Oldham frustrated not to claim points after entertaining clash
A goalless stalemate on a freezing Kent afternoon at Priestfield sounds bleak but this was anything but a bore draw as both sides created a number of chances with Oldham the more frustrated at not claiming maximum points from an enterprising display.
Central to that was the performance of Jack Byrne, the Irish midfielder who has lost his way somewhat since departing Manchester City but still has time to get back to the top following disappointing brief spells at Wigan and Blackburn.
The tigerish 21-year-old ran this game from the first minute and if he can continue in that vein it seems unlikely Oldham will be able to extend his loan spell at Wigan beyond January because to put it simply he is far too good to be playing for a bottom-half Sky Bet League One side.
But at least he is playing after barely being given a chance at Wigan and Blackburn to demonstrate the early promise shown in City's youth set-up as well as a successful loan spell at Cambuur in the Dutch Eredivisie which earned him a chance to train with Ireland's senior national team in March 2016.
Nominally playing from the right but with virtually a free role, Byrne was the first man any other player in an Oldham shirt looked for as soon as they had the ball and his clever passing and technical ability shone through in a robust encounter.
Byrne was on corners, free kicks and happy to take shots but it was his passing which caught the eye and he created numerous opportunities, including the chance of the match as he fed substitute Queensy Menig, who rounded Gills keeper Tomas Holy only to be foiled by a miraculous Mark Byrne clearance.
There were other openings for Oldham, most notably to Eoin Doyle, usually assisted by Byrne, but the striker was more wayward than in previous weeks as Athletic had to settle for a point.
Oldham looked better than their league position of 17th suggests and, despite the 0-0 draw, appear a team much more likely to be involved in high-scoring encounters.
Team in focus
Richie Wellens sent them out in an attacking line-up with Craig Davies and Doyle up front. Inconsistent winger Gevaro Nepomuceno is encouraged to stay high and wide, while Byrne plays wherever he wants which leaves them exposed on the counter.
Confident keeper Johny Placide was another who looked classy. The Haitian international happy to come for virtually every cross as well as chuck in the odd piece of showboating with the ball at his feet.
However, Byrne who was the real talent on show as he looks to back-up early comparisons to Paul Scholes from Niall Quinn - from this evidence I would say Jack Wilshere is probably a better shout in terms of style - and Oldham fans should enjoy him while they can.
Gillingham will be happier with the point given the flow of the game, although that's not to say they were always on the back foot.
Placide had to make a couple of smart stops and Luke O'Neill so nearly claimed maximum points but his thunderous late free kick hit the underside of the bar.
There was a lack of creativity in midfield, while keeper Tomas Holy was forced into making six saves and the ones from close range against Doyle and Davies helped Gills to a point.
Striker Tom Eaves, a League One version of Andy Carroll, was by far their biggest threat and enjoyed a decent afternoon apart from one shot which went for a throw-in.
Gills look a better team since Steve Lovell took over as manager but their relegation battle is likely to go on for the rest of the season whether they stick with the 3-4-1-2 formation with which they started the match or the 4-4-2 used following Lee Martin's early head injury.
Gillingham 3-4-1-2: Holy; O'Neill, Zakuani, Ogilvie; Clare, Byrne, Hessenthaler, Parker (List 81); Martin (Wagstaff 19); Wilkinson, Eaves.
Oldham 4-4-2: Placide; Dummigan, Gerrard, Bryan, Hunt; Byrne, Gardner (Green 69, Fane, Nepomuceno (Menig 64); Doyle, Davies (Holloway 59).
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