After Saturday’s late home defeat at the hands of Grimsby Town, it is probably fair to say that there was growing unrest among the Orient faithful, certainly if you perused any of the associated social media pages there was a feeling that the O’s had gone off track thanks in no small part to the impact of the positive Covid tests before the Tottenham League Cup game.
A strange clash of fixtures which saw the kick-off pushed back to 5:30pm to allow sufficient time for the visitors to get down to London and back on the same day thereby avoiding a potentially hazardous overnight stay, (with the benefit of hindsight why oh why didn’t Orient do the same when we played Oldham?), meant that the game coincided with my Arsenal-watching duties. While I was otherwise engaged it fell to Mrs Football Nerd, watching on our iPad with her headphones on, to keep me up to date with events in E10. To additionally complicate the situation, the missus had just received her brand spanking new pizza oven from the States and was therefore combining her match reporting with preparing pizza bases and trying to get a sufficient fire going, no mean feat on a chilly autumn evening in East London!
All seemed to be going well when the better half came running into the living room whooping and cheering with the news that Conor Wilkinson had put the O’s ahead after just four minutes. Sadly, as we all know it wasn’t to last and goals from George Williams and Luke Waterfall, both of whom were a pain in the a**e throughout according to the reports from my own personal correspondent from Brisbane Road, saw us go in at the break with it all to do in the second half.
Orient again showed some fight in the second half but it wasn’t until the 65th minute that they drew themselves back on terms, Dan Happe played an ambitious but perfectly weighted diagonal ball out to substitute JMD on the right, the winger cut inside after beating his marker, wrongfooted another defender before firing low into the bottom left hand corner of the net. The first I knew of it of course was the missus’ reaction.
Parity was to prove to be short-lived however and as they seem to do all-too-often Orient shot themselves in the foot, in the final minute Craig Clay, now playing at right back in a reshuffled line-up, was adjudged to have brought down Windsor in the penalty area with a lunging tackle from behind and the referee wasted little time in pointing to the spot. I won’t describe Mrs Football Nerd’s assessment of the decision in full, suffice it to say she was far from happy with the decision! Montel Gibson coolly slotted the ball away and condemned the O’s to their third defeat in four league games since they were permitted to resume playing after the squad’s imposed self-isolation.
Worried about this run of form and what it might mean for our hopes of success, it is understandable that there was increasing unrest amongst O’s supporters, the main bones of contention seeming to be: Ross’ suitability/experience as a head coach; the continued playing of players out of position, most specifically the persistence with Brophy as a left back when there are other more defensive-minded options available; what the first choice eleven actually is when we see the constant chopping and changing of line-ups, and the ongoing defensive frailties that see us concede sloppy goals and make life hard for ourselves all too often.
Orient legend Peter Kitchen, commenting after the game on Saturday suggested: “…we don’t appear to be learning anything from these early games and continue to be perpetuating the same failings. The constant line-up changes must be very unsettling for the players, making it difficult for them to know their respective roles and develop tactical cohesion…This is leaving them vulnerable to the same defensive frailties, whilst still persevering with a system that clearly doesn’t get them playing to their full potential.” No matter whether you are optimistic or pessimistic about our prospects for this season, it is virtually impossible to disagree with that assessment.
Going into Tuesday night’s trip to Prenton Park sitting in 17th place with just five points from a possible eighteen, it is fair to say that everyone associated with the club was desperate for a win. Those relatively new to these pages may not realise how much of a trauma the fixtures against Tranmere Rovers place on your author (Football Nerd Weekly Ramblings- Leyton Orient v Tranmere Rovers- Desperately trying to avoid breaking football’s greatest taboo.), who was more than happy when the two clubs were in separate divisions, but now thanks to the wise(sic) minds of the EFL (the “English Football Liars” as Mrs Football Nerd has taken to calling the League’s esteemed governing body!) now has to face a dilemma of split loyalty once again.
Tranmere had been suffering their own Coronavirus impact over recent weeks, being forced to fulfil their fixture away at Salford ten days previously, despite having had two players test positive for the virus and a further four having to self-isolate seriously depleting their squad. As Orient fans know only to well it takes a while for players to get back up to speed after a period away from training and playing. Whether it was the home side’s sluggishness or an improvement from Orient, maybe a combination of both, but the O’s looked like a much more cohesive and organised unit than they have for a while.
After a fairly scrappy opening, the O’s started to assert themselves and get a grip on the game, JMD wide on the right seeming the most likely to create any opportunities. The team as a whole looked more assured and it seems Ross may be getting closer to learning his best eleven. On the other side Ruel Sotiriou’s terrier-like tenacity must have been a pain for the hosts, but it was the midfield that laid the foundations, the three of: Jobi and Craig Clay anchored by Ouss Cissé who now seems to have been given licence to roam forward more, showed fluidity, circulated the ball well and did a decent job of screening the back four.
In a game of few clear-cut chances, it was always going to be decisive if either side could take one of the scraps that came their way. When Dan Johnson failed to convert a glorious opportunity just after the break, and then Jobi and Johnson forced a lightning double save from veteran Rovers goalkeeper Joe Murphy, it seemed like a creditable away draw would be the best the O’s could hope for. However, we have learnt enough about DJ since his arrival in January to know that he wouldn’t need asking three times. So it was to prove when substitute Conor Wilkinson forced Murphy to parry a stinging shot from the edge of the area that fell to Craig Clay who calmly cut it back for Johnson to notch his eighth goal of the season.
Orient saw out the remainder of the match fairly comfortably and sealed a professional and disciplined win away from home. It is of course only our second league win of the season, but it showed some character and much better organisation throughout the side and hinted that things might just be starting to click again. Eight points from the opening seven league games isn’t exactly promotion push form but given the circumstances in which we had to put things on hold for two weeks just when we were getting going, hopefully we can now start to build the momentum we all want to see.
Next up is Stevenage away where we must be hopeful of getting another three points given how poor they were last season and the fact they have won just once this time out. That’s followed by the visit of ninth-placed Exeter City on Tuesday evening, a tougher proposition no doubt but a game that we probably need to make a mark in if we are to continue looking up the table rather than over our shoulders. For now though things just feel a bit better around the team.
Up the O’s!