Classic matches revisited: Oldham Athletic 5-3 Nottingham Forest – A comeback that almost was

We kick off our series of some of the greatest games of football you've probably forgotten about with a visit to Boundary Park in the first weeks of the Premier League

Classic matches revisited: Oldham Athletic 5-3 Nottingham Forest – A comeback that almost was
The match was a re-run of the 1990 League Cup final, won by Nottingham Forest | Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

To begin this series by stating the blindingly obvious, the English game has seen some blindingly good games of football over the years.

From Michael Thomas' title-sealing goal in injury time at Anfield to Manchester United's 5-3 turnaround at White Hart Lane, from "Agüerooooooo" to "Tiotééééé", there have been some belters.

So much so, in fact, that a lot of them have been forgotten. Not by those in the stands, perhaps - you never forget those afternoons - but to the rest of the world, some of the best matches in football history are nothing more than statistics on a spreadsheet, 'On This Day' features in matchday programmes.

So, once a week, we at VAVEL UK will be taking a stroll down memory lane and having a look back at some of the games that are in danger of being lost to the ages. After all, just because it happened before YouTube existed doesn't mean it didn't happen at all...

The setting

As the songbirds chirped and the nation awoke on the morning of Saturday 22nd August, 1992, the Premier League looked a lot different to what it does today.

Just two games into its existence, this new incarnation of the English top flight was still stuttering and spluttering into life.

Manchester United, Manchester CityArsenal and Spurs made up four of the bottom five and with two wins apiece from their opening two games, it was the cities of Norwich and Coventry which occupied the top two spots.

At Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park, there had been little indication of the razzmatazz that Premier League millions would bring to the game in the years to come. 

Back-to-back one-all draws with Chelsea and Crystal Palace had seen what would prove to be an thrilling season get off to an uninspiring start, and Cloughie's Nottingham Forest were next on the fixture list.

An opening-day win over Liverpool in Sky Sports' first ever 'Super Sunday' match seemed a good omen, but they were beaten shortly after by Sheffield Wednesday

With the league table in its nascent stages, both sides were locked on points in mid-table in the era of two points for a win. 

The match

Oldham run riot

It was not the first half to the match that anybody saw coming, as a 13-minute, three-goal salvo from the Latics saw Forest swept away in the closing stages of the opening period.

First, a cross from the right byline looped up off a defender and over the goalkeeper but looked like being cleared at the back stick. Somehow, amidst a throng of bodies, the swinging boot of midfielder Neil Adams made enough contact to nudge the ball over the line and give Joe Royle's side the lead.

Before the 40-minute mark, the hosts were two up. Graeme Sharp robbed a defender at the corner of the penalty area, took the ball inside onto his left foot and stroked the ball under goalkeeper Mark Crossley to double the advantage.

With the home fans still celebrating the second goal and deciding on their half-time plans of action, there was a third. Steve Redmond looped a pass forward from defence, Gunner Halle nodded it on, and Nick Henry applied a cool close-range finish. 

The demolition continues

Whatever Brian Clough said to his charges at half-time, it didn't seem to work. Adams turned provider this time, charging into space within a minute of the restart and drilling a low cross into the area.

Stuart Pearce was the unlucky defender on the end of it, his attempted clearance getting away from him as he slipped and allowed Halle to slam the ball in at the back post.

Adams and Halle, both exceptional throughout, combined to send the home fans into dreamland with less than an hour on the clock. 

Their swift counter-attack looked to have been stopped as Halle was brought down by Pearce on the edge of the area, but Paul Bernard was lurking towards the right wing.

He took a breath and braced himself as the ball bobbled his way, before wrapping his left boot around it and sending a sumptuous shot over and around the keeper, bulging the side netting and stamping his name on any 'Goal of the Day' awards which may have been given.

Forest awaken at last

They may have been down, but Forest had enough characters in their team to suggest that even at 5-0, they weren't necessarily out. Pearce, Roy Keane, Nigel Clough and Teddy Sheringham were still out in Forest red, and it was two of these players who combined to ignite a comeback.

Keane was brought down by Mike Milligan just inside the penalty area, and Pearce stepped up dutifully to roll it into the bottom left - though at 5-1 in arrears, there was no 'Psycho' penalty scream.

32-year-old Lancastrian striker Gary Bannister - formerly of Detroit Express and later to represent Hong Kong Rangers - had been brought on by Clough moments earlier, and he took it upon himself to continue building on Pearce's thinly laid foundations.

With five minutes on the clock, he seized on a Scott Gemmill through ball behind the Oldham defence and slotted the ball under goalkeeper Jon Hallworth. Some of the home fans shuffled uncomfortably in their seats.

Two minutes later, he leaped highest to meet Ian Woan's lofted cross from the left and power a header back across goal, just inside the far post. The remaining Forest fans began to stand up and take notice.

Alas, the comeback was not to be. Oldham got hold of the ball and held onto it for dear life, shutting up shop and claiming an impressive, if a little overly stressful, victory.

The aftermath

It was a day which saw a lot of goals in the Premier League. Middlesbrough put four past Leeds UnitedQPR came out on the right end of a 3-2 scoreline with Sheffield United, and Sheffield Wednesday and Chelsea shared six.

In the end, it was the three points earned by Oldham which appear to have been the most significant.

Forest's late show of spirit wasn't a sign of things to come as Clough retired with his side bottom of the table and relegated, with Boro and Crystal Palace following them down.

Tied on points with Palace were, however, Oldham Athletic. Their goal difference on the final day was -11, just two better than the Eagles' -13.

This early-season humdinger set the tone for a season which saw them concede a massive 74 goals but score 63, the best goalscoring record outside of the top six.

It was a record they couldn't maintain into the next season as just 42 goals scored saw them down in 93/94, but Oldham's gung-ho attidude, attacking prowess, and haphazard defending saw them become a consistent source of entertainment in the inaugural year of what would become the biggest sporting league in the world.


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