Oops, it looks like I may have overdone it with the optimism in last week’s post (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings – Very Early Days, but encouraging signs from the O’s (#Jacketball)), a dangerous perspective to have for any Orient fan. After the 3-0 humbling of Exeter it felt very much as if there were positive signs of progress under KJ as our new manager and in the way all the new recruits, (nine and still counting (hopefully!) with the signing of former trialist Tyrese Omotoye from Norwich City on a season long loan), were starting to show that they were settling in and beginning to gel as a team. Then the first half at Carlisle and the whole ninety minutes at home to Harrogate provided a significant reality-check to stop us all getting carried away with the feelgood vibe.
Let’s start with the not so bad and the trip to Carlisle, for reasons still not completely clear to us Mrs Football Nerd and I decided to make the trip to Cumbria, the second of the (at least) twenty-three we are due to make this season as a day trip, and a long one it was too. Departing the Isle of Dogs at 7am and returning just in time for Match of the Day it was a test of our endurance and our commitment to our madcap season-long adventure of following the Orient all around the country. (For more on our plans for the season please see here-F**ked off with the Premier League and modern football, a year with the O’s is the perfect antidote.)
Thankfully other than a shock diversion before we had even left London due to planned engineering work on the Northern Line, there was no serious delays to the journey to Carlisle or indeed on the way back. Dare I even say it, but it was actually quite relaxing watching the Lake District and other countryside pass by out of the window as we headed further and further north. Hell we even managed to hold out from ordering any beer until around 11am, mind you that may have had as much to do with the card machine in the buffet car being broken, the crap Wifi and the difficulty of getting the Avanti At-Seat app to work, as much as any great discipline from the pair of us!
Arriving in Carlisle pretty much on schedule we were surprised to find the town centre was in reality fairly picturesque with the ground being a comfortable twenty-minute stroll away, even in the expected North Western drizzle it was fairly pleasant.
Given the choice of Carlisle Rugby Club or the Beehive pub as a close to the ground pre-match hostelry, we opted for the Beehive on the simple principle that it was on the same side of the road as we had been walking on. It was busy inside, so much so that we were lucky to get in before they made people queue and wait for others to leave. After finally securing a couple of pints at a very reasonable £7.65 we even managed to find a table with a view of several screens to watch what remained of Liverpool v Burnley in the early kick-off.
Brunton Park is one of those traditional and slightly quirky grounds that looks like different bits have been added as time has progressed and the club’s finances have permitted. The main stand is a partially covered grandstand with a paddock terrace in front and two new similar structures on either side that were definitely added a good few years later. The home terrace behind one of the goals has a roof made up of three triangular sections while behind the other goal is a small uncovered terrace which seemed to only be used for away fans to put up their flags, Lord Dazza’s (@darenreisman) seemed to be in prime position from where we were sitting.
The newest stand is the Pioneer Stand opposite the old main stand a portion of which like Brisbane Road’s East Stand is given to the away fans. As decent as the stand and facilities are and even though the view is a lot better, it still doesn’t feel right to our traditionalist sensibilities to be sitting alongside the pitch when we are away from home.
The least said about Orient’s first half performance probably the better, trust me or any of the other 259 brave / foolish O’s that went all the way there. If the win over Exeter showed a cohesive, exciting attack-focused team, this was almost the complete opposite. Our passing was sloppy and seemed to find a Carlisle player as many times as its intended target, when we did play it to feet we were weak in holding off the opposition and defensively it seemed to be all too easy for them to get in behind us.
Our cause wasn’t helped by an early penalty award which once again to my eyes looked generous, a case of ball-to-hand on big Omar for me, but the referee pointed to the spot and there can’t have been a single O’s fan who didn’t think Tristan Abrahams, completely ineffective in his loan spell with us last season, wouldn’t slot it away. So, with just eight minutes on the clock, or in Brunton Park’s case the large and very bright scoreboard just to our right, we were a goal down.
The sloppy football continued for the rest of the half with our lads looking like a pale imitation of the team that had played so well at home just seven days previously, we seemed incapable of stringing 3 or 4 passes together and struggled to threaten their goal save for an inviting ball fired across the face of the goal by Theo Archibald that was just out of reach of Ruel Sotiriou sliding in. Equally, Vigs had to be alert on at least a couple of occasions to stop us falling further behind.
Whether it was an old school bollocking from the manager at the break or the two subs that KJ made immediately before the start of the second half: Ogie replacing Sweeney who had been under all sorts of pressure in the first half, and Harry Smith replacing a peripheral Sotiriou, but we looked like a different team in the second half, more like the one we had seen in our previous matches under the new manager. The 6 foot 5 Smith in particular was proving a real handful for the home defence.
We continued to pin them back and put them under pressure but had to wait right up to the 73rd minute for the equalizer. Drinan seized on a loose clearance just outside the penalty area and slid it through for Smith who cutely dinked it over the keeper to cheers of relief from the travelling O’s faithful. We were able to see out the rest of the game and on the long journey back to London we could reflect on a point salvaged and a job done well enough.
Heading into Tuesday night’s rearranged game, Orient and Harrogate were two of just five teams in League Two who had remained unbeaten up to this early point. For the record the others were/ are: Carlisle who we had just played, Bradford who we play this Saturday and Forest Green, very early days but an initial indication of some of the teams likely to be in the mix come the end of the season.
For some not completely understandable reason a couple of the missus’ colleagues from work, one of whom has a Brazilian boyfriend, decided that they wanted to take in a football match in England having never done so, quite why they agreed when she mooted the chance to come to Brisbane Road on a Tuesday evening is anyone’s guess! Still once they had remembered to bring the tickets with them at the second time of asking, we finally met up at the new wine bar on the High Road.
Far from being the continuation of the positive start to the season, this was as humbling an Orient performance as we have seen since the team lost its way towards the end of last season. Stymied in no small way by Harrogate’s organisation, team shape and put under pressure by striker Luke Armstrong, formerly of our old friends Salford City, who was prepared to chase and harry everything and proved he was more than capable in front of goal notching two goals before Orient realised they were in a game, although the second had more than a whiff of a Happe own goal about it from where I was sitting.
Deprived of Aaron Drinan as a result of a knock sustained at Carlisle, KJ opted to give Harry Smith a start as the central striker with new loan signing Tyrese Omotoye being deployed on the right. Whether it was a deliberate tactic or simply the players seeking to take the ‘easy route’ out of danger in the face of Harrogate’s pressing is unclear, but our main approach seemed to be to play long balls forward that either went over Smith’s head or towards the wingers which too often were too long and ran into touch. If against Exeter it had been #Jacketball then this was more like #Hoofball! Whatever it was it just didn’t work.
Just after half-time what we all hoped would be a key turning point arrived when we were awarded a penalty for handball. However as Harry Smith stepped up to take it the ref took umbrage to something said from the Harrogate bench, but instead of letting us take the penalty and deal with it afterwards, he decided in his infinite wisdom to call time off and march over to brandish a card to someone on the Harrogate bench. Talk about effective distraction tactics! Smith’s penalty was too close to the keeper and made for an easy enough save.
KJ threw on Ruel Sotiriou and Connor Wood but in truth we never convincingly looked like getting back into the game and making a contest of it. It was a poor performance and not one in keeping in the way we have performed this season. For me we missed Drinan’s work rate and desire to chase after anything and everything and as the midfield was swamped by Harrogate’s pressing the only creativity we seemed to be able to come up with was to look long but we lost too much possession in doing so.
We now face Bradford City tomorrow, another one of the favourites for promotion, who sit second in the table having won 3 and drawn 1 of their matches so far. We have to hope that Tuesday was just a bad night at the office against a good and organised side and that we can play more like the team we think we are in this one. Here’s hoping any way!
Up the O’s!