A last gasp own goal ensured Fleetwood ended the year on a high and within a whisker of a play-off spot.
It was a dreary end to the year at a bitterly cold, wind ravaged Highbury that only exploded into life in the dying embers with substitute Devante Cole bagging his ninth assist of the season as he outfoxed Cameron Dummiganb on the left and his ball across the six-yard box was diverted home by Josh Law who slid in under no pressure in the 91st minute.
It was cruel on bottom club Oldham who tested Uwe Rosler’s men and put up a sterner test than many of the opposition that have visited Highbury but without a clinical edge in the final third the Latics’ tired legs finally gave way as Cole and fellow substitute Chris Long’s pace helped swing a poor game back in Town’s favour.
The result sees Town end the year in eighth spot in the League One table and a point off sixth-placed Southend.
Town started the game with a late Christmas present with Kyle Dempsey recovered from a leg wound to start the final game of 2016.
Dempsey was stretchered off in Town’s 2-1 win over Walsall earlier this month and came straight back into the starting line-up.
That was one of three changes Uwe Rosler made to the side that drew 0-0 with Bury on Boxing Day as Town’s head coach shifted formation from 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2 wing-back formation.
Dempsey came in for defender Joe Davis with Ash Hunter replacing the injured Aaron Amadi-Holloway and Jack Sowerby replacing striker Chris Long.
With his brother Ryan lining up for Oldham in a left wing-back role Town’s usual right wing-back McLaughlin moved into the defensive three with Sowerby slotting in at right wing-back and Dempsey moving into his usual role on the right of a midfield three.
It was a dire opening with Oldham, the last team to win at Highbury with a 2-0 EFL Trophy victory back in October, putting a host of bodies behind the ball to stop Fleetwood’s normal fast-flowing counter-attacking football to try and take the pace out of the game.
Promotion chasing Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder hailed Oldham as the best team to have visited Bramall Lane after the Blades’ late 2-0 win and they certainly did not look like a team bottom of the table having done their homework on Rosler’s side.
Fleetwood enjoyed a lot of possession but could not carve out a clear cut chance in the opening exchanges with Oldham’s McKay having the first effort of the game but he was thwarted in the six-yard box by Cairns’ cat-like reflexes.
Oldham did not look like a side battling it out at the foot of the table and had the best chances of a dull half as they blunted and battered Fleetwood in the final third with some rough and tumble football.
The Latics’ Law curled a free-kick wide before Ball finally broke through the burly shackles of the beefy blue shirts to just lift the ball over the bar.
Ryan Flynn fizzed the ball past the left post and Conor McLaughlin’s brother Ryan found space on the left wing, cut inside and fizzed the ball straight down Cairns’ throat.
Town looked more of a threat as the half ended with some neat touches from Glendon, Dempsey, Ball and Hunter but they could not get the final ball right and the half ended all square.
Fleetwood made a better start to the second half with Hunter stinging Ripley’s palms from distance as they created more space to attack.
Head coach Rolser brought Dempsey off in the 55th minute as a precautionary measure on his return from that leg injury.
That substitution saw Fleetwood shift to a 3-4-3 with the same back three, wing-backs Bell and Sowerby moving into wide midfield roles, Grant moving into a central midfield role alongside Glendon and Cole joining Ball and Hunter up front.
The game became more open with both sides keen to end the year on a high enabling Town to create some dangerous counter-attacks with Glendon’s angled effort deflected away from goal, Hunter curling one wide from distance and then blazing way over the bar from a similar position with Cole firing way wide after steaming into the box.
Osei looked to have got in the middle of Pond and Bolger but Bolger somehow managed to get a leg to the ball and hook it away to safety.
Oldham’s burly midfielder Croft nearly popped up with an opener as he powered the ball into the side netting and it was the Latics with the best of the late chances as Cairns was forced into a fine diving save to tip away McKay’s header but it would not have counted anyway with the flag up on the far side.
Grant tried one of signature spectacular long distance efforts but sent the ball crashing wide instead.
Town had a couple late chances with a piece of individual brilliance from Long as he ghosted inside from the left flank but his angled effort was tipped away by Ripley with Bell wasting an opportunity in the box from the subsequent corner.
But it took an Oldham player to give Town the lead as Law diverted home. The goal galvanised Fleetwood and they nearly had a second as Long was sent one-on-one by a defence splitting Nirennold pass but he was flagged offside and Town had to settle for a 1-0 win.
Fleetwood: Cairns, Sowerby (Nirennold, 71), McLaughlin, Pond, Bolger, Bell, Dempsey (Cole, 55), Glendon, Grant, Hunter (Long, 76), Ball. Subs not used: Neal, Davis, Haughton, Roberts.
Oldham: Ripley, Law, Wilson, Burgess, Flynn (Banks, 76), McKay, Dummigan, Osei (Ladapo, 71) Clarke, McLaughlin, Green (Croft, 64). Subs not used: Kettings, Winchester, Edmundson, Fane.