KEITH Curle had said there was fight in the Oldham Athletic dressing, and against Port Vale his players proved it.

In a battle between second bottom and second top, few would have backed Latics to end a poor run that had left them languishing.

Oldham went into the game with just one League Two win in seven, while the Valiants had suffered just one league defeat in 10.

But, after Davis Keillor-Dunn headed in a first half equaliser following David Worrall's opener, Sam Hart marked his first start since August by cancelling out James Gibbons' 52nd minute strike before having a big say in a stoppage time winner. Capping his first start since August, the defender’s initial shot was diverted past goalkeeper Lucas Covolan by the head of Aaron Martin, sending those on the touchline and three sides of Boundary Park wild.

"I'm delighted," said Curle. "The range of emotions that you go through when you're stood on the side of a pitch are massive but that's why I'm in this game. That's what I love about it.

"There's nothing better than knowing that your players have emptied the tank and given you everything.”

There was a sub-plot to the football match, with Latics fans staging the latest of their protests against unpopular owner Abdallah Lemsagam.

The ‘Pack the Park’ initiative might not have brought the volume of supporters organisers Push The Boundary would have hoped for but their message of discontent was still heard loud and clear, with chants of “We want Abdallah out” ringing out before kick-off, while a huge banner displayed the instruction “Get out of our club” in capital letters.

Vale fans - almost 2,000 of them altogether - showed solidarity by joining in. But that was the only time they were singing from the same hymn sheet as a packed away end drowned out Latics fans when Worrall - a former Latics loanee - fired the visitors in front.

A catalogue of errors was a glitch on an afternoon where they worked hard for each other, and caused the home side to fall behind.

After Vale had passed their way out from the back with relative ease, Nicky Adams slipped on the edge of the box as James Gibbons advanced with the ball, the cross wasn’t stopped and an unmarked Worrall finished expertly at the far post.

Latics fans behind the goal, to their credit, carried on singing, but in that moment their message was lost in a wave of Port Vale euphoria.

Resignation seemed to set in as three sides on Boundary Park fell flat.

How many times have Latics gone behind and got something out of a game this season? Not many.

But Keillor-Dunn lit the blue touch paper for a recovery when Jordan Clarke’s delightful diagonal ball was headed square by Carl Piergianni for Latics’ leading goalscorer to send a free header past Covolan just after the half-hour.

The beat of the Athleticos’ drum could be heard again, and anti-Lemsagam chants were mixed with vocal backing for the team, while both sets of fans joined in a minute’s applause for Oldham season ticket holder Michael Taylor, who was in ICU battling Covid-19.

Port Vale started the second half on the front foot. Gibbons, in particular, posed a threat, and made it count when he was left unmarked seven minutes into the second half, after David Amoo outmuscled his marker to drive into the box and set up the goal.

Curle rang the changes, using the strength in numbers he has been lacking until now with three substitutes in the space of five minutes - Hallam Hope first, then Dylan Fage and Benny Couto, who in particular responded well to being dropped to the bench in favour of Hart.

There was a shift in tactics too as the ever-willing Piergianni was sent up front to offer a more physical presence, getting his head to Couto’s set pieces and long throws.

The leap of faith paid off, as Piergianni headed down in the box for Hart to bulge the net with a left foot finish to level.

Latics have succumbed to late goals too often this season, but the boot was on the other foot this time.

Couto, who served umpteen reminders of his value to this team, caused problems with another free kick, Piergianni won another header, and Hart’s shot was redirected past Covolan by the head of Martin.

The win, and the manner of it, gave Latics fans something to sing about, but the off-field battles continue, and a handful of hardy souls braved the elements to remind owner Lemsagam that there is more to their point than getting three points.