It is often said that a week is a long time in politics, well similar seems to apply to football or at least the good ship Orient in these early days of the season under our new manager and with a much-changed squad.
As downbeat as I felt after the humbling by Harrogate Town, not just in terms of the scoreline but also in the way that we were stifled, outfought and outplayed by the visitors; I did have a sneaky feeling deep down in the very back of my mind that KJ would know what to do to put things right on the pitch again. In his programme notes before the match against Bradford City, Jackett suggested: “Harrogate were more manly than us, more streetwise to League Two in regards to how to get the result and genuinely defended better than us”, he wasn’t wrong! However, the key test of any manager must be not just identifying what didn’t go well but actively changing things to make them better.
One of the main criticisms of the performance of Tuesday night, was the way that with 6 foot 5 inch striker Harry Smith in the side, we seemed to want to try to play it long all the time, but we weren’t winning many of the long balls up to Smith and on the rare occasion that we did the target man was left very isolated. By switching to a 4-4-2 for this one presumably KJ was trying to address that by asking Ruel Sotiriou to support Smith and also to allow the young striker to play through the middle himself as well. A classic old school Big Man-Little Man partnership up top.
In another change, Craig Clay came in to fill the vacated spot on the right wing but played more like a wide-ish central midfielder with Theo Archibald pushing up into the forward line on the other side of the pitch, Dan Kemp was the midfielder who gave way. Shad Ogie was a surprise late replacement (so much so that it escaped the PA announcement!) for Dan Happe after the latter had pulled up during the warm-up.
The first half felt like two decent and well-matched sides testing each other out and there really wasn’t much in terms of goalmouth action to stick in the mind except for a good double save from Vigs in our goal.
If the first half was uneventful, the second period was much more entertaining, it started very much with Orient on the front foot and taking the game to their at-the-time unbeaten opponents. Early on Theo Archibald tested O’Donnell in their goal with a stinging drive after cutting in from the right wing onto his favoured left foot. In a very promising way, the on-loan winger seems capable of finding space on either flank or through the middle, as we will come to see a little later.
Harry Smith really should have opened the scoring minutes later when his header from a Connor Wood cross thumped against the crossbar but didn’t cross the line as it bounced down despite the O’s players’ appeals to the contrary.
The first Orient goal came out of nowhere, very much a case of blink and you’ve missed it, Ruel Sotiriou let James’ long throw bounce over his head as he darted into the penalty area, he got to the ball almost on the goal-line and then somehow fired a shot over the goalkeeper and into the top left hand corner from a ridiculously tight angle.
In the aftermath of the goal we were treated to some shenanigans between Harry Smith and the travelling Bradford fans. From what I saw and have read since, there seemed to be words exchanged between our forward and some fans at the front of the visiting supporters’ section. After the match it was suggested that Smith had mimicked smoking a cigar which could have been construed as an awful reference to the Valley Parade Fire tragedy back in 1985, which would have been despicable if true. In his apology Smith suggested that the Orient players had had lighters thrown at them by the Bradford fans and he was merely responding to that. Given that no further action has been taken against the O’s player since and that it has been suggested that Bradford could face action with regard to the crowd trouble in which some fans were ejected, I feel we have to believe Smith on this one, as stupid as it was to get involved in the first place.
The all-important second goal came with 8 minutes left to play, Tom James played the ball forward for that man Archibald charging through the middle from deep in his own half, Archibald manged to flick the ball onto Smith in the inside left channel before being clattered, the striker calmly stepped back inside and fired low into the bottom left hand corner beyond the grasp of O’Donnell. As Mrs Football Nerd said at the time if Ruel’s goal caught everyone by surprise, you just knew Harry Smith was going to shoot as soon as he picked it up. Still 2 goals in 3 matches only 2 of which have been starts is a decent return for the big striker so far.
After the frustration of Tuesday evening, it was another solid and promising performance from the O’s, especially in the second half, against another of the fancied teams, definite grounds for some more cautious optimism. Next up is a trip to South Wales to face Newport who lost narrowly in the play-off final last season and who have won 2 and lost 2 of their league matches this season, another solid performance and a decent result is what we need to keep the momentum going.
The final day of the transfer window brought the news that the O’s had signed another couple of players bringing the total of incoming players to 11 on top of those promoted from the academy, it really is a very different squad to the one we signed off with last season. The first announced was Alex Mitchell a 19-year old central defender on a season-long loan from Millwall who is apparently both “tall and dominating”, the second is Callum Reilly whose contract came to an end at AFC Wimbledon but who at 27 has “a wealth of Football League experience the majority of which has come in League One and the Championship”.
While of course we will only to be able to judge these players when we see them play a few games, given what we have seen so far from KJ and Martin Ling working together on player recruitment we have to assume they will add to the squad, especially given Reilly may well be available to fit in for Hector, who along with Ruel has been called up for Cyprus Under-21’s and will be missing on Saturday.
Up the O’s!