Once again after a run of positive results, in this case three wins in a row without conceding a goal, when Orient looked to take the next step by beating an opponent who were higher than us in the table, we couldn’t reach the level expected. In a very frustrating way it reminded me of the game away at Saturday’s opponents Forest Green at the beginning of November, the trip to Scunthorpe a few weeks later or indeed the defeats away at Morecambe and then at home to Crawley that immediately followed the stunning win over at the time top-of-the table Newport.
It seems that every time we start to generate some momentum and look to really show what we are made of, we come to a shuddering halt whenever we meet one of the league’s better sides. To make it even worse, each of those defeats listed, as well as the match on Saturday, have felt very much like matches where we haven’t risen to the occasion or done ourselves justice when it has really mattered.
In their notes in the online matchday programme both Ross and Jobi highlighted the importance of our home form if we are going to fulfil our ambitions of pushing on up the table. While we have won four and drawn one of our eleven matches on the road, there has been a feeling that we could, and perhaps should, have picked up more points on our travels. For me, the trips to Scunthorpe, Morecambe and especially Cambridge on Boxing Day were games from which we shouldn’t have departed empty handed. Which makes it all the more important that we continue to pick up the points at home where we are stronger: before Saturday our points per game at home was 1.9 compared to 1.2 away from Brisbane Road, a significant if not huge difference.
Going into the game Forest Green were in a poor run of form, to say the very least, having not won any of their last five games, although the ongoing topsy-turvy nature of this season like no other, meant that they still sat in fifth place in the table and had rather impressively scored in every league game they had played since way back in October. Although I think even the most ardent Orient fan would concede that we know they are a good side and were worried that this might be the match where they ended their poor run of form and got themselves back on track. Well I say all of us, but Dulcet Dave on the Orient TV stream seemed to have a hell of a struggle remembering that we were in fact playing the Rovers of Forest Green and not Tranmere, such was the frequency by which he referred to the Wirral-based club as our opponents!
Right from the first whistle you could tell that their manager Mark Cooper had given his charges the rounds of the training ground after their poor recent results, the men from The New Lawn looked the very epitome of a team who had had a significant kick up the backside and were desperate to put things right. For our part we struggled to live with their intensity and when the opening goal came midway through the first half, even the most partisan O’s fans would have struggled to admit anything other than it had been coming.
For the rest of the match I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat willing us to spark into some form of life and get ourselves into the game, but it didn’t come, there was a strangely flat feel to our play and once again we missed DJ, for me his return cannot come quickly enough. We simply didn’t put rookie goalkeeper, Lewis Thomas, under anywhere near enough pressure, nor were we able to fashion enough decent chances. When Dan Happe was shown a second yellow card after a desperate lunge, I think we probably all realised the game was well and truly up.
The rejigged line-up after Happe’s departure saw debutant midfielder Nick Freeman, who had only just come on the field, having to fill in at right wing back, presumably not a position either he or Ross foresaw him in when he put pen to paper on his loan deal. As much as we huffed and puffed it never felt like we were going to rescue a point and we were left to rue another lacklustre performance against better-quality opposition. If the O’s are going to find a way to push for promotion this campaign then these are the sort of games where we are going to need to develop a certain wiliness, an ability to dig in and not lose even if victory looks unlikely.
Next up is a trip to Bolton to face a team who, despite their illustrious relatively recent history are languishing in the lower reaches of the table, nineteenth to be precise, and whom we dispatched nice and comfortably 4-0 back in October in what was definitely one of our better performances of the season. We really should be looking to get ourselves back on track in that one.
After having the benefit of a full week’s recovery between the last three matches, from next week we go back into the hectic routine of Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday games once again with a total of seven matches to fit in in February. The majority of these are away from home although, rather kindly, only two are against teams currently above us in the league: the postponed long trip to Carlisle and a home game against Dulcet’s favourite team Tranmere. A decent points return from this period could go a long way to cementing the top half finish that has to be the minimum target for the season.
Of course, the other big Orient news that broke this week was what is being referred to as a “new partnership supporting both clubs on and off the field” between Leyton Orient and Hartford Athletic from Connecticut USA who also have a similar arrangement with Southampton. Hartford play in the United Soccer League Championship, which is the second tier of US football, essentially the division below the MLS.
The foundation of the partnership seems to be very much about operational and commercial growth which sounds promising. The press release also suggests that there may be opportunities for “potential player loan transfers”, speaking at the recent online annual review Nigel suggested that while the regulations around recruitment would prevent us utilising it as another source of young talent, Athletic hold seven international visas so there could be opportunities for some of our young prospects to gain experience Stateside. Plus of course those of us with a penchant for off the beaten track football tourism would relish the free access to Hartford Athletic matches if/when we are ever allowed to travel again. Who knows we may even have a future pre-season friendly over there…now that would be an awayday!
Up the O’s!