We always knew deep in our hearts that it was never going to be easy. A run of five league wins in a row, and eight in all, had set Orient up nicely, but winning all of our remaining games, cruising to the title and automatic promotion would have been too easy and frankly too un-Orient-like! There were always going to be twists and turns along the route, the critical question would be how we would survive the bumps and stay on course in our ongoing quest for a return to the promised land of the Football League?
First up of two away games was a trip to the far reaches of the Jubilee Line to face a relatively resurgent Barnet: unbeaten in their five previous games and always likely to prove a stubborn obstacle. For Mrs Football Nerd and me, an away day that could be covered by Tube in just under an hour from home was always going to be too good an opportunity to resist.
Being the organised and prepared football fans we are, we had already undertaken extensive research into the area before arriving; which consisted of a quick click on the Football Ground Guide website to discover that the most appropriate watering hole, other than the ground itself, was a wine bar (were we still in the eighties?) by the name of Moranos, handily just a couple of doors down from Canons Park station.
It seemed we weren’t alone in our thinking, or indeed our research, as a fair smattering of the O’s faithful was already in situ upon our arrival. These numbers were augmented by a fairly steady stream of new arrivals fresh from the station / parking up, as well as a group of Sunderland supporting lads in town for the League Trophy Final the following day. We handily and fortunately managed to secure a table with three chairs as the missus’ colleague from work, Sarah, was going to be joining us for a quick drink, just as soon as she had battled through the Saturday afternoon shopping traffic.
Our thirsts slaked, we bid farewell to Sarah and prepared for the ‘mammoth’ ten minute stroll through the Hive complex. Having been here once previously for a St Helens rugby league match, I knew how well this ground was set up, however even so I was still highly impressed with the away fans’ dedicated bar and outdoor seating facilities. It was almost a shame that the match was going to get in the way of our enjoying a few pints sitting in the sunshine!
After sharing a quick pint and much-needed cheeseburger we went to find our seats and got to appreciate the full scale of the massed travelling support. A total of 1,811 fans made the journey to Barnet and by all accounts this was more than any travelling support for any of the day’s matches in Leagues 1 or 2. A clear sign, if ever there was one, of just how this very special club could grow if the ownership and management continue their positive stewardship. Of course a key part of that development will centre on a return to the Football League and while failure this season may not be terminal to future ambitions; it does feel at this time of asking that the Football Gods are offering us the golden opportunity we all crave.
With stand-in right back Jamie Turley’s hamstring injury, sustained on Tuesday evening, ruling him out of this one and our two genuine right backs out injured, it was midfielder Alex Lawless that was given the job of guarding the right flank. No one I spoke to was massively sure whether he had ever played there before and certainly the way he started the match did nothing to convince us that he had a wealth of experience of the finer requirements of the role. Still credit to the player for manfully giving it his best shot throughout the duration.
We were expecting a tough game and Barnet certainly made this one a struggle, aided and abetted in no small part by Orient consistently and wastefully surrendering possession pretty much each time they won the ball, alongside some distinctly ‘laissez-faire’ officiating, most specifically from the merry flag-waver patrolling the side-line away to our left.
The longer the game wore on the less we believed that we were going to make the breakthrough and even though, as per usual, we had to be thankful for a couple of good saves from Brillo, we were never truly under too much threat.
In added time we had a massive shout for a penalty when Dayton went down as a result of a clumsy looking challenge, in all fairness it looked to these admittedly biased eyes more of a case than the one we had been given against Fylde the previous Tuesday.
Then at the very death, Charlie Lee’s long throw was flicked on by Happe and nodded home by Josh Coulson in a reprise of his now trademark crucial-goal-at-just-the-right-time routine. The explosion of relief in the away end was cut short by our old friend on the touchline, finally, and irritatingly, remembering how to raise his flag and ruling it out.
Three days later the O’s were back in action at Bromley, another game that work commitments frustratingly meant we had to follow on our phones. By all accounts things got off to a positive start when that man Coulson, did what he has done so often when it matters recently, and stabbed the ball home in added time at the end of the first half, so far so promising.
Within minutes of the restart Big Marv was shown a straight red card for a foul on former Orient player and now target of much ire, George Porter. The resultant penalty was converted and it was always going be a tough ask for ten men to hold out for almost an entire half. Just past the hour mark Hackett-Fairchild headed home the winner and condemned Justin Edinburgh’s men to their first defeat since the middle of February.
Essentially while the draw at Barnet could be construed as a point gained in tough circumstances, last night’s defeat represents one of our games in hand wasted, disappointing but not disastrous, thankfully. With six games to go, four of which are at home, our destiny remains in our own hands, wins in our next two games at home to Halifax and Eastleigh, and ideally dropped points from those in pursuit, would make us all feel a bit more positive about our position. Keep the faith and enjoy the ride!