Hands up, who thought we would go to Southend, win comfortably and potentially relegate the Shrimpers to the National League last Saturday? Anyone who thought so was in good company as it looked for all the world as if the Orient players felt the same.
Southend were very much in the last chance saloon going into the match: they trailed third from bottom Barrow by 8 points with just 9 to play for, meaning that if they lost to us while those above them picked up anything from their games that would have been the end for them in the Football League. While I get that a lot of O’s fans would have been happy at that, we only need think back four years to us being in a very similar position. Mind you seeing Phil Brown unhappy would have been something of a bonus – every cloud and all that!
As it turned out our friends from the Essex coast need not have worried too much as, despite still having an outside chance at a play-off place, Orient chose this match to think all they needed to do was to turn up to gather all three points. As up and down as our form has been during this season like no other, this was one where the performance was quite frankly not up to scratch.
Ahead of the match there was an appearance by interim gaffer Jobi McAnuff on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday. The way he spoke about the club and the way it is now organised and run provided a timely reminder of how far we have come from the dark days of 2017 and the end of you-know-who’s ownership. The contrast was made even more stark given Southend’s current plight, there but for the grace of footballing fate go we!
It may not have been the warmest spring day imaginable, but the sunshine made Mrs Football Nerd and I, not for the first time this season it has to be said, mourn the fact that over a year into this wretched pandemic we still are unable to go and watch live football matches. A trip to the seaside in the sunshine, a few leisurely beers, perhaps a portion of fish and chips, would have made for quite some awayday. Sadly, barring some form of miraculous escape, a trip to Roots Hall may well be off the itinerary for next season at least as well.
It seems almost redundant to try and analyse our ‘performance’ in any great detail, suffice to say that it was one of our most lacklustre displays for a long while, one that Peter Kitchen described as follows: “Orient fans won’t want to hear it, but Southend out-fought us. It was a very disappointing performance, reminiscent of those served up earlier in the season with lots of possession, but too many square and back passes and little end product and described this afternoon on Sky sports as Insipid.” Anyone watching the Orient TV stream would find it hard to disagree with our legendary former frontman.
In the end goals from Tyler Cordner late in the first half and Matt Rush in the closing stages were enough to keep Southend’s slim hopes of staying in the Football League alive. All we could muster in response was Louis Dennis’ first of the season and only the second league goal he has netted for us since his arrival in the summer of 2019, in added time before the break.
In fairness Tuesday night’s loss at home to Cambridge probably hammered home the realisation to the players that while a top 10 finish may not be beyond us, the play-offs may have been just a step too far at this stage of our development. Based on the evidence of this season there are several clubs more equipped to go up than we currently are. Still it would be nice to approach the final two games of the campaign at home to Carlisle and away at Salford with the right attitude and do our utmost to finish as high up the table as we possibly can.
If this season has been about stabilisation in League Two, ahead of next season there is some significant work to be done in getting us ready for what we all hope will be a creditable and genuine push for promotion, not least the position of our interim manager. I have touched upon it a couple of times in recent weeks but for me the one thing we are crying out for is stability in the dugout.
After Justin’s tragic passing in the summer of 2019 we had Ross taking interim charge, the Carl fletcher debacle, Ross being put back in charge albeit on a rolling contract and then in February Ross’ sacking and the installation of Jobi on a permanent basis. Not exactly the sound management platform on which to build stability. Within the context of upheaval and change a top-half finish in our second season back in the Football League feels like a par performance. Unless there is a super experienced manager available to come in and drastically shake things up in a positive way, I am increasingly of the view that we should keep faith in Jobi. After all, six wins and four draws in his fourteen matches at the helm is not exactly disastrous.
The other factor that must merit significant consideration is that come June we will have just seven players under contract for next season (for reference they are: Sam Sargeant, Adam Thompson, Shadrach Ogie, Hector Kyprianou, Ouss Cisse, Dan Kemp and Ruel Sotiriou), which means a huge number of decisions to be made on who we want to stay, who is deemed surplus to requirements and who we might want to bring in. Not to mention potentially tough battles to keep some of our squad who might have started to attract the attention of clubs higher up the league. Now doesn’t seem the right time to be trying to recruit a new manager especially when the man in the job is doing well enough.
That squad management and recruitment is going to be absolutely key to how we fare next season, get it right and the overall achievements of this campaign suggest that we might be in a position for a real promotion push next time out. If nothing else though, hopefully over the summer we can start to look forward to being able to go and watch the O’s and feel a full part of the adventure once again. Here’s hoping!
Up the O’s!