Just before the Festive Period I wondered if the fact that Orient’s form this season had been so consistently inconsistent was down to the impact of the pandemic (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings- is Orient’s consistent inconsistency simply a reflection of the topsy-turvy nature of the Pandemic-impacted League? ). Most specifically, it felt that the by-necessity hectic Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday routine was going to take its toll with all teams feeling the impact of fatigue, jadedness and injury, let alone the potential impact of increasing Covid infection rates.
From an Orient perspective it felt particularly frustrating as, at the time of writing, it felt very much that every significant win and step forward this season was followed up by a sloppy defensive performance, often combined with a failure to take our chances, and a momentum-zapping loss.
Going into the Christmas and New Year fixtures, we had won as many games as we had lost and were sitting in exactly mid-table, with the vague comfort/ambition that if we could string a run of performances and results together, we could put ourselves very much in the promotion mix. The hard part of course was always going to be producing consistent performances and results.
Cambridge away on Boxing Day was annoying to say the very least: to go away from home and put in a solid performance in the first half only to then let it slip just after half-time through two goals in quick succession was a tough one to take, especially as it would have put us back on track after Morecambe away and Crawley at home. Of course, the Cambridge game was the first one that saw Ross forced to self-isolate with Danny Send taking charge on the touchline. I have to confess that is not a phrase that I ever foresaw myself writing in reference to a football coach. Covid-19 finding new ways to surprise us every week!
After the frustration at the Abbey Stadium, it was absolutely critical that we got back on track against Southend who, despite sitting in the lower reaches of the table after a poor start to the season, were unbeaten in their previous five. Thankfully we chose the derby clash to put in one of our better performances, another excellent free-kick goal from Captain Fantastic Jobi McAnuff, and a composed dink over the keeper from Wilko after the skipper had played him in were enough to get the job done. In truth it could and probably should have been more than just the two but the relatively rare clean sheet was pleasing.
Going into the next game against our old friends Salford City, I probably wasn’t alone in fearing that after a good win we might be a bit more lackadaisical, after all it seems to have very much been our modus operandi this season with each positive performance being largely followed by something not at the same level.
In the build-up to the game it was interesting to hear what Gary Neville had to say not only about the up and down nature of this season for all teams, but also how he felt that Orient were much better than his charges when we won the National League a couple of seasons back. As tempting as it is to want to dislike the Sky pundit given his playing career and his ownership of a team that can be seen as something of a recent rival, it was positive to see his input and credit to him for participating.
Thankfully for all of us watching on Orient TV, the lads chose this match to show some long overdue consistency. We matched Salford all over the pitch and kept them at bay for the most part, other than what could easily be the miss of the decade, if not century, from Asante-Thomas in the opening period and a good save from Vigouroux (Vigs?) in the second half. Once again it was DJ (who else?) who sealed the three points with a well-taken turn and finish on the half hour mark, but credit also needs to be given to the keeper, defence and tenacious tackling midfield for our second successive clean sheet.
Having watched last night’s very interesting 2020 review on the club’s Youtube channel Nigel and Danny stressed that the target for this season has always been to finish in the top half of the table with a stretch target of making the play-offs. Right now, having played just under half of our matches, we seem to be very much on our intended course despite the ups and downs in our form.
Next up we head to Carlisle who currently sit top of the table and six points ahead of us having played a game less, a tough away trip without doubt. It feels like one of those games where if we could escape without being beaten that would be a result in itself, assuming of course the match still goes ahead given the weather warnings that have been issued in Cumbria and the ongoing situation with the pandemic across the country.
That match forms the start of a fairly daunting run in which we will face four of the top seven teams in succession before the end of the month, how we fare in these very tough games could determine where we are likely to end up as we start the run-in. Lose all four and it may well be that a top half finish is the best we can aim for, however if we could find a way to pick up say 4, 5 or even 6 points before we head to Bolton on the last Saturday of the month, we night just start to feel as if a strong push towards the play-offs is on the cards.
Meanwhile the pandemic continues to wreak increasing havoc across society and football of course cannot escape. While Boris and co have allowed elite sport to continue, we are increasingly seeing the virus impact the game. Just yesterday the Premier League announced that 40 players and club staff have tested positive for Coronavirus over the past week – more than double the previous weekly high, while the EFL has this week undertaken its first round of mandatory testing in response to a total of 40 matches being suspended over the Christmas period as a result of Covid outbreaks. While we live in hope that the season can be completed, we saw just under a year ago that that is by no means a given. If the season is to be suspended again the more points we have in the bag and the higher up the table we are the better.
Up the O’s!