By Tony Leighton
A meagre haul of six points from the last 24 available does not augur well for Oldham Athletic as they look to climb away from the lower reaches of Sky Bet League 1.
But manager Lee Johnson, whose team are just three points above the relegation zone after sitting comfortably in mid-table at the start of December, is confident that his first full season in management can end in positive fashion.
"There's a lot of fantastic signs for the future," Johnson told football-league.co.uk after seeing his team outplay sixth in the table Walsall yet end up with a 1-0 Tuesday evening defeat, the disappointment of which was compounded by substitute Adam Rooney's stoppage-time penalty miss.
"We've had a few of those games this year," said Johnson, who last term steered Oldham to safety after taking over at Boundary Park in mid-March with the club in the drop zone and with time rapidly running out.
"If we had got finishes away [in recent games] when we needed to we could have come away with five or six wins. Sometimes it just doesn't happen for you, it's in the lap of the gods.
"It's a compliment to be told we've played well, but when we've played very well and haven't won the game it's also a bit of a worry. We've got to steer ourselves out of this murky little patch, and we've got some tough games coming up."
The next four games are indeed tough, all of them against promotion hopefuls in Port Vale, Peterborough United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Swindon Town.
But Johnson pointed out: "We can compete with these teams. We've overcome Wolves and Swindon - we tend to play well against the better teams."
The Latics also beat Port Vale 3-1 at home earlier in the season, so Saturday's trip to Vale Park should hold no great fears for Johnson's team.
But after a fine run of results in October and November, during which seven wins and only one defeat came in 11 League and Cup matches, results are now required if last season's relegation dog fight is not to be repeated.
As he looks to guide his team away from trouble, Johnson said: "We had a few injuries, but players are coming back now and we've got a strong group.
"I don't want to say I'm confident [of climbing the table] because I don't want to come across as arrogant - because you can always get bit on the backside.
"But I believe in the group. Yes, we've lost 12 [League 1] games now and that's got to be addressed. But we can definitely move forward."
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