Last night’s result away at Forest Green, if not necessarily the performance, was frustrating for Orient after a run which saw the side win three out of four matches and climb to eleventh in the table, just two points off the all-important top seven. While a trip to the New Lawn to play a team that is more than likely going to be involved in the promotion race come the run-in is always going to be testing, there was an inescapable feeling that we didn’t quite do ourselves justice and probably should have got something out of the game.
However, let’s indulge ourselves and start with the very good. The performance at home to Bolton on Saturday was one of the best the O’s have put in for quite some time, certainly since the National League title-winning season and in all likelihood since the days before you-know-who took over the club and led it on that horrendous downward spiral. I wrote on these pages last week that: “One of the things that has been noticeable over the last three outings has been the relative consistency in the team selection”, and for me that was the foundation upon which the 4-0 victory over an admittedly poor Bolton side was built. Hell Ross even opted to bring Joe Widdowson in at left back and move James Brophy into what pretty much every one of us thinks is his better position wide on the left, maybe he had been reading the Orient fans’ Facebook pages and bowed to our better judgement!
There seemed to be a very clear plan right from the kick-off, which was to target Alex Baptiste, a player that can actually point to Premier League experience, operating as the right-sided centre back in a three, by encouraging Brophy to attack him at every opportunity. It very nearly paid dividends in the opening minute, Baptiste was pressured into a sloppy back pass which was seized upon by Dan Johnson who was felled by Bolton keeper Billy Crellin and referee Huxtable (avoids any obvious Cosby Show references for potential legal reasons!) rightly pointed to the spot. Where it would have got really interesting is if the foul had been adjudged worthy of a red card given that Bolton hadn’t named a sub keeper on the bench.
Annoyingly Johnson’s effort from the spot was surprisingly tame and allowed Crellin, who had been publicly criticised by his manager, Ian Evatt, for an attempted parry that ended up in the back of his own net the previous week, to make amends. Thankfully from an Orient perspective we didn’t have too long to wait for The DJ (© Dulcet Dave) to put things right himself. Just seven minutes later, a corner dropped to James Brophy on the left of the area, he cleverly worked space for himself, fired in a low cross and Johnson slotted home.
There was a header over the bar from the visitors and a chance for the O’s to double their lead when Craig Clay couldn’t quite reach a ball into the goalmouth from Jobi, but Orient sealed the game just before half-time thanks to two brilliantly worked free kicks. For the first Conor Wilkinson placed the ball and shaped up to take it only for Jobi to curl it into the top left-hand corner.
Moments later from a slightly wider angle it was Wilkinson’s turn as he fired the ball low inside the right-hand upright. 3-0 up at half-time had Dulcet Dave and Matt Hiscock on Orient TV wondering when the last time the O’s had been 3-0 up at the break. I had great pride in shouting at the screen that it was at Cambridge last December when I had joked to Mrs Football Nerd over our half-time pints that even Orient couldn’t mess this up, only to be assured by a passing fellow member of the travelling support that they probably could, in the end they won that one, nervily 3-2.
This time around there was to be no such drama, Craig Clay saw to that with a rasping drive from distance just over ten minutes into the second half, that was as brilliant as it was surprising given the source. Maybe someone had told him he was Steven Gerrard again as one wag had commented during his great run of form a couple of seasons back! In the end it was a stunning performance with the only regret being that we couldn’t be there, it can only be imagined how lively it would have been in the Coach & Horses, Technical or Star celebrating that one.
Backing that win up with another away from home against a good side a mere matter of days later was always optimistic, but our good form and the win there in the EFL Cup in the first match of the campaign gave us some hope of a point. There were two changes to the line-up with Jobi being given a well-earned breather after starting the last four and being so influential in each, Josh Wright taking his place. Jamie Turley came in for vice-skipper Josh Coulson in a presumably similarly motivated switch.
It is too easy to say that those two changes disrupted our pattern of play and momentum, but it was difficult to watch the match and not think we miss Jobi’s drive in the middle of the park and also to wonder if we would have made the fairly simple mistakes at the back that led to both their goals had Coulson been there. The first came from a free kick from Jamie Turley that was enthusiastic but late. Wagstaff’s delivery took a deflection on the way through and fell to Bailey, who was to prove a pain throughout the evening, and the Birmingham City loanee fired home from 10 yards.
The O’s rallied after that Brophy who looked threatening all evening, tore down the left wing and just as he had minutes before picked out Wright in the box, where previously he had ballooned it over the bar, this time the midfielder found the target and got us back on terms.
From the start of the second half, they had us largely penned back but we continued to look lively on the counter. We had a huge shout for a penalty when Wilkinson seemed to be hacked down in the area, but referee Woolmer waved play on. Even with a low-level camera angle and no close-up replay the Football Nerd household knew it was nailed on, but we would say that wouldn’t we?
Eight minutes from time we were caught with a sucker-punch, Forest Green won a corner on their right, even listening at home you could hear their players being ordered to crowd Vigouroux in our goal. The ball was played in, our defenders seemed rooted to the spot as the ball was flicked on at the near post towards Stevens to nod in from close range. Try as we might we couldn’t conjure an equalizer and were left rueing a frustrating and slightly harsh defeat. The unbeaten run ended at four matches.
We now face back-to-back cup matches at home to Newport County in the FA Cup followed by a trip to the Valley to play Charlton in the much-maligned EFL Trophy. As much as it might be nice to have a cup run to enjoy, especially in the FA Cup after last season’s debacle against Maldon & Tiptree and being denied our opportunity to play Tottenham in the League Cup this campaign, perhaps now might be the time to rotate the squad and rest some of the first choice players ahead of our next league game away at Colchester.
Up the O’s!