Thankfully (not a word I often use when missing out on a football match!) the bringing forward of Orient’s kick off away at Exeter City last Saturday meant that it got underway half an hour into Arsenal’s match at Burnley. As bad as the Gunners performed in surrendering an early lead, it did mean that I escaped events at the South West’s version of St James Park, which I am reliably informed by Mrs Football Nerd who endured the full ninety minutes, may not have been unexpected but were nevertheless humbling to say the least.
Going into the match our hosts had scored 51 goals in 30 league games the best in the entire division. The fact that it took them just ten minutes to add to that impressive haul says everything it needs to about the strength of our resistance. 3-0 down at half-time the lads may as well have packed up and come home then.
We know that there is work to be done on both the training ground and in terms of attitude and approach to get the players to push themselves harder and to give more than they are at the moment. It was something that both Jobi talked about in his first interview as manager last week and a subject that Peter Kitchen reinforced in his column yesterday, that the players seem to be in something of a comfort zone with the former O’s striker commenting: “I think one of the biggest issues amongst the group is complacency. It is a group that has appeared too comfortable for too long. That has to change, either through the player’s mentality or simply by changing the personnel because some of them seem to be going through the motions.”
As plain as that has been to see through this campaign especially over recent weeks, it is also a major cause for concern if a football team looks and feels like it is going through the motions and not prepared to put in the hard graft to put things right. It is often said that the very minimum anyone should expect from the squad is effort, granted the players must be somewhat jaded after such a condensed schedule this season, but it is the same for all teams and one of the things that is bothering yours truly is how our opponents recently have looked much more energetic and lively than we seem to? We don’t seem to press the opposition aggressively enough and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near enough movement to give the player on the ball sufficient options and move the defence around when we do have it.
At Exeter our new manager opted for just one change to his line-up from the Grimsby match and that was a like-for-like swap with Dan Happe replacing Adam Thompson thanks to the latter’s horrific looking injury the previous Tuesday. On the face of it there is no disgrace in losing to a side that is better than you, and thinking back to the autumn Exeter have looked like a good club with very real seeming play-off aspirations, it was however the lifeless manner of the defeat that really stung.
Going into last night’s match at home to Stevenage, we were probably all hopeful for some reinvigorating of the line-up and maybe even a different approach in terms of system. In the end we saw a tweaking of the system with a 4-2-3-1 replacing the established 4-3-3, the most noticeable difference being that the attacking midfield three of: Conor Wilkinson, Dan Kemp and Nick Freeman were trying to get closer to lone striker Tristan Abrahams and that as a consequence we conceded an alarming amount of space out wide for their full-backs to try to get forward into. In truth our central striker finding himself with the midfield support too far away and isolated as a result is something that has been a recurring issue since our return to League Two.
The impact of the adaptation did at least spark some semblance of creativity in brief spells, but for long periods the same slow-paced sideways passing was the norm, the sterile possession making the defensive task fairly easy for Stevenage. On Orient TV prior to kick-off Olly asked Andrew and Glen whether having Jobi drop out of the team made it weaker? Given that the manager remains our joint leading assister and third highest goal-scorer there is certainly weight to that perspective, although it is understandable that he wants to step back and establish the right distance between himself and the playing squad he was part of just a week and a half ago. Although with just 6 goals as a team in the 12 matches since the turn of the year you do wonder if it might reach a point where he may feel playing himself is a better or indeed unavoidable option?
The other major change was Brophy dropping back to left-back once again in a move that no Orient fan seems to understand, especially given that Nick Freeman looked completely lost stationed on the left flank. I realise we brought in four new players in in the transfer window but if they are not producing more than the options you already have then what is the point of playing them? Maybe I am missing something, but I simply can’t fathom the logic behind not utilising a proper and perfectly decent left-back in Joe Widdowson to have Brophy play further away from the frontline. Late on in the game when we gave Brophy licence to push further on he was our main (only?) attacking spark. While he was perfectly diplomatic in his post-match interview, I am not sure Brophy himself is completely at ease with not being played in his most effective role.
So here we are with 13 games remaining in a season that at times has shown an element of promise with realistically not too much to play for. Sitting in 14th place, 11 points off the play-offs, it feels as though that particular ship has sailed, and as we are all but mathematically safe from relegation surely the focus for the remainder of the season has to be on finding the system and tactical approach that will get more out of the players than they are currently giving.
At the same time, there are a number of players coming to the end of their contracts in the summer and other decisions to be taken on players brought in and sent out on loan, so the work we do now should be about getting ready for next season and hopefully a bigger and better push for promotion. A much better performance, a win and a goal or two on Saturday against Scunthorpe would be a good way to start that process!
Up the O’s!