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League One

Andy Ritchie's Blog 24

30 January 2013

After Bradford City's heroics in reaching the final of the Capital One Cup, non-league Town Luton making the fifth round of the FA Cup and Brentford holding Chelsea 2-2 at Griffin Park, this season is beginning to feel like the year of the underdog and I was delighted to see Oldham Athletic jump on the bandwagon with their 3-2 victory over Liverpool on Sunday.

I was lucky to be at Boundary Park and it really felt like the good old glory days when the club enjoyed some great cup runs. The atmosphere was amazing and I think some of the Liverpool team were shocked by just how noisy and passionate the Oldham support was.

And let's not kid ourselves here, it was good Liverpool side. Brendan Rodgers may have rested Steven Gerrard but it was an XI with the likes of Luis Suarez, Martin Skrtel, Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Daniel Sturridge, so it wasn't a case of ambushing a side full of kids and reserve team players.

Matt Smith was simply awesome up front. Skrtel is a rough and ready kind of defender but he simply couldn't cope with him and it was like turning back the clock, watching a big, strong English centre forward putting himself about and terrorising the defence. Some might argue it wasn't beautiful football but I thought it was fantastic to watch.

The victory was soured a little on Monday when a story suddenly emerged that Paul Dickov's job as manager was safe. The timing, on the back of a famous victory, was very strange and I'm not sure exactly what was happening behind the scenes. The team have tough npower League 1 games against Walsall and Yeovil Town coming up and question marks about the manager's future really aren't helpful at what's shaping up to be a crucial part of the season.

The problem for Paul is that an FA Cup run can become a double-edged sword. The euphoria of claiming a Premier League scalp quickly subside and then people start asking questions about why the same side is struggling in the league. Getting through to the fifth round is great for Paul's CV but he'll be more ware than anyone that his first job is getting the side out of relegation trouble.

Congratulations of course also to Brentford and Milton Keynes Dons, after they beat Queens Park Rangers 4-2 at Loftus Road. It took a cracking goal from Fernando Torres to deny the Bees and whatever happens in the replay at Stamford Bridge, I hope all the Brentford players enjoy the occasion and fly the flag for npower League 1 again.

I felt a little sorry for MK Dons. To go away to a Premier League, albeit one at the bottom of the table, and win so convincingly was a great achievement but it got overshadowed a little by events at Boundary Park and Griffin Park. On any other day, it would have been the headline story but it was just one of those remarkable weekends when there was so much to talk about.

The comments from Harry Redknapp after the match gave the impression it was a reserve side. I'd still love to know how much the QPR team on Saturday cost to assemble compared to the Dons' side. It really was a stunning result and they had to travel to achieve it.

Back in the league, Leyton Orient were my star turn, beating Notts County 2-1 at Brisbane Road to finally bring the Magpies' remarkable 22-match unbeaten run away from home to an end. Orient have had a bit of a rollercoaster season and while I've no ideas what Russell Slade said to his players in his pre-match team talk, I know I would have been banging on about being the side to stop County's record and stick it up them.

I was sad to read last week about Michael Chopra, Mark Wilson and James Coppinger being found guilty by a corruption inquiry of betting on horses to lose. All three received bans and as an ex-pro, it's depressing when you hear of players going off the rails like this and making bad decisions.

I hope other players will learn the lessons. It's a privileged job but there are pitfalls and this story should serve as a reminder that there are perils attached to playing the game professionally. It's not an excuse but I hope young players are a little bit more wary after what has happened.

On a more positive note, I wanted to praise Notts County's Jamal Campbell-Ryce for his actions after his tackle on Preston North End's Scott Laird back in November. It was a bad challenge that ended Laird's season but he revealed last week that Campbell-Ryce has been phoning him every week to check on his progress and he's accepted his apology.

It's easy to be cynical about footballers but it's a story that proves there is still camaraderie and empathy in the game. There are plenty of things that aren't good about modern football but this story at least proves it's not all about cynicism.

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