Oldham 1, Albion 1.

Nathan Elder did more than save a dramatic point for Albion's gallant ten men, he also sent out a message to Dean Wilkins.

After a year of frustration, Elder believes he is beginning to get the hang of what is required of a full-time pro.

The former Billericay hotshot's equaliser with the last kick of the match, on his 23rd appearance as a substitute, presents Wilkins with a nice selection headache for Huddersfield's visit on Saturday.

Elder has started only twice since arriving on a free transfer just over 12 months ago. He scored and starred at Cheltenham on the last day last season but failed to impress when Wilkins finally handed the 20-year-old his full home debut against Cheltenham in November in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.

He has continued to hit the target regularly in the reserves and is now knocking on the door again, the manager's door that is.

"There's no doubt about that," Elder said. " One thing I have been told is that maybe I am not putting enough in during training. After being told something like that you think I am going to have to bust a gut now'. It's good that they tell you what you are doing wrong.

"You have to go up there and find out, obviously, because they are not just going to come out of nowhere, but you need to find out what is going on. I scored at Cheltenham and I thought that would be a springboard but my problem was thinking that was just a spirngboard to success.

"That is not how it works. I have learnt a lot at Brighton about the professional game, both good and bad. At Billericay I knew I would start every week and I was expecting two or three goals every week without fail, even if we lost by five.

"Here it doesn't matter how many you score, you need to be putting that effort in constantly. In the last few months that is exactly what I've been trying to do."

Elder, robust and unfurnished, is not everybody's cup of tea. He is not technically gifted, like many of the home-grown players Wilkins has nurtured through the ranks, but he is powerful in the air and relishes the physical battle with defenders.

That has made him thus far an ideal substitute as far as Wilkins is concerned and he did the trick at Boundary Park.

A man down following Dean Hammond's ninth-minute dismissal and a goal down after Lee Hughes' 40th minute strike for Oldham, Elder was thrown on in place of Tommy Fraser with three minutes of normal time remaining.

Albion had one last chance to salvage a result with a corner in the second minute of stoppage time. The Oldham defence failed to clear, the outstanding Nicky Forster struck the underside of the bar and Elder rifled the loose ball through a ruck of players to spark wild celebrations.

Elder was booked for taking his shirt off, a brave act in itself since Boundary Park has a reputation as the coldest ground in the country. Perhaps that is not just because of the weather - the climate can be pretty frosty for visiting players too.

Elder also headed straight for a couple of Oldham fans who had goaded him while he was waiting to come on and rammed the taunts back down their throats.

He said: "It has been really frustrating for me lately, sitting there watching and thinking would I have been able to do this or that.' It does get into your head after a while.

"When ever I come off the bench, it doesn't matter if it is for three minutes or 30 minutes, your first aim is to run around as much as you can, show the gaffer what you are made of and then every now and then that little bit of luck or burst of effort scores a goal.

"That is what is about, especially as a striker. Those sort of moments are what you play football for, especially against a side that had just beaten Everton and Leeds.

"We came into the game thinking if we didn't give our all we could be turned over, so we are all buzzing after getting a draw."

Wilkins acknowledged: "It has been difficult for Nathan. Without going into too much detail about whey he doesn't start, we have spoken about it.

"He is always in and around the subs bench because we always feel, if you are going to hit the ball from back to front, there is a chance he can cause some problems. It was just a great feeling for everybody. The dressing room was bouncing at the end."

An end to three straight away defeats was a triumph for Wilkins as much as it was for Elder. Just about every decision he made after Hammond's red card for a two-footed tackle on Deane Smalley paid off.

It would have been easy to take one of the strikers off and pack the midfield in a bid to hold out but leaving Alex Revell on with Forster kept the Oldham defence occupied.

He was also correct to cut short Wes Fogden's League debut at right-back in the first half and hand Kerry Mayo his first appearance since the opening day of the season.

Oldham were clearly targeting the slightly built teenager, although there was a touch of irony about Hughes exploiting space in behind where Fogden had been playing to fire Oldham in front after the well-again Andrew Whing had reverted from left-back to his customary rightback berth.

Even the late surge for parity was more by design than accident. Wilkins said: "The gamble we took, which has worked well for us in the past, was to get into the last ten minutes and then make a final push to try to pull one back and it has worked again.

"You don't have many days like that throughout your career where you come off full of emotion and so proud of what the players have done."

With the exception of Hammond that is. A very early bath is not the way the influential skipper would have wished to mark his comeback from a knee strain but that, together with three yellow cards on his previous three appearances, is perhaps indicative of growing frustration at chairman Dick Knight's baffling failure to resolve his long-running contract saga.

Albion must surely either sort that out or sell Hammond before the close of the January transfer window, since he will be entitled to a free transfer when his current contract expires at the end of the season.

ALBION (4-1-2-1-2): Michel Kuipers (GK), Wes Fogden (RB), Tommy Elphick (CB), Adam El-Abd (CB), Andrew Whing (LB), Tommy Fraser (RM), Dean Cox (CM), Dean Hammond (CM), David Martot (LM), Alex Revell (CF), Nicky Forster (CF).

Subs: Kerry Mayo (for Fogden, 33), Gary Hart (for Revell, 68), Paul Reid, Nathan Elder (for Fraser, 82), Doug Loft/ YELLOW CARDS: Fraser 46, Elphick 72.

RED CARD: Hammond 9.

GOAL: Elder 90 + 3.

OLDHAM (4-4-2): Mark Crossley (GK), Neal Trotman (RB), Reuben Hazell (CB), Stefan Stam (CB), Kelvin Lomax (LB), Deane Smalley (RM), Jean-Paul Kalala (CM), Gary McDonald (CM), Mark Allott (LM), Craig Davies (CF), Lee Hughes (CF).

Subs: Neale Eardley, Les Pogliadomi, Matthew Wolfenden (for Davies, 81), Lewis Alessandra, Paul Black. YELLOW CARDS: Trotman 66, Hughes 82.

GOAL: Hughes 40.

Should Nathan Elder start on Saturday against Huddersfield?