The last time I put together any Orient-based musings was back in the middle of May, in the immediate aftermath of Orient’s meek display at Salford in the last game of the season (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings – Farewell and thank you to Jobi, all change at the Orient and some very ambitious plans for the future). The main issues back then were the fact that Jobi’s spell as interim manager wasn’t being extended or made permanent, the news that a significant number of players were being released and the Board setting out its ambitious 5-year vision for the future.
At that time I remember thinking to myself that it was difficult to judge how we would fare come the start of the new season given that we didn’t have a manager, we had just seven players under contract for the year ahead and seemingly very little time to start building a squad and preparing for a season due to get underway in less than three months.
Through the summer, the powers that be at Orient certainly moved quickly to start the process. First came the announcement that our new manager was to be a certain Kenny Jackett, a manager with definite experience but also proceeded by a generally positive reputation. Living on the Isle of Dogs I have spoken to a few Millwall fans and asked their thoughts on Jackett based on his time with them and have received nothing but resounding seals of approval. The press even seem to think Orient have pulled off something of a coup by attracting Jackett to Brisbane Road.
For me KJ’s appointment represents a logical progression from being promoted back into the Football League and to take us on from where Justin got us to. He brings with him an impressive track record in management winning promotions with Swansea City, Millwall and Wolves, even if his last job at Portsmouth didn’t quite go as well as he had hoped. Somehow the appointment just feels right as we look to push on from consolidation in League Two towards genuinely being in the promotion conversation this time around.
Ever since the first pre-season home game, a creditable goalless against a relatively strong West Ham side, there seems to be a greater solidity, robustness and defensive organisation about our play. It seems clear that the summer’s first signing Darren Pratley was one that Kenny instigated as he clearly trusts the player and seems to view him as his on-pitch leader.
Due to pretty much being locked out of football save for the odd game here or there for the best part of a year and a half, Mrs Football Nerd and I have gone and done something completely and utterly nuts. Growing more and more disenchanted and distanced from the Premier League, when I was offered a season ticket holiday by Arsenal, I jumped at the chance and then the idea started to form in the back of my mind that if I didn’t have to commit to renewing my season ticket for an entire year, this would free me up. It probably says so much about me that my thoughts immediately turned to wondering if I could in fact go to every single Orient league match, home and away, for the entire season.
To her utter folly Mrs Football Nerd found herself first of all encouraging me, and then, worse still, actually agreeing to come with me on the away trips as well as to all the games at Brisbane Road, I think she is still wondering what she was thinking! For more on our madcap plan for the season please see the upcoming issue of the Orientear.
With us having committed to going to every away game if at all possible, the gods of footballing fate decreed that it would be our old friends and a team we have developed a little bit of a rivalry with, Salford City, as not only the first away game but the very first match of the campaign. With the prospect of trips to many far-flung and far from exotic places over the course of the next nine months or so, we decided to make a weekend of it and stay in Manchester.
After a night out on Canal Street, including a near altercation with a drag queen (long story, you’ll have to wait for the book that we are writing to come out if for some very strange reason you want to know more!), we took up the invitation that the Star Inn in Salford had posted on the Orient fans’ Facebook pages inviting us to come along. Given that we now know there is nothing at all around Moor Lane, we are glad we did. The community-owned pub, Britain’s first apparently, was friendly and quirky and with two pints coming in at a staggeringly reasonable £7.25 it would have been rude not to.
Once we finally made our way up to the ground, the feeling of anticipation amongst the travelling Orient faithful was almost palpable. This was something more than the excitement of being on an awayday after so many months of not being allowed, dare I say it but it felt like optimism for the O’s prospects for the season ahead, not something we have generally felt for a while.
Orient started the match looking very much like a team determined to get the season off to a good start, however we couldn’t make the chances that we did create count until just past the half hour mark when big centre back Omar Beckles, just as he had done the previous week in the friendly against Gillingham, opened the scoring. The pandemonium on the away terrace was probably as much to do with being back and able to do so after so long as much as the joy at going a goal up at one of the favourites for promotion.
The opening goal seemed to spark the hosts into life, and they drew level thanks to an effort from range by Matty Willock, brother of Arsenal’s Joe and QPR’s Chris, just before the break. The second half remained fairly even throughout, if anything the hosts looked the more menacing from a goal threat perspective and we had to be thankful for a number of decent saves by Lawrence Vigouroux in our net. In the end neither side could find the decisive breakthrough and we finished with a point a piece.
After the match we headed back to the Star Inn for a pint or two and to catch the end of the third Lions Test, with prices like that why wouldn’t we? After a nice evening meal back in Manchester we were “treated” to a 5-hour return train journey back to London on the Sunday thanks to detours as a result of engineering works and a signal failure just past Stafford. With the prospect of 22 more similar journeys to complete, we have to hope that these incidents are few and far between.
Back in London, it is probably fair to say that Wednesday night’s League Cup tie against QPR of the Championship was something of a free hit, save for the desire to want to make an impact on Sky TV given our cruel exit thanks to Covid from the competition last year. With cup regulations dictating that larger ticket allocations are made available to away fans; the missus and I were once again exiled from our usual seats in the East Stand. Such was the way the QPR fans were carrying on Mrs Football Nerd is a bit concerned that she will find her actual seat still there and undamaged when we return tomorrow afternoon!
In actual fact the noise from the travelling support served to wake up the home supporters and create an atmosphere like a proper football match, something we have all been denied since December.
Orient seemed to set out to try and contain QPR in the opening period, the defensive shape and organisation were very evident and proof of the impact that KJ is having on the team already. It worked up to an extent with us limiting Rangers, in the main, to speculative shots from distance. However, there was always the fear that they would find and take an opportunity. So it was to prove when Dickie lost his marker Dan Happe in the area and nodded home a corner from the right. An annoyingly avoidable error of course but if you switch off for even a second against better quality opposition then you are more than likely going to pay.
Our response to going a goal down after just a quarter of an hour was impressive, realizing we needed to open up more, to take the handbrake off as a certain French manager used to say, we looked to exploit the left hand side through throwback winger Theo Archibald ably supported by the attack-minded Connor Wood from left back. The pair, Archibald in particular, provided some enticing deliveries into the box but nobody could get on the end of them to apply the finishing touch. Right at the end of the half, a Tom James corner from the left glanced Beckles’ forehead but just evaded Dan Happe following in at the far post. Still it gave us encouragement for the second half.
Whatever KJ said to the lads in the dressing room it certainly did the trick as we looked like a much better side after the break from an attacking point of view. The football was crisper, slicker and more incisive than we have seen up to this point and it put us more on the front foot. QPR seemed unsure of how to deal with this renewed attacking intent from the underdogs, their support went very quiet presumably in realization that we were taking the game to them and were very much in the ascendancy.
As time wore on the home crowd, reinvigorated by our improved display were willing the lads on to nick an equalizer, on a number of occasions we looked to be through only to be denied by the linesman’s flag, even from our position at the other end of the ground I was convinced at least one of them should have been allowed to carry on!
Then with just over 15 minutes remaining to play, Tom James fizzed in one of his now trademark long throws, Drinan held off a defender well and poked home his first Orient goal. I have felt since the beginning of pre-season that for all his effort and work rate Drinan needed that first goal for his confidence, hopefully that will now boost him going forward.
At the death both Sotiriou and Beckles forced Archer in their net into a couple of decent saves, but we couldn’t sneak the winner. I think for all our sakes there is no need to rake over the penalty shootout suffice it to say that it is the stereotypical lottery, even though we exit the competition we do so with our heads held high and can reflect on matching a team from the second tier as a very good step in our development under KJ.
Sadly, after the match some of the QPR fans somehow seeing this is a major victory of some kind decided to treat the local area to some childish wannabe aggro, nothing too menacing but equally not something that is needed or wanted.
For Orient we can reflect on a decent enough start to competitive action under our new manager, the new signings look like quality additions to the side and we haven’t even seen striker Harry Smith yet and there are definite grounds for optimism. Next up is Exeter City tomorrow, a team that finished two places above us last time in ninth, a first 3 points for the new O’s would certainly make a statement, here’s hoping!
Up the O’s!