Hopefully over the course of this campaign the 3 draws that the O’s have secured from their travels to Salford, Carlisle and Newport will prove to be 3 points gained rather than 6 points dropped. Going into the season we were all made fully aware that Salford City were not only the bookies’ favourites for promotion but to win the league. Despite their poor start to the season in which they have won just once and drawn twice in their opening 6 matches and which sees them currently languishing in 20th place in the table (no laughing at their current plight here…honest!), we have to assume they will start to get results and climb the table.
Carlisle for their part never seem to be amongst the fancied teams although they did finish a place and 5 points better off than the Orient last time out, and with such a long trip out of the way and a point salvaged after going behind to an early penalty, we have to consider that a decent result. Newport for their part have been beaten at Wembley in the Play-Off Final twice in the last 3 years. With Michael Flynn having been a steady hand at the tiller for the past 4 years they must be hopeful of at least making the top 7 again. Even though we twice threw away the lead that may well reflect as another solid point come the end of the season.
For Mrs Football Nerd and I on our madcap adventure to follow the O’s to all corners of the country, and even over the border into Wales, this was of course our third away day of the 23 (at least!) we are planning. It all started with another early-ish start, this time even though we had been at a friend’s 70th birthday party the previous evening, the alarm call was easier to handle as firstly we had been sensible and got home at a decent hour and secondly despite having to trail across London to Paddington to catch the train, the trip to Newport is a much more comfortable hour and a half or so rather than the mammoth trip to Carlisle.
As we left the shop at Paddington armed with our supplies for the train, my phone buzzed with a notification on Twitter from Lord Dazza (@darenreisman). His Tweet was a simple picture of his selection of cans of cider and his match tickets. What else could we as self-respecting travelling football supporters do but respond with a picture of ours? Although when I then posted it on Facebook there was some concern amongst our friends, family and other Orient associates that 8 cans of lager and 2 packets of crisps wasn’t going to be enough to last the pair of us through to South Wales!
The journey slipped by easily enough, aided by the beers and crisp-based brunch, just before we were about to arrive we got talking to some lads in the adjacent seats who were on their way through to Cardiff on their way back from a music festival in London. As we bid them farewell, they jokingly said we might need to pick up some sunscreen. As we exited the station, we realised that they may not have been joking, it was a glorious and sunny day, just a little different from the rain and drizzle in Salford and Carlisle.
If you haven’t been to Newport, it is perfectly set up for an awayday, Rodney Parade is an easy 10-15 minute stroll from the station but the route there takes you right through the centre of town where there are some cracking pubs. The two we selected being Le Pub and Slipping Jimmy’s – a very quirky but very friendly bar where the landlady told us that they had bands on that evening if we were at a loose end. Knowing what the pair of us are like and the fact that we had spotted a Travelodge just near the station, we made her promise that if we came back after the match and were still there at 6pm she was to throw us out so we wouldn’t miss our train home.
While we had been enjoying our drinks a couple of policemen had stopped to ask if we were ok in knowing where the ground was and had pointed out a quicker route than the one I had looked up. Being the cynical London residents that we are, we weren’t sure we could trust them and checked with the bar staff and locals that they weren’t sending us in completely the wrong direction. They of course weren’t and it was just another sign of how friendly the place is.
Even the walk down to the ground is pleasant, you simply stroll down the High Street and then cross over the River Usk and the ground is right in front of you. Once inside the away end, as the ground is shared with Gwent Dragons rugby club, the bar is actually a rugby clubhouse and very enjoyable, although sadly of course football regulations mean that you can’t take your pint out and drink it in the sunshine, which seems a bit overkill and restrictive in this day and age. When we headed out to the seats, we realised that our part of the stand was directly in the sun, maybe our new mates from the train were right all along about us needing our sunscreen!
With Orient having concluded their summer transfer business with the addition of central defender Alex Mitchell and midfielder Callum Reilly on Transfer Deadline Day both were available and in the squad. The fact that KJ brought Mitchell straight in and opted for another change of system, this time to a 3-4-3 suggests that he may have been waiting to have 3 fully fit central defenders to allow him to do so. The attacking trio of Drinan back from injury, Harry Smith and Theo Archibald seems very much our first-choice option at the moment.
The match started in a fairly cagey fashion as both sides looked to establish the way they wanted to play. It felt somewhat strange that the home side didn’t seem more up for it, given that this was Newport’s first home league game of the season after having to have the pitch re-laid. The perils of sharing with a rugby club one presumes.
After that slow start, things sparked into life fairly nicely after about 10 minutes, Drinan brought a double save out of their keeper and then Vigs had to be alert to parry an effort from the edge of the area. Then just past the half-hour mark Big H rose highest to nod home Archie’s corner from the right and to give us the lead. I am not sure if it was the celebrations or just the heat, but I, like most of the Orient fans, was sweating like mad. “Costa-del-Cymru” as no one said at the time.
Moments later Archie tested Day in their goal with a curling free kick from outside the area. Then in added time, just when we thought we would be heading into the break a goal to the good, Newport were awarded a penalty. It was at the far end of the pitch from where we were but after watching it back on the replay the following day, even my biased perspective couldn’t make a case for Craig Clay who had simply gone through the back of the Newport player. Dolan calmly sent Vigs the wrong way and rolled it into the bottom left hand corner. It is always a bit of a downer to concede so late in the half, but we were playing well enough.
Back in the clubhouse at half-time the missus spotted Dazza and co at the far end of the room and went up to say hi, the guys invited us to stand with them for the second half, an awayday opportunity we weren’t going to miss. As it turned out they had basically secured the back few rows at the far end of the stand and most of the staircase as well, it was as close to standing on a terrace as we could get in an all-seater stadium.
As we reached the 49th minute both sets of fans joined together in a minute of applause for Justin, there can’t have been many dry eyes amongst the Orient faithful, I was glad I was wearing my sunglasses, it still feels so raw.
If Orient had been deflated by the very late first half equalizer they weren’t showing it, just 8 minutes into the second half Wood fed Pratley driving into the area, he clipped a left-footed cross over and Big H rose to head home once again. That’s 4 goals in 5 appearances for Smith with him, even at this very early stage, looking very much like the source of goals we have been lacking since the turn of the year.
With 10 minutes remaining, the O’s defence failed to deal with a flick on from a long throw and it somehow seemed to trickle into the net almost in slow motion. Another tough one to take but the performance had been solid and if anything, we had edged the match and perhaps should have won.
On the way home (no we didn’t end up staying to watch the bands in the bar!) we got talking to a Newport season ticket holder who lived in Leytonstone and had been coming to pretty much every home game for 35 years. Admirable dedication you have to say.
We spent the rest of the journey chatting away with our new friend, we were even joined for a spell by a Scotsman who lived in Swindon but who went to watch Forest Green Rovers, he was on his way back from Exeter. It was something akin to an impromptu lower league travelling supporter version of the Sunday Supplement that used to feature on Sky Sports. It did however, along with the cans of lager we shared with our “colleagues”, pass on the return journey very nicely indeed.
So now it’s onto a home game against Oldham Athletic a club that is really suffering, they sit 23rd in the table with just 3 points from a sole victory against newly promoted and bottom-placed Sutton United. More than the performances on the pitch though they are going through ownership woes that have seen 5 consecutive pitch invasions and the sort of issues that we as Orient fans can’t fail to sympathise with given our not-too-distant history!
Having said that though this match should represent an opportunity for Orient to truly put a side to the sword, as we have hinted at being capable of in spells in the Exeter and Bradford home games, and really start to build on our momentum so far.
Up the O’s!