I think we will all be happy to just bring an end to this bizarre season and, assuming we keep on the road to recovery after this almost unbelievable global pandemic, get back to normality in our lives and more specifically our football-watching. Anyone who watched Orient’s final home game of the season against Carlisle United would be forgiven for thinking that the squad look like they feel very much the same.
Going into the match there was little to choose between the two sides, separated by a single point in the league table and with neither having any real prospect of sneaking into the play-offs. Often these types of matches go one of two ways: they either descend into an end of season snoozefest or with the usual week-by-week pressure released they sometimes become free-flowing end-to-end matches. Looking back on this one I think we can pretty much consign it to the former rather than the latter category!
Jobi surprised us with his line-up dropping DJ to the bench and opting to utilise Wilko in the central striking role, something a number of people have suggested has been worth a try for a while given the travails of our leading goal-scorer since his injury against Salford back in January. Wilkinson was flanked by Louis Dennis and James Brophy in a front three and supported by the Gaffer, Dan Kemp and Ouss Cissé from midfield.
It didn’t take our new number 9 (now in position as well as shirt number) to make his mark, after just three minutes Tunji Akinola lofted a ball forward straight into the path of Wilko who barged past the last defender and fired home. Cue your author celebrating his clear tactical analysis skill and understanding, as I have always felt that we could get better use out of Conor if we found a way to deploy him more centrally. If Martin Ling is reading this and needs any further “insight” over the summer months, I am very much available for a small consultancy fee!
Of course, as we have borne witness to all season, Orient version 2020/21 have a seemingly unfailing ability to press the big red self-destruct button just when they have seemingly established themselves in a match, and so it was to prove yet again. This time, but not for the first time this season, it was Dan Happe conceding a penalty that gave the visitors a chance to get back on terms without having done very much. Thankfully Zanzala’s effort from the spot was weak and saved comfortably by our most obvious (only?) candidate for the club’s player of the season, Lawrence Vigouroux.
Just moments later referee Allison pointed to the spot again, this time at the North Stand end of the ground after Wilko was chopped down in the area by their keeper. With DJ on the side-lines Dan Kemp stepped up to try to convert a league penalty for the first time this season for us. While his effort was marginally better than the one at the other end it was still comfortably turned away by Norman in their goal to atone for conceding the foul in the first place. For those of us of something of a Statto nature I spent some time racking my football obsessive brain to try and recall if I had ever seen two missed penalties in one half of football. Answers on a postcard please if you have!
Just before the break, what had been a fairly routine end of season stroll for both sides suddenly exploded into life at least of a fashion. First the visitors drew level when Mellish reacted first to a flick down in the area while our defenders simply watched him, it was another one of those sloppy-looking and avoidable goals that we seem to have conceded way too many of this season.
Then just as I was about to say to Mrs Football Nerd that we were on track to fulfil Dulcit Dave’s prediction of a 1-1 draw when he invented this game as already having taken place during his commentary at Carlisle, we snatched the lead back. Dan Kemp made up for his miss from the spot by latching onto an under hit back-pass, skipped round Norman and slotted the ball home.
Quite what happened to us after the break is anyone’s guess, it can’t just have been the replacement of Turley by Sam Ling as a result of the knock the former sustained in the first half; but we just didn’t seem to have the same intensity we had shown in spells in the opening 45 minutes. The visitors rattled the crossbar early on and then just minutes later came the third penalty of the game when Jobi was somewhat harshly adjudged to have tripped Alessandra. After Zanzala’s woeful effort in the first half, it was no real surprise to see Alessandra grasp the ball, he took a much better penalty which he calmly tucked low and just beyond Vigouroux’s lunge to his right.
In response to a second equalizer Jobi took himself and Louis Dennis off to be replaced by DJ and Craig Clay, of course that meant that Wilko was shunted back out to the right. Surely an end of season almost meaningless game was the time to try DJ and Conor together in a classic Big Man-Little Man two up front?
There was a chance for Wilko and a ball across the face of goal that DJ just couldn’t quite reach, but then, as it has so often this season, came the sucker-punch. Their right back, George Tanner, cut inside and his low shot evaded everyone and nestled in the bottom left corner to consign us to our eighteenth league defeat of the campaign.
So for the last game of the season we head up to the North West and our old friends from the National League Salford City, while it would be nice to finish the season with a good performance and even a win, we now can’t finish higher than eleventh although we do have to be mindful of: Crawley, Port Vale and Bradford on our tails.
While most of us would have taken a midtable finish before the season started, there is for me something of an inescapable feeling of us not quite delivering on the potential of the squad that we had at our disposal. The Covid issues early on didn’t help and we did seem to improve at least initially when Jobi took over, but it feels to me as if we have sloppily thrown away points that we really should have picked up. The gap to seventh stands at 9 points and I am sure we can all think back to matches where those points and more could have been secured.
After the Salford game there is serious work to be done on reshaping the squad with just seven first team players under contract for next season as things stand, and of course a decision to be taken on whether Jobi is retained as the manager on a permanent basis. Until then though let’s hope we can finish the season off well up at Moor Lane.
Up the O’s!