“You can never be too confident when you’re an O’s supporter. 50 years of training has taught me that. Don’t count your chickens! I’m really trying to enjoy where we are, but…” @TedTalksOrient Twitter 29/3/19
Those prophetic words were uttered by a long-standing Orient supporting associate of Mrs Football Nerd’s and mine, in response to some thoughts I shared (https://football-nerd.org/2019/03/28/taking-stock-do-we-dare-to-dream-just-yet/) a mere couple of weeks back, when the O’s had just beaten AFC Fylde for their fifth successive league win and opened up a two point lead at the top of the table with two games in hand. But this is Orient and we all knew deep down that it was never going to be as straightforward as it seemed… where would the fun be in that?
Just as the pressure was starting to bite, Orient wobbled, the draw away at Barnet a creditable result in a tough fought game still nonetheless represented two points dropped, the defeat at Bromley followed by a ropey defensive performance which needed an added time equalizer from Plan B, Matt Harold, to salvage a point at home to Halifax heightened concern that somehow, in true O’s fashion, we were going to spectacularly turn an advantage into a disadvantage in the space of just four matches.
Going into last night’s game it was very much now or never territory, if Orient stumbled again it would open the door and put the moneyed media darlings, Salford City, in the driving seat for the solitary automatic promotion spot and we would be left rueing our luck over a golden opportunity squandered.
All through the day it was difficult to concentrate on anything other than the match and the connotations of the different potential outcomes, in short though it was the very definition of a must win game.
The Football-for-a-Fiver promotion meant that the East Stand seemed fuller than usual but the unfamiliar faces somehow added to the tension. As the game got underway we hoped, prayed even, that unlike on Saturday the occasion wouldn’t get to the boys. That when it really came down to it, Justin Edinburgh’s charges had what it took to see out the job and take a big step towards a return to the promised land of the Football League.
Then, with just six minutes on the clock, a slip by Ling and a sweeping attack from Eastleigh saw the ball nestling in the back of Brillo’s net, a header from former player Paul McCallum being the source that put it there.
However just as we were reconciling our situation, frantically doing the mental arithmetic to work out the consequences, Ling’s long throw was flicked on by Macauley Bonne and dropped for Josh Koroma to slot home at the far post.
The relief we felt was to last just ten minutes though, until McCallum repeated his trick and nodded home, a second dagger to the heart from our former striker. With only a quarter of the match gone the atmosphere had completely deflated, as reality started to take hold amongst the Brisbane Road faithful that in our moment of judgement we were going to be found wanting. The remainder of the first half felt almost surreal, a bitterly cruel drama playing out in front of our scarcely believing eyes.
Mrs Football Nerd did her level best to invoke positive football sod’s law by sneaking off to the bar at the start of added time, in the vain hope that, just as it had on Saturday, her absence would spark a goal from her beloved team; it didn’t, and we were left ‘enjoying’ (sic) our half-time refreshments clutching at any straw of positivity that we could muster.
Justin must have worked his magic at half-time and reminded the players that they would never have an opportunity like this, and if they truly wanted a place in the history of this very special club, now was the time to show it. The players for their part came out after the break with a renewed impetus, an almost tangible belief that all was not lost just yet.
In the space of just four minutes the O’s seized the impetus and the momentum of the title race with two roof-raising goals, the first turned home by leading goalscorer Macauley Bonne from a Joe Widdowson cross, the second a Brophy tap in after great work to open up the defence from Sam Ling and James Dayton. All round the ground fans were in raptures and going utterly bananas with the sheer unadulterated relief. Even writing those words in the cold light of the following day, I find myself transported back to yesterday evening on a wave of uncontrollable emotion. It was one of those truly special moments that once in a while our football team gives us.
With four games remaining, two of which look like particularly tricky away trips to Sutton and Solihull, the O’s may yet fail in their quest to return to where we all know we belong; but just for now let’s enjoy that fantastic feeling that every single one of the 5,044 of us there last night felt as we made our way home and then again when we woke up this morning. If we don’t keep believing then what’s the point?