FORTUNE doesn't always favour the brave as Oldham found to their cost at the Racecourse on Saturday where they were mugged by a second-best Wrexham side, who enjoyed an all-too-rare slice of fortune to snatch an unlikely but welcome three points.
The visitors, who had not deserved to win any of the three previous encounters with the Dragons this season, were a very different proposition this time. And they could and should have eased their own relegation worries after dominating long spells of the match.
But a combination of woeful finishing, dogged defending and a confident display by home goalkeeper Ben Foster kept Wrexham in the hunt. It was Hector Sam, overshadowed in recent months by team-mate Juan Ugarte, who came up trumps with the winner well into the time added on by referee Carl Boyeson.
How important a victory it was only time will tell, but Racecourse boss Denis Smith claimed the result merely underlined that there was plenty of football yet to be played before the issues would be decided.
"It was an extremely welcome win," he said. "We played well on Tuesday night and deserved the victory but I can't really say that about today's performance. I thought we looked tired and a bit leggy and that they possibly had the better chances.
"But it's about time our luck changed. Possibly that's what has happened today and I'm delighted with it. "I keep telling the players the season is far from over because people were saying after our last league game that the season was over. It's not and it's a long way from over.
"We've got games to win and we've still got a lot of hard work to do, but there's a good spirit, they want to do the right things and today we've got a result we needed."
By avoiding defeat, Oldham would have maintained a healthy points cushion over their opponents in the battle for League One survival, but with Wrexham cutting the gap to just three points, Boundary Park boss Ronnie Moore was not a happy man.
"Everything we wanted to do we've done today," he said afterwards. "We played a different system and it worked a treat. When you consider the chances we had I was disappointed with 0-0, thinking we were going to come off with only a point. We created enough chances to have won the game and the home side created next to nothing.
"The lads really worked their socks off but you've got to take your chances when you get them and if you don't stick the knife in that's what can happen. We switched off in the last minute. We got caught in the box and they scored."
And what a gem it was, typical of the Dragons at their one-touch best and all the more welcome in view of the stuttering display that had gone before. Steve Roberts launched the ball upfield where Dennis Lawrence, thrown forward for a last-ditch assault, won his header to find Scott Green.
The half-time substitute did well to hold off a challenge before looking up to chip the ball into the middle and Sam gleefully headed past Les Pogliacomi.
The Trinidad striker's opportunities have been limited since Ugarte's arrival but his 64th-minute introduction and that of Green for teenager Levi Mackin after the interval were key to Wrexham's improved second-half showing. They were further evidence that Smith never shirks from the tough decisions.
"Juan has had all the headlines recently but Hector has been flying in training and putting the pressure on him," said the Racecourse boss..
"I nearly changed it at half time because Juan has not really trained this week, he looks tired and I'm sure they don't play this many games in Spain.
"It was a gamble and it paid off. If it hadn't people would have said 'fancy taking off a goalscorer' but it worked in the end. I only wish it had happened a little bit earlier.
"We missed Mark Jones today and young Levi was thrown in at the deep end, which was not really fair but I didn't think Scott Green could last the 90 minutes. I brought in his experience when the pace had gone out of the game and he did a super job ."
Chances were at a premium in the opening period, with Chris Llewellyn going closest for the Dragons with a first-time effort that was not far away. But the visitors had the ball in the net after 18 minutes, only for David Eyres' close-range effort from Mark Bonner's cross to be ruled out for offside.
Latics, with five in midfield and striker Chris Killen ploughing a lone furrow up front, relied heavily on the pace of Kevin Betsy down the right to probe the home defence but Foster's handling was immaculate for the most part and Wrexham might have gone in at the break a goal to the good but for Ugarte's failure to convert a Carlos Edwards pass in the 42nd minute.
Green made an immediate impact when the game resumed with a home corner - the first of the afternoon. His shot from Darren Ferguson's flag-kick was blocked and Ugarte forced the ball over the line, but another offside decision stifled the cheers.
Minutes later, the Spaniard found space to run at the visitors' defence and played Llewellyn in but Pogliacomi saved well, his effort then being matched at the other end by Foster after a decent shot from Bonner.
Picking up the pace, Oldham began to dominate and Roberts did well to cut out a Betsy cross before Craig Morgan kept Wrexham on terms with an instinctive goal-line clearance from Betsy after Killen had cut the ball back.
Neil Kilkenny went close to breaking the deadlock with 20 minutes remaining but his fiercely-struck shot from 20 yards was turned over the bar by Foster.
And the home side survived as Will Haining steered a free header wide and Morgan produced another magnificent block to foil Betsy.
But Oldham's best chance to take the spoils fell to Haining after Roberts blocked another effort from Killen with six minutes remaining. The rebound came quickly to the off-balance defender and he stabbed his shot inches wide of the goal.
When Pogliacomi held on to a 20-yard drive from Ferguson in the 87th minute, a draw seemed inevitable but with 90 seconds left on the clock Sam popped up with the goal which, to fulfil Smith's pre-match musings, transformed what had been a good week for the Dragons into an oustanding one.
WREXHAM: Foster: Roberts, Morgan, Lawrence; Edwards, Mackin (Green 45), Ferguson, Crowell, Holt; Ugarte (Sam 64), Llewellyn. Subs: Dibble, Pejic, Spender.
BOOKED: Roberts, Ferguson.
OLDHAM ATHLETIC: Pogliacomi; Holden, Stam, Haining; Griffin; Betsy, Bonner, Hughes, Kilkenny (Eyre 90), Eyres; Killen. Subs: Mildenhall, Cooper, Wilkinson, Hall.
BOOKED: Griffin, Hughes.
REFEREE: Carl Boyeson ATT: 4,170
NEXT MATCH: Swindon (a), Sat, 3pm
* MAN OF THE MATCH... Craig Morgan
Great at the back for the second time in four days