Such was Orient’s start to the season: losing only two league games and sitting comfortably top of the table on the last Saturday before Christmas after the 3-1 home victory over Chesterfield, that contrary to any notion of self-preservation a feeling of cautious optimism was starting to grow amongst the O’s faithful. Then came the winter wobbles which saw 11 points squandered over just 5 games between Boxing Day and the away game at Ebbsfleet on the 19th of January.
As a result, from being comfortably in pole position heading into the festive period and start of the year, Orient now found their lead in the table reduced to just a goal difference advantage over surprise package Solihull Moors, and just 1 point ahead of expected key rivals Salford City.
While the missus and I are still relatively new in our regular Orient watching, we have learned that a large dose of pessimistic realism and a predisposition to expect the worst are key requirements for anyone who follows E10’s finest on a regular basis.
As they say it is the hope that kills you and despite the very real growing fear of another season marooned in the wastelands of the National League, we were of course chomping at the bit for the visit of Maidstone United and the chance for the O’s to put things right after our recent disappointments at Dagenham and at home to Salford (https://football-nerd.org/2019/01/11/what-mrs-football-nerd-and-i-did-over-the-festive-period/), and to get themselves very much back on track in the promotion push.
After the usual nerve-calming beers in the Leyton Star, watching the second half of an intriguing FA Cup match between Accrington Stanley (who are they? For fans of a certain vintage!) and Derby County, we made our way down to Brisbane Road, enthused that after an absence of a couple of months due to the repairs to the East Stand we would be retaking out usual seats in the more central and much more suitable Block C.
The feeling of familiarity and being back amongst the faces that we recognised also helped to steady the nerves, although when Maidstone won the toss and opted to turn us round, making us play towards the South Stand first, a sense of foreboding spread over yours truly. For some unexplained and probably unjustified reason, it strikes fear into my very soul when this happens, as I take it as an unequivocally bad omen.
As illogical and unjustified as that would seem to any right minded person, you should be aware that I had seriously spent about an hour before setting off to the match deciding which trainers to wear; as the white and red Sambas that the missus had bought me for my birthday in December had been worn to both Dagenham and the Salford game, and were therefore quite clearly jinxed!
At the end of the Salford match the general consensus of opinion amongst the cognoscenti of the East Stand, albeit those of us exiled in Block A, was that the consistency from the start of the season was largely built on the picking of a recognised First XI, but the downside to this was that the first choice players were fatigued and the team was in need of freshening up, whether through squad rotation or through the transfer market.
Credit where it is due, the ownership, Director of Football Martin Ling and manager Justin Edinburgh have shown during their reign thus far that they are perfectly capable of identifying suitable recruits and doing the necessary to secure their services. So it was that both Jordan Maguire-Drew and Jamie Turley were added to the fold in January.
Both of the new signings started the game, while Jobi McAnuff and Craig Clay made a welcome return to the middle of the park; but it was Maidstone who got off to the brighter start as they took the game to Orient looking to get an early goal that might have brought a certain level of panic amongst the home support, given recent results.
The O’s settled from there on with Josh Koroma looking a constant threat down the right, if only he was prepared to use his left foot though instead of always trying to cut back onto his favoured right, he would be even more dangerous.
Just past the half hour mark the ball was cleared from an Orient corner but only as far as Maguire-Drew who rifled home on the volley from 12 yards for his first Orient goal. In the closing minutes of the half Bonne wasted a glorious opportunity to double the lead, blazing over from a good position, but despite his miss things felt a whole lot happier in the Orient camp at the break.
Early in the second half Koroma pulled up with what looked like a hamstring problem and had to be replaced by Matt Harrold. While there is no question whatsoever about young Koroma’s talent, having a bona fide target man to win longer balls forward altered Orient’s threat. Perhaps more importantly it excused top striker Bonne from trying to win aerial challenges against the central defenders, and freed him up to drop off a yard or two in search of greater space.
Ten minutes into the second half that man Bonne made amends for his first half miss, firing low into the net after Charlie Lee (all 5ft 7 of him!) had nodded McAnuff’s corner back across the box. This was much more like it!
Such was Orient’s control from that point forward that only the surprise appearance of an interloping squirrel sparked the travelling support into life, with the amusing if somewhat predictable suggestion of signing him up!
A late penalty from Bonne after Harrold was bundled over in the area crowned a convincing but also much-needed win for the O’s. With it came the news that Solihull had lost at home to AFC Fylde and Salford had drawn away at Halifax. The re-established lead at the top of the table is only three points and there are still fifteen games to go but it felt after the recent dip in form, that this was definitely a step in the right direction.