WITH the regularity of Oldham Athletic's revolving managerial door being activated in recent years change seemed increasingly inevitable.

But for the cushion of a two-year contract - a first under the Abdallah Lemsagam regime - then you suspect that it would have come sooner.

Keith Curle, though, was dealt the toughest of hands and the owner - someone he met only once in eight months - must take responsibility for holding back his attempts to move the club forward.

Curle had to work with what he inherited when he succeeded Harry Kewell in March, but even once the transfer window opened his hands were tied by a transfer embargo that restricted his squad rebuilding process to free agents and loan signings, as per the conditions of a loan agreement with the English Football League.

Within that, there were administration failings which left Curle without two of his key summer signings for the crucial opening weeks of the season. Goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler missed the opening three weeks (in which time Danny Rogers had suffered a serious shoulder injury which he is still recovering from over three months later) while defender Harrison McGahey had missed TWELVE games, in all competitions, before he was eligible to make his debut, against former club Rochdale on September 25.

Both had signed two-year contracts when they arrived in the summer, but the EFL embargo stipulated that only one-year contracts were permitted, and obviously pulled them up on a gross oversight.

There had been cause for optimism in a pre-season campaign where they had performed well against League One Wigan Athletic and Premier League Burnley, although a behind-closed-doors thrashing by Rochdale rang alarm bells.

There was a pitch invasion in the Carabao Cup win over Tranmere after a penalty shoot-out, but Curle missed it after catching Covid, along with a couple of other players, and also missed games at Bradford, where they lost to a last-minute penalty, and Bristol Rovers, where they didn't show up.

There was a catalogue of injuries, most of them long term. But while the emergence of some exciting young talent was a silver lining, the cards were stacked against Curle.

Most players have now returned from injury, but we'll never know if they could have turned a corner together.

The comeback against Port Vale would suggest so, and had they started with the team that finished at Northampton, then who knows.

On a personal note, I'm gutted things haven’t worked out for him at Oldham.

Covering a new club in a pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered in football journalism - if not THE biggest - but he made a tough situation easier and I will be forever grateful to him for that.

While we were separated by computer or phone screens and masks during pre and post-match interviews, making it harder to get to know new contacts, Keith always engaged in conversation, and it was intriguing to get to know the man behind the manager. Refreshingly it was a two-conversation. That isn’t always the case.

He showed concern and consideration when my Grandma passed away in June; before that he was empathetic to my home schooling situation when the juggle was real! And working with press officer Mikey Brown we did our best to co-ordinate pre-match telephone interviews accordingly.

Curle never shirked a question, never got shirty when delicate topics were addressed; win, lose or draw his demeanour never altered; he was always polite, courteous and respectful of the media's role within his.

Once coronavirus restrictions had eased he invited me to the training ground for a guided tour, to observe training and meet some of the players. We sat in his office, a modest portacabin but something that did not exist before his arrival. Aside from the work on the training ground he had established a more professional environment off the grass, relocating the gym equipment from Boundary Park to Chapel Road so that they were all under one roof, something which has helped the injured players to still feel part of the squad and not cut off.

He encouraged players to take pride in their surroundings, tidying up after themselves or face the wrath of Friday's 'kangaroo court', keeping their boots clean after training. He had organised for some landscaping at the front of the building to make it more aesthetically pleasing and a place where players looked forward to going to work. They seem simple, inexpensive measures, but it worked. Regardless of the perilous position Latics find themselves in the league, the team spirit was remarkably strong.

Before I left, he made sure that I'd spoken to everyone I wanted to. Nothing was too much trouble.

With property investments Curle did not need the money, and I'm sure he did not need the hassle of this job. But he relished the challenge of it, he had a vision for the club, and the reaction from Sam Hart in particular after last weekend's late winner against Port Vale suggested the players were behind him too.

Curle had a genuine affection for the club and was keen to build a rapport with fans and, but for Covid, I think he would have.

He, more than anyone, knows it is a results business and that has ultimately been his downfall.

But off the field, from my own experience, I hold him in high regard.

Latics are in a worse league position than when he arrived, and that will be a source of disappointment and frustration, but behind the scenes he has laid stronger foundations for the first team to be built on.