I ended last week’s post wondering how many points Orient might take from two tricky-looking fixtures away from home in the space of just four days (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings: Like Trump, Orient may have beaten Coronavirus… for now.); while I am far from being apoplectic, I do feel some justification in being a little bit disappointed that it turned out to be just the hard-earned point in Cumbria that we have to show for our efforts.
In the build-up to Saturday’s match away at Barrow there was concern that we may end up having a wasted trip, given the fact that there was a genuine fear of the area being placed into local lockdown as late as last Tuesday due to the rising number of Coronavirus cases in the far North West of the country. Thankfully for those of us who base our weeks around the structure of following football that didn’t come to pass, and the O’s were able to make the long trip up north, actually passing Tuesday night’s opponents Walsall’s Bescot Stadium on the way there and back given its location in close proximity to the M6.
No matter how well your preparation has gone in the build-up to the match it can always be completely undone by an early dismissal, and for Orient that is exactly how things played out. Just nine minutes into the game, Dan Happe was involved in a tangle with Barrow forward Luke James just outside the penalty area and referee Andy Haines had seemingly little hesitancy reaching for his top pocket and brandishing a red card.
For this, admittedly biased, viewer it seemed harsh given: how early it was in the game, the minimal level of contact involved and the interpretation that James was denied a clear goalscoring opportunity, if he was he must have hidden his Messi/ Ronaldo level talents for the rest of the match! Equally, what transpired later on when Barrow captain Lewis Hardcastle pushed Danny Johnson over an advertising hoarding but received only a caution, the same punishment that was meted out to Orient’s Johnson and Cissè for endeavouring to point out the ref’s error, screamed of inconsistency at best.
Joe Widdowson was drafted in as a replacement at centre-back with midfielder James Dayton being the man asked to make way, but Barrow’s opening goal felt somewhat inevitable. That the Cumbrians weren’t able to augment their lead before half-time was down to some resolute defending by the O’s, most notably by skipper Josh Coulson who seemed to be making it his personal mission to stubbornly get in the way every time the Bluebirds came forward, and some good work between the posts by Lawrence Vigouroux.
As seems to be the way with Orient this season, we emerged for the second half seemingly reinvigorated with a fresh impetus and just five minutes in got ourselves back into contention. Craig Clay slid DJ away with the type of slide-rule pass that even his strongest advocates didn’t realise was in his locker, and our new goal-getter supreme showed cool composure to slot home his sixth goal of the season. The remainder of the match was somewhat attritional, with Orient showing some grit and determination to hold on for the point, although the hosts did hit the post late on.
Yesterday evening, as has become the routine in the new normal, it was off to Walsall for the rearranged fixture that we had been forced to postpone due to the squad being in enforced isolation. In a change to the squad’s usual modus operandi for the season, we got off to something of a flyer: DJ (who else?) giving us the lead after just quarter of an hour, after being ‘assisted’ by a sloppy back pass by Walsall defender Liam Kinsella, with another cool finish.
Given the makeshift nature of our defence at the moment, with only Josh Coulson a recognised starter playing in his most suited position, it felt like we were always at risk of conceding. Midway through the first half, a cute reverse pass by Lavery sent Holden through on goal with only Vigouroux to beat, the Walsall man made no mistake and levelled the score.
Minutes later Joe Widdowson was adjudged to have brought down Holden in the area, and referee Pollard had little hesitation in pointing to the spot. Lavery tried to outfox Vigouroux with a stuttering run-up but the keeper further added to his growing reputation by staying put, forcing the Walsall player’s hand and then calmly throwing himself to his right to parry.
The second half was a surprisingly stretched affair, both teams seemingly at their best when attacking. Orient in particular showed some incisive counter-attacking that we haven’t seen too much of yet this campaign, but always looked a bit disorganised at the back. The decisive goal of the game came just past the hour mark when the lively former Fulham player Elijah Adebayo curled home from ten yards.
Connor Wilkinson had a glorious opportunity to restore parity after seizing onto a loose ball in the area after Jobi’s incisive run had been blocked off but succeeded only in firing straight at Roberts in the Walsall net. The hosts hit the post and then very nearly added a third late on, but in the end it proved to be something of a disappointing trip for the O’s.
With five points from five league matches thus far Orient sit in 17th place in the table and can perhaps rue the seven goals conceded. The somewhat makeshift nature of the defence with Jamie Turley’s injury and Happe’s suspension, although both should be available for Grimsby on Saturday, hasn’t helped, nor has the squad rotation determined by the Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday routine, or indeed the suspicion that some of the players may still be feeling the effects of the virus that so many of them tested positive for.
However, there is still the feeling amongst a significant proportion of the Orient faithful that Ross has yet to settle on his first choice line-up, if indeed that is possible given the hectic schedule that all clubs continue to face, as well as concern about continuing to play some players out of position (clue: Br**hy!). We are still in the very early stages of the season, where a run of solid performances and points gained could propel us up the table significantly, but with games to come against teams within three points of us in the next few weeks, now is the time to start to build that momentum.
Of further concern are the comments made by our very own chairman Nigel Travis speaking on BBC Radio in response to the ‘Project Big Picture’ proposals leak (more to come on that in this week’s Football Nerd Weekly Ramblings), that: some EFL clubs will “disappear within five to six weeks” unless they get financial support. Quite what that may mean for the remainder of the season if that were to happen is anyone’s guess. For now, all we can do is to continue to watch our beloved Orient and hope the powers that be are able to find some way to secure the future of English football as we love it.