Just two days after Arsenal’s Europa League exhibition-like stroll against BATE Borisov; I was on my way to another football match, the fourth stop in this obsessive pre-Christmas programme and a drop down to the National League for another one of Mrs Football Nerd and my trips to Brisbane Road to watch Leyton Orient.
Match 4 – Leyton Orient v Sutton United Saturday 9th December 2017. KO: 15:00
As I have chronicled on these pages previously, (most recently: https://football-nerd.org/2017/10/06/football-nerd-weekly-ramblings-a-dilemma-of-hopelessness-and-questioned-loyalty/) despite their ongoing trials and tribulations and Orient’s woeful start to life as a non-league outfit, there is a certain addictiveness to going to Brisbane Road. The fans, ourselves included, have stayed loyal to the club, seemingly content that the new ownership at least have the interest of the club and supporters at heart and relieved that the previous megalomaniac incumbent has departed the scene for good. Even after a run of fifteen games without a win, home attendances have consistently remained for the most part above the 4,000 mark in a league where the average is around half of that figure.
The poor recent run of form saw previous Head Coach, Steve Davis, dismissed with eventual replacement and former Tottenham player, Justin Edinburgh taking charge of his first game the previous weekend away at Solihull Moors. Mrs Football Nerd and I agreed to set any bias with regard to the new coach’s past history as a Spurs player to one side and hope that he could kindle a new belief in our adopted team. So often in football a fresh approach results in a renewed spark within a beleaguered squad and some improved form.
On the recommendation of a friend of a friend who is an Orient season ticketholder and with the intent of being able to watch the second half of West Ham and Chelsea, we ditched our previous traditional pre-match watering hole, the Leyton Technical, in favour of the excellent Leyton Star. From the moment we walked through the door and smelt the open fire we knew it was a decision we weren’t going to regret, the only challenge being resisting the array of burgers and other American-influenced fayre on the menu as the tradition of football obsessiveness dictates that one has to eat at the ground, however inferior the menu.
As the complete traditionalists that we are, we of course opted to sit in the old school East Stand as we had previously, even though once again and very much to the missus’s chagrin I had managed to opt for seats with a post obscuring a fair part of the goal at the South Stand end. In my defence I explained that it was part of the way football used to be that you had to have a post in the way, and besides I had offered the chance of seats in the newer West Stand which is completely obstruction-free.
From kick-off Orient looked like a team low on confidence, I guess winning just five out of the opening twenty three games will do that to you; although on the plus side the home team could count on not only their mascot, Theo the Wyvern (a legendary creature with a dragon’s head and wings and a reptilian body apparently, thank you Wikipedia) but also Father Christmas to cheer them on at pitchside.
Injuries and suspensions rather than deliberate intervention from new coach Edinburgh, led to some adaptations to the line-up. Reverting to a more traditional 4-4-2 it was a case of who was available to fill the slots across the back four and midfield, whilst 32- year old goalkeeping coach Dean Brill continued in goal after being handed his first start since April 2015 the previous week. Up front the robust target man Matt Harrold and leading scorer Macauley Bonne were entrusted to provide the attacking firepower.
In a strange quirk of fate this would be the third time that Orient would be hosting the League Leaders, Sutton having secured top spot on goal difference after a 2-0 win at home to Eastleigh in their previous fixture. Although this small piece of trivia only meant that those of us in the O’s camp were struggling to approach this match with any form of optimism whatsoever.
It is often the case that when a team is struggling it needs something to go its way, and so it was for Orient as Dayton was judged to have been bundled over in the box and Bonne calmly slotted home from the spot just seven minutes into the match. Those of us that are getting increasingly used to watching the O’s however were taking nothing for granted. For the remainder of the half it was the visitors that made most of the running, thankfully our friendly post obscured our view of the most threatening chances. Somehow Orient held on, thanks in no small part to the contribution of their veteran goalkeeper, and went in at the break a goal to the good.
It was a bitterly cold day, so experienced football watching veteran that I am I introduced Mrs Football Nerd to the magic of a half-time Bovril to heat our cores and make sure we averted the onset of hypothermia. As we queued up for our life-saving beverage you could feel amongst the fans around the concourse that no one was really sure how to react: the feeling seemed to be one of relief to actually be leading but uneasiness in the anticipation that it couldn’t last and anticipation that a large dose of humbling reality was about to be heaped upon us in the second half.
Newly warmed and revived we took up our seats for the second half and nine minutes into the half the feeling of surrealism continued, Matt Harrold nodding home an inswinging free kick. Surely it couldn’t be happening? Surely Sutton United would come back into it or more likely Orient would find a way to chuck it away?
You could almost see the confidence and belief coming back into the players and the performance and solidity of the team visibly lifted. That man Bonne made it 3-0 with less than ten minutes to go, drilling home a shot that rebounded off the upright. But just when we thought the job was done though and mere moments after the third goal, some all too familiar slack defending allowed Sutton to pull one back and that familiar feeling of trepidation starting to build in the pit of our stomachs. Surely the footballing gods couldn’t be so cruel could they? Our prayers were answered almost immediately when Dayton’ shot was deflected home and we could head off into the evening in celebration for once.
The feeling amongst the fans walking off was one of relief as well as joy and perhaps some hope that maybe a corner has been turned and the second half of the season may just be easier to follow than the first half was.
As we sipped our celebratory pints in the Leyton Technical, buzzing at the completely unexpected and all the more thrilling toppling of the league leaders, we anxiously scanned the fixture list in the programme, working out when our next trip could be. It is probably fair to say that Mrs Football Nerd and I are now officially Leyton Orient obsessives.