Following hot on the heels of the disappointing dropping of two sought-after points against Macclesfield, came the chance to put things right and widen the gap against another team sitting below us in the table, just three days later. If there was any sense of déjà vu however it was swiftly eradicated by the vastly different weather conditions. Where we had enjoyed an unseasonably sunny Saturday in which we could actually sit outside the pub, even if only briefly, we instead had to face the prospect of braving not quite, but certainly on the way to, sub-zero conditions.
On the way to the match we bumped into a mate of ours, Eddie who with his partner runs the bar at our favoured Sunday afternoon drinking hostelry: Poplar, Blackwall & District Rowing Club, on the DLR on his way home. It seemed Eddie was looking for some inspiration for his weekly footie bet, after chatting to us he backed the O’s to win the evening’s game promising us a pint if it came in, given the up and down nature of the O’s this season we mentally ruled out ever seeing that come to fruition!
As we walked down to the ground we soon realised that our clothing selection of as many layers as we could fit under our biggest coats had definitely been the right option for the evening, even if we had initially thought we had gone a tad over the top. Of course the freezing conditions didn’t deter us in the slightest from having a ‘refreshing’ pre-match pint, the additional selection of a steak and ale pie, by means of accompaniment, was as much to warm our hands as to actually provide any real level of sustenance.
With this game coming so quickly after our last one, it was inevitable that injury niggles may require a level of team rotation and so it was that: Big Marv and Ruel Sotiriou had to be replaced by Josh Coulson and Danny Johnson, given his first start since his arrival on loan; while Josh Wright and Jordan Maguire-Drew dropped to the bench to be replaced by Dayts and Lee Angol. Miraculously Dan ‘Lazarus’ Happe had recovered sufficiently from Saturday’s illness/ injury and started the match.
With the blustery wintery conditions we were a bit worried that it might affect the way that the O’s played, but we seemed of a mind to at least try and play some football and started the match on the front foot, only to have the wind very much taken out of our sails (pun very much intended!) when we were caught out at the back, and Nicky Maynard once ‘renowned’ of our friends at West Ham, had the ball in the back of the net. Just as we finished effing, blinding and sulking we realised that it had been ruled out for offside much to our great relief. We could only hope that this would prove the wakeup call that we needed.
In one of our attacks we managed to hit both post and crossbar in the same passage of play, but in truth it was one of those evenings that if there was a flurry of entertaining football you forgot about the cold, whereas when the tempo lulled you started to feel the full force of the almost-arctic conditions. So much so that the missus was desperate to go and get our half-time refreshments as early as possible in the hope of warming up a bit, in the end she held on until about five minutes to go.
As always seems to happen in these situations, her departure seemed to spark the players into life again, where the performance so far had seen misplaced pass after misplaced pass, for an all-too-fleeting moment we seemed to think we were the reincarnation of Barcelona or something, such was the intricacy of our passing and fluidity of our attacking movement. We got the reward we merited when Dayts cut in from the right and slotted the ball past the keeper at the near post giving those of us remaining in our seats the chance to jump up and get the circulation going again.
At the break I made my way down to see what the other half had selected to rejuvenate/ reheat us and help us to survive the second half. Apparently a pint of lager and a packet of pork scratchings are the ideal Polar survival provisions, who knew, maybe we ought to market it to the likes of Ranulph Fiennes!
Whether it has been recent comment about him being lazy on social media, or the coaching staff and player finally having the penny drop about how best to utilise him, probably both if I had to hazard a guess, but Conor Wilkinson looked like a man transformed. As lively as he was in the first half, he was a constant threat coming in off the right with the ball at his feet and actually opening up the defence on numerous occasions in the second. If he can repeat that sort of input on anything like a consistent basis it can only bolster our attacking threat, which having scored just 42 goals this season (at rate of 1.27 goals per game) is something we most definitely need to keep working on.
Of course this is Orient though and for all our renewed offensive endeavour it was of course Mansfield who found the net first in the second half. A curling corner from the right was met by Kelland Watts, left alarmingly untroubled by our rear-guard, and his thumping header left Vigouroux with no chance.
Unlike on Saturday having conceded the equalizer with half an hour remaining gave us enough time to go and win it again. That we did was down to no small slice of fortune as Mansfield defender Benning did his utmost to get to a looping cross from substitute Jordan Maguire-Drew ahead of Lee Angol, but succeeded only in turning it into his own net. This time the O’s saw out the game effectively and as we sought shelter and warmth in the Technical we could reflect on another job well done.
With just 13 games to go (where has this season gone?) we now sit comfortably 16 points ahead of the woeful Stevenage a team that has won just 3 games all season and so the spectre of an ignominious return to National League purgatory can thankfully most likely be put to bed. With the stated aim of the owners being a “slow burn” with the objective being “to try and get promoted every three or four years”, we can now use the remainder of the season not only to consolidate but to start building towards next season and hopefully a tilt at the play-offs in twelve months’ time. The job was always to stay in the Football League, especially given the tragic loss of Justin in the summer; so far it looks very much mission accomplished for Ross and the boys. As for Mrs Football Nerd and I, we are off to find Eddie for that pint he promised us!