Hands up who feels disappointed after Easter Monday’s draw with lowly Walsall? As frustrating as our level of performance was after a recent run of four wins in a row capped off by a lively and energetic display at Mansfield just three days previously, might the disappointment that we are feeling at the boys not being at their best be an indication of how things have improved with Jobi at the helm?
First let’s start with the good (no pun intended!) of Friday’s trip to Field Mill. After three decent wins in succession it seems like Jobi has pretty much settled on his first choice squad and so there were only two changes deemed necessary, both as a result of injury: Sam Ling came in with Tunji Akinola moving to centre back in place of Dan Happe whilst the interim manager himself took Wilko’s place after the latter failed to recover sufficiently from the knock suffered against Oldham. As tends to happen when Jobi plays the system was much more of a 4-3-3 with Dan Kemp moving to the right flank.
Almost from the outset it was noticeable that there was a greater intensity and commitment in the pressing of our front three, especially from Dan Kemp who really seems to be establishing himself in the side after his January transfer. It very nearly paid dividends early on when DJ stole onto a wayward back-pass only to be denied by a slightly fortunate save from Aidan Stone in the Stags’ goal. Still it put us on the front foot nice and early and we didn’t have long to wait for the breakthrough when Sam Ling flicked on the resulting corner and our top goal-scorer was on hand to turn it home from close range and get himself back amongst the goals after what has felt like a very long time.
It is often said that when a striker is suffering a goal drought, they just need one to go in no matter how it does. It certainly seemed to do DJ the power of good as he looked re-energised by it and he came close again with a fizzed effort just over the bar on the half hour mark.
For their part Mansfield struggled to retain possession long enough to cause us too many problems save for the routine collection of a header by Vigouroux just before the break. Other than that our keeper may as well have paid to watch it like the rest of us.
The second half saw Mansfield get off to a much livelier start and they created a couple of efforts on target both of which were dealt with comfortably by Vigs. Then with less than a quarter of an hour to play they shot themselves in the foot again: a sloppy back pass was played straight into DJ’s path and our newly reinvigorated goal-poacher rounded the keeper and slotted the ball home for 2-0, all 3 points, 4 wins in a row and a good job done on the road.
Going into the Easter Monday game at home to Walsall, I am pretty sure that most in the O’s camp and the supporters watching at home would have been confident of making it five out of five against a team sitting in 20th position and still flirting with relegation. Although, as was pointed out on Orient TV they are something of draw specialists having picked up a point in almost half of their 38 matches prior to kick-off.
Jobi judged that he probably needed a rest and with Wilko fit enough to come back into the side named himself amongst the substitutes. That move of course signalled a slightly different shape to the team with Dan Kemp back in the Number 10 slot. Whether it was jadedness or fatigue, even though the Friday to Monday turnaround isn’t on paper any different than playing on Saturday followed by Tuesday, but we didn’t have anywhere near the same energy in our play as we had shown three days previously. There was no crispness or tempo to our passing and the pressing and harrying so evident against Mansfield just wasn’t there.
Unlike the Good Friday match, Vigouroux was much more involved right from the start as the Saddlers looked to take the game to us early on. If they could finish anywhere near effectively, we could have found ourselves in real trouble. From our point of view the one chance that stands out from the opening half was a free kick from just outside the area which Kemp hit directly at the wall causing yours truly to yet again wonder out loud whether we needed to invest in bigger mannequins at the training ground given our propensity to waste free kicks in promising positions by failing to clear the wall!
A lacklustre first half faded without leaving too much to remember and Jobi opted to try and shake things into action by bringing on Hector, fresh from penning a very welcome new two year deal with the club and having recently been called up to Cyprus Under-21’s. It is an easy argument to make given his heads-up, forward-looking approach but we immediately looked more lively in an attacking sense. I wrote last week about the significant squad management issues that need sorting out over the summer (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings- Three wins in a row and the Good Ship Orient seems to be back on course.), signing up a very talented and promising teenage midfielder until the summer of 2023 seems like one very positive step in the right direction.
Our best chances of the game both came from positive work on the left flank the first by Brophy saw his low ball into the box just go behind Wilko, the second came from substitute Louis Dennis who worked space for himself on the wing picked out Dan Kemp only for the young attacking midfielder to see his half-volley canon off DJ’s back and away for a goal-kick.
Deep into added time Jobi, also on as a sub, sent Wilko away down the right, the big forward cut inside and just as he was driving into the penalty area went down in a heap. Decision was split in the Football Nerd household with yours truly desperately claiming a chance at late salvation with a penalty, while the more calm and sensible Mrs Football Nerd suggested that Wilko had made the most of it at best and even if he had been tripped it was outside the area. Rightly or wrongly referee Howard sided with the missus’ point of view and, somewhat harshly it has to be said, booked Conor for simulation.
In the end we had to settle for a point but if we are brutally honest, we probably didn’t do enough to merit anything more. Still that is now 7 games unbeaten and a total of 18 points from a possible 27 since Jobi took the helm and there are clear signs of progress. Next up is a trip to second placed Cheltenham, a very big ask no doubt against a team who has lost less games (10) than anyone else in the division, a big result there would have us dreaming of a really positive finish to the campaign. For now though let’s be content that frustration at a goalless draw at home is grounds for frustration, in many ways it shows the progress we are making.
Up the O’s!