Well hasn’t it been a thoroughly humbling if not completely depressing return to action for the O’s? I had literally just finished gathering my thoughts for my latest contribution to the Orientear and (spoiler alert coming ahead of Saturday’s publication!) wondering whether with eighteen games still to play, including an intense run of nine games in five weeks before the end of March, we should be optimistic that a good run of performances and results would put us well and truly in the play-off mix, or whether we should temper our hopes and settle for mid-table stability. Then I endured the ‘performance’ at Valley Parade and found myself very much in resignation that a finish amongst the also-rans was probably the limit of our aspirations for this season, as depressing as that is to admit.
On the face of it, finishing somewhere between say 10th and 17th (where we finished in last season’s curtailed programme) wouldn’t be a complete disaster, especially given where we found ourselves just a few seasons back: out of the Football League on the brink of extinction. After all the owners and chief executive have consistently told us that there is a longer-term plan in place with promotion back to the League actually coming ahead of schedule. Yet I, and I am sure I am far from alone amongst the Orient faithful in this, can’t help but feel somewhat underwhelmed with the way this season is shaping up. An inescapable feeling that in the words of former O’s striker Peter Kitchen that “this squad is underachieving” and that it should be capable of delivering so much more.
Anyone who has braved the Orient fans’ social media pages recently can’t have failed to see the pressure that is building up on Ross, and such is the way of modern football that getting rid of the manager tends to be the solution trotted out after any run of poor results, but for me I am not sure that leaves us anywhere to go. Unless our form goes completely off a cliff, as well as Southend, Grimsby and Barrow embarking on a staggering upward trend, then we are in little danger of relegation. That’s essentially the first target of the season, namely: survival, achieved but are we right to expect / demand more?
Tuesday night’s defeat following hot on the heels of the disappointing draw at home with Port Vale now makes it six games without a win and worse still one goal in those six matches. In looking back to where things started to go wrong after the three encouraging wins against Southend, Salford and Morecambe, it is impossible to overlook the injury that DJ sustained in that game against Salford which kept him out for four matches and almost completely blunted our goal threat while he was absent. Mind you since our leading scorer’s return we haven’t exactly looked free-scoring either with just that well-taken Dan Kemp goal on Saturday as our total attacking output to show from nine hours of football.
It is the lack of zest and impetus from an attacking point of view that is most concerning given that, without wanting to tempt fate, we seem to have shored things up at the back at least to an extent, and have largely stopped conceding the sloppy, avoidable goals that we were all too frequently earlier in the season.
After the game the other evening Olly and Andrew on Orient TV (thankfully Glen Wilkie was absent due to it being an away game as you suspect he may have been far from happy with the performance!) in assessing where the O’s go from here wondered if we might see changes to the starting eleven in Saturday’s game at home to Tranmere. It is never wise to make wholesale changes just for the sake of it, and we all remember the impact of Ross constantly chopping and changing the side early in the season, but something needs to happen to spark some life back into the side.
When we were chasing the game late on at Bradford, it was noticeable that our main thrust of attacking intent came from James Brophy having been pushed further up the left wing, so why not start him there? It isn’t as if we would be losing very much defensively, in fact many might argue that we are in fact strengthening by bringing Joe Widdowson back into his natural position.
On the other flank our long diagonal ball out to Conor to win the header against the usually smaller full-back plan worked initially, but it is now a tactic that is too easy to read and …warning about some insightful tactical analysis incoming…it is bloody difficult to pull off when it is blowing a hooley (as our Irish and Scottish brethren like to say), such as it often does during the winter in this country. While it seems to have taken us a while to work out what Conor’s most suitable role is and in fairness he has put in some decent displays from wide on the right, I simply can’t understand why when we are struggling for goals we don’t try him centrally, especially with DJ looking so isolated that it makes you wonder if his return from injury actually happened or whether it was some madly optimistic hallucination.
In the middle of the park we settled on a solid three with one holding midfielder, usually Cissé but sometimes Hector, allowing Jobi and Craig Clay to push further forward and support the attack. Admittedly Clay has been injured since coming off early in the second half against Colchester and Jobi’s minutes need to be managed, but the current deployment with Nick Freeman coming in isn’t producing the same level of bite and drive that it had been. Over the last few weeks there has been much talk of Hector replacing Cissé, with the former’s suspension now served I think all of us would like to see that change made for Saturday. Equally we can only hope that Clay is fit again to return in the very near future.
On something of a worrying note, Ross was quoted in the Newham Recorder yesterday suggesting that while he and his staff may have looked at other formations he is not currently concerned with the 4-3-3 system, saying: “I think there is a lot being made of my formations at the moment and that’s understandable when you’re not winning games… I’m not massively concerned about the formation.” Although he did admit: “I feel in the last few games we haven’t given up a great deal but we’ve got to work harder in the first (final?) third to take more risks and create more opportunities”.
A bold and committed stance to take no doubt, however if things don’t start to improve and soon the calls for his head will only grow louder. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results…for all our sakes let’s hope Ross finds a way to spark some life back into our squad whether that involves a change in personnel or approach or even both.
Up the O’s!