Depending on your disposition after just seven matches in which the O’s have won 2, drawn 2 and lost 3, we are either doomed to an instant and ignominious return to non-league purgatory or doing about as well as expected.
The opening game at home against Cheltenham in what was a highly emotional day (https://football-nerd.org/2019/08/07/orient-get-off-the-mark-on-an-emotional-day/), offered hope that we would be able to put the emotions of the summer to one side and hold our own back in the League. We were however handed something of a reality check the following week with a heavy defeat at Macclesfield, a team that struggled for the most part last season and only secured their survival on the last day of the campaign.
Since then defeats at home to Crawley and last Saturday against Swindon have been set against a creditable win at Mansfield, a decent enough point away at our old friends Salford and a goalless stalemate at home against Stevenage. All of which makes it difficult to assess exactly how we have adjusted to the step up in class?
As much as we could all dream of doing a ‘Lincoln’ or a ‘Tranmere’ and breezing through League Two on the way to a speedy promotion, in reality we all knew that we were going to be meeting better teams this time around than we did in the National League. At the weekend Swindon showed they were exactly that, we were under the cosh from the start and only really got into the game with the switch of formation that saw Jordan Maguire-Drew come on and us move to four at the back, although this may have been somewhat aided by a probable easing off by the visitors.
After this most recent defeat there seems to have been some hysterical reactions amongst the Orient Twittersphere, suggesting that drastic action is needed in terms of a change in coach and some of the playing personnel.
Seemingly first in the line of fire is Ross who some of our more fervent fans seems to think isn’t up to the challenge of being Head Coach. Admittedly he lacks the experience that Justin had, but there was no guarantee that the team would have fared any better if Justin was still with us, in all likelihood a period of adaptation would have been needed to adjust to playing against higher quality teams. The evidence of just seven league games seems way too scant to decide that Ross simply isn’t up to the job.
While the 3-5-2 served us well in the closing stages of last season’s title winning campaign, personally it has always concerned me as it lacks width most specifically from a defensive perspective and can leave us exposed. I wondered with Mrs Football Nerd in our conversations ahead of the new season whether Ross would contemplate changing the system to something that would provide greater protection in wide areas and different options going forward. Certainly we looked a lot better when we switched to 4-4-2 against Swindon, although there is still the option of switching to a lone striker set-up and a 4-2-3-1 if we wanted to add width but still keep a genuine number 10 role. With players of the ilk of Maguire-Drew, Brophy and Dennis in our ranks it should certainly be a consideration.
Speaking of the strikers, it would seem that certain of our number have already decided that Wilkinson and Angol are not good enough as replacements for the departed Bonne and Koroma. As impressive as the latter pair were last season contributing 34 league goals between them, it can’t be said with any certainty that they would have had the same impact in League Two. The fledgling partnership between Wilkinson and Angol may not be completely firing at the moment, but given time or the change of system alluded to earlier, it might not be worth writing either, or both, of them off just yet. Equally when the exciting Louis Dennis came on to partner Wilkinson against Swindon we looked much more dangerous. Given his ‘performance’ on Tuesday night against Southend however I think we can probably rule out James Alabi as a potential solution!
Of course switching to a back four means that one of our trio of top-rated central defenders would need to drop out, and despite some risible assertions that we should get rid of all three of them and buy some ‘proper defenders’; we need only recall how worried we were that Big Marv and/ or Dan Happe would follow our two leading goal-scorers out the door in the summer, alongside Josh Coulson’s contribution at both ends of the pitch in the title run in, to realise that that particular area of the pitch is perhaps the least of our worries.
Almost as ridiculous was the suggestion that we need to get rid of Brillo. Admittedly he may well have been at fault for Swindon’s opening goal, but that all too easily forgets the 20 cleansheets, the untold key saves and a place in the National League team of the year last season.
One area that does provide grounds for concern, for me at least, is in central midfield where Josh Wright isn’t looking quite like the dynamic box-to-box to player we hoped for/ needed. Instead he seemingly prefers to sit deeper, but then again as he approaches his 30th birthday the month after next was that actually a real expectation? Alongside him Craig Clay looks out of sorts compared to the consistent level of performance that rightfully won him the club’s Player of the Year award last season.
Much was expected of Northern Ireland Under-21 international Dale Gorman when he came in at the start of last season as a replacement for impressive loanee Ebou Adams but so far he has failed to deliver on his reported potential. Based on the admittedly scant evidence of a performance against woeful Southend in the EFL Trophy George Marsh, on loan from Tottenham, might be an option to add drive and tenacity in the middle of the park.
If we are totally honest with ourselves are we really any worse off than we could have realistically expected to be? It would have been a pipe dream to have swept all before us on the way to a second successive league title and promotion, especially given events over the summer. It may well be that as we start to adjust and Ross settles on his first choice line-up and system we might start to establish ourselves in mid-table and possibly even look at/ hope for the play-offs. It is too early in the campaign to lose the faith.