As football fans we’ve all done that mental management of expectations during the course of a match, a run of games or even over an entire season. Where we try to convince ourselves that: conceding a goal, drawing a match, losing one even, doesn’t necessarily mean the end of our chances of winning the match, staying top of the league, winning promotion. This pretty much sums up the thought processes that Mrs Football Nerd and I have been enduring since Orient were infected by a large dose of the ‘winter wobbles’ through December, January and February.
There is no need to rake over old coals and remind ourselves of the team’s struggles, however suffice it to say that things were starting to look decidedly iffy in terms of our chances of securing the one automatic promotion spot and a guaranteed return to the promised land of the Football League. The lowest point wasn’t the meek surrender to media darlings Salford City on the first weekend of the year, but for me somehow managing to lose to relegation-battling Maidenhead United at home was the hardest one to take.
Through all this we never gave up hope, being way too far gone in our Orient obsession to ever do that(!), but we did find ourselves bargaining with ourselves, reassuring ourselves that the playoffs weren’t so bad, that if we couldn’t go up automatically finishing second or third would make us the strongest team left in the Russian Roulette lottery of a mini-competition that decides the second promotion spot. We didn’t believe a word of it however!
Thankfully to our immense relief, just when we needed them to the most, Justin Edinburgh’s charges came good again. As March got underway, we went to Havant & Waterlooville and re-found our form, goals from new signing Maguire-Drew and at-the-time an unexpected source, in the form of a header from Josh Coulson, proved enough to secure all three points.
Days later, a long distance trip to Barrow reaped another win thanks to goals from Maguire-Drew, for his second in as many matches, and the first of his second spell from (re)signing Jay Simpson. Then came the visit of Wrexham, in front of the TV cameras: a phrase sufficient to strike fear into the very hearts of anyone even vaguely familiar with Orient’s track record, (or indeed lack thereof!) in televised matches!
That day it was a pleasure to watch, the formation reshaped to play three at the back and Maguire-Drew operating as a number 10 behind both of our first choice strikers in Bonne and Simpson, worked to spark life back into a team which had only a week or two previously looked jaded and in need of something, anything, to resuscitate their form and breathe life back into their flagging promotion tilt. My word did it ever work that day!
Twelve points out of twelve were secured with a Tuesday night win at Aldershot thanks to carbon-copy headers from that man Coulson. Then after a pleasant sojourn securing a place at Wembley for Orient’s fist ever genuine cup final, it was back to the grind of the chase for the title/ escape from non-league, depending on your disposition.
Never being the most optimistic of supporters, the missus and I were worried going into a Tuesday evening game coincidentally against FA Trophy final opponents AFC Fylde. With only nine games to go, the mission is crystal clear: win them all, or at least most of them, and the title would be ours; easy to say but with Orient we have learned that you just never know. If there is a harder way to do things, it is absolutely guaranteed that Orient will do their utmost to find it.
We hoped for an early goal to ease our nerves and, beyond our expectations, we got two: the first a towering header from Big Marv, the second a penalty dispatched by Bonne that even the cognoscenti of the East Stand agreed was ‘generous’ to say the very least.
The final whistle brought not only relief amongst the Brisbane Road faithful, but also the news that stubborn chasers Solihull Moors had been held to a draw at Boreham Wood, meaning the gap at the top was extended to two points with two games in hand.
From here we now face in the words of Justin Edinburgh “eight cup finals” in just four weeks. The grind of playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday would suggest that hoping that the O’s win all eight of these might be a tad over-optimistic, but as long as we equal or better Solihull Moors’ and to a slightly lesser extent Salford’s and Wrexham’s points hauls, then redemption after the dark days of you-know-who’s reign will be secured.
The penultimate game of the season takes us to Solihull on Easter Monday, is it too much to start to believe that maybe just maybe that game might be academic with the title already secured? A very un-Orient approach I realise, but perhaps it is time to dare to dream of a brighter future.