In last week’s post I suggested ahead of the visit of Tranmere Rovers that if Ross didn’t try something new to spark the team and squad back into life, then he was running the real risk of not being able to withstand the loudening calls for his head if it all went wrong (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings- Over to you Mr Embleton!). For reasons only he will know instead of trying two up front, changing the midfield, moving to three centre backs, or playing a left winger wide on the left and a natural defender at left back; the sum total of his refreshment of the starting eleven was to start Conor on the left and Dan Kemp on the right. That it didn’t work should surprise no one at all, our now former manager included, given that the line-up and system hasn’t been working for a good few weeks now.
I was on Arsenal Europa League-watching duty on Thursday night and therefore didn’t get to listen in to the Q&A with the new signings, but Mrs Football Nerd suggested that Nigel had laid the responsibility for sparking some life back into the squad and our form firmly at the feet of Ross. Implying fairly categorically that the board had backed him with the resource for transfers and it was up to Ross to show he could push us up the table. Even so I don’t think any of us realised just how much of a tightrope the incumbent coach was walking.
Make no mistake, while the defeat on Saturday wasn’t exactly unexpected given Tranmere’s recent form: the visitors having lost just once since before Christmas, were sitting in fifth place in the League and to all intents and purposes are a League One side only denied their place in the tier above thanks to their controversial Points Per Game-based relegation when last season was curtailed. (For newer readers I should point out that I am not exactly neutral when it comes to Tranmere as hailing from the Wirral they are my hometown club, I used to go and watch them quite a bit in the late eighties and early nineties, and I have quite an array of family and friends who support them!). The loss did feel as if we made things all too easy for Rovers and it was quite comfortable for them as they look to secure their (fully justified!) return to the higher tier.
If we are brutally honest watching Orient recently has been hard work, the packed schedule that all clubs are facing hasn’t helped by any means, but it feels as if the verve and impetus has gone out of the team’s play. In truth it has all seemed a bit stale. The injury to DJ seemed to knock us off course in an attacking sense and we haven’t really recovered as of yet. Meanwhile those sloppy defensive failings that we had hoped we had eradicated seem to have slipped back into our play: the late penalty concession at Bradford and Tranmere’s three goals on Saturday being glaring examples.
In fairness to Ross he stepped up in the most difficult circumstances imaginable: the sad days of summer 2019 when our saviour, but let us not forget also Ross’ mentor and great friend, Justin so tragically passed away after returning us to the promised land of the Football League and essentially dragging the club back up from its knees. No manager could have picked up the pieces after that and it is credit to Ross that he not only felt that it was his duty but that he was also prepared to put himself forward and step into the void.
If things had gone right and the Board and Director of Football had got their recruitment right and appointed a bona fide manager back in the autumn of last season, then Ross would have been able to step back into his coaching role having led us through the grieving period and ready to focus again on securing our place in League Two. They didn’t however, in truth the Carl Fletcher appointment was a complete and utter shambles, and with nowhere to go after putting Fletcher (and us!) out of his misery after just 29 days they were forced to turn to Ross once again.
This season we have been let down by a lack of consistency. As I have suggested on these pages in previous weeks it seemed to take Ross a while to settle on his first-choice team but once he did the results started to come and we started to climb the table. Where things have gone badly off the rails was Ross’ last seven matches in which we mustered just two goals and three points. More experienced managers would most likely have changed things up, tried some different options in terms of personnel and/ or system in an attempt to stimulate life back into the team, or at least to show the fans that they were trying everything they knew to get things back on track. Ross seemed hampered by not having the experience and accumulated knowledge to draw upon and in the end didn’t really try anything different.
In his Youtube interview after the decision to relieve Ross of his duties, Nigel suggested that Ross had done an effective job of steadying the ship and got us as high as seventh in the League but that the transfer committee had decided to bring in the four new players to really push on for a spot in the play-offs. The poor results in those seven games led them to believe a change was needed. As harsh as that might seem, that’s football if you don’t deliver the results you don’t stay in the job.
Now we turn to Captain Fantastic Jobi McAnuff as our latest interim manager, a fantastically experienced player but also pretty much a rookie in terms of management and coaching. In his first interview in his new role ahead of last night’s game at Grimsby Jobi suggested that he will be taking a backseat as a player, that he was relishing the challenge but that he wanted to force the squad out of the comfort zone they currently find themselves in and to drive them on to better and better performances.
Last night’s win over an admittedly poor Grimsby side felt very much like a step in the right direction. Of the three changes that Jobi made to the starting line-up the biggest impact came from bringing in Joe Widdowson to allow Brophy to go back to his natural and most effective position on the left wing. It is too easy to suggest that that was a no-brainer as we haven’t been privy to Ross’ thinking on his decision to persevere with Brophy at left-back, but the results were there for all to see last night.
We could and should have scored more last night especially given that Dan Kemp contrived to hit the bar twice, but for periods there was a real intensity to our play both with and without the ball that we haven’t seen for what feels like a long time. Sadly, it looks like the injury to Adam Thompson will be season-ending which is a shame as he was really starting to establish himself at the heart of our defence. It would also have been nice if DJ had got himself amongst the goals once again, but it was a solid start for our new manager.
With fifteen games to go and 45 points to play for a sustained, consistent run would start to build the momentum around the club once again. We remain 7 points off the play-offs, so it still seems like a big ask to force our way in, but we have seen just how up and down every team’s form is this season and how a good run can really help you to climb the table. If Jobi was able to get us there, then there is every reason to believe that his position will be made permanent. For now, though the Orient world feels like a happier place than it has been for a while.
Up the O’s!