep doing more of it."