Another week and another Orient win, this time on the road. That makes it 4 wins, 3 draws and just a solitary defeat so far, I am sure I speak for all of you reading this when I say that life under KJ has gotten off to a very decent start. As I am sure we will have all checked this week, our 15 points out of a possible 24 sees us sitting 2nd in the table ahead of surprise package Harrogate Town by virtue of our superior goal difference.
Beyond that though, we have faced some of what at the start of the season looked like being amongst the trickier away games and come through them undefeated. Our most recent excursion to Bristol, awayday number 4 on Mrs Football Nerd’s and my madcap Orient adventure, was without doubt the most impressive of the lot results-wise. In his weekly column Peter Kitchen described last Saturday’s victory as: “another statement of intent from the O’s” and then went on to say: “we mean business and have emerged as one of the clear favourites for promotion following our early-season form.” It is hard to disagree with the former O’s frontman’s assessment of how things currently stand.
For Mrs Football Nerd and I there was a definite feeling of déjà vu for this awayday given that we were leaving from Paddington just after 10:30 in the morning and heading west, honestly it could have been Newport all over again. Getting to the station slightly earlier than we had a fortnight previously, we briefly flirted with the idea of doing what sensible people do with time to kill at a station and go to get a coffee and perhaps a croissant, but instead ended up in the Mad Bishop & Bear pub, an establishment much more suited to the way we tend to do things!
As we reached the top of the escalator it came as no real surprise to find that we weren’t the only Orient fans to have had the same idea, as sitting outside were Keren from the Supporters Club and her friends and family who make up the @LOFCPicnicCrew enjoying a swift half and some toast, that was all the encouragement we needed!
On the train as we made our way over to Bristol through most of the same stations that we had passed through two weeks previously, it was noticeable that more and more young people were getting on at each stop. It turned out there was a music festival on in Bristol as well. The festival goers combined with Orient fans made for a party-like atmosphere on the train. We just felt sorry for anyone who wasn’t going to the festival or the match, their quiet daytrip having been spoilt by an outbreak of good-natured boisterousness.
Once we arrived and having planned ahead in infinite detail (yes, I looked it up on Football Ground Guide!) instead of taking a cab up to the ground or a train through to Filton Abbey Wood, we had followed the advice on the website to go via Montpelier: a studenty-feeling suburb with a decent array of pubs as soon as you hit the main Gloucester Road. With the sun shining we headed straight for the Prince of Wales which had a lovely beer garden out the back.
After a couple of pints, we decided to head up towards the ground, in fairness it is a bit of a schlepp of about a mile and a half up Gloucester Road, but with a good selection of restaurants, bars and charity shops, the latter being very much to the missus’ delight.
The Memorial Stadium itself is a strange ground, tucked in behind rows of houses, it was actually a rugby ground and home to Bristol Rugby Club, however after initially allowing Rovers to share it with them from 1996 they moved to Ashton Gate in 2014 to share with Bristol City. Its peculiar history is reflected in the way it looks. On one side of the pitch is the West Stand which actually looks like it belongs at a racecourse or cricket ground with its row of corporate boxes with balconies in front. On the other side is a grandstand that looks much more like it belongs at a football ground with a paddock terrace in front and open terraces to either side, one side of this is where the away fans are housed (another away view from the side of the pitch- grr!). Behind one goal is a covered terrace and then dotted around at various points are those small temporary stands that are more suited to rugby union grounds or golf tournaments.
Even though we had had advance warning it still came as something of a blow, especially as it was sunburn weather again, that due to the away terrace being open and with a view of the pitch from wherever you stood they couldn’t sell us any beer, a clear infringement of our human rights if you ask me! The news got worse when queueing up for something to eat and a cola (yes cola that’s how desperate things were getting!) we were told they only had a choice of Ginsters pasties rather than the locally made pies and sausage rolls that they advertise.
With Rovers languishing in 22nd place having made a poor start to life in League 2 after being relegated from the 3rd tier at the end of last season, it felt going into this match that given Orient’s decent form this could provide an ideal opportunity for the O’s to get their first win on the road and to really build on the momentum that has been generated thus far. Plus of course any win over the despicable Joey Barton should always be the aim for any team.
Once again it was the 3-4-3 for Orient and a completely unchanged team from the Oldham victory. The only tactical tweak being to move Aaron Drinan to play off Harry Smith up front, with Theo Archibald playing behind the pair, a position which he has seemingly gravitated towards the more he has settled in with us.
Whether it was a result of the system or the poor quality of the opposition the O’s got off to an absolute flyer. First up from a corner from the left after just quarter of an hour Jamesy curled in a low in-swinging cross, H was the first to react and found himself all alone to stoop and nod home for his 6th goal of the season. As it happened right in front of the travelling support there was carnage on our terrace with bodies flying everywhere, maybe it was a good idea that beer wasn’t available after all!
As things settled down however it became apparent that one of our fellow supporters had taken a fall and had a nasty cut to his head, he ended up being taken to hospital but later that afternoon we found out via Twitter that he had been released and was on his way home. At half-time there were reports of another supporter collapsing with a suspected stroke, it can only be hoped that if that was the case, he got the help and support he needed as well. Even for us hopeless football obsessives, incidents like these really put the game into perspective.
Back to the action on the pitch and just after the half hour mark Orient made it 2. Another James’ corner, this one a looping one, was cleared only as far as skipper Darren Pratley on the edge of the penalty area, his effort was blocked but fell to Archie who rifled home on the volley from fully 25 yards. The debate to try and keep him beyond his season-long loan spell is growing by the match.
A mere matter of minutes later we had the ball in the net again through Aaron Drinan nodding home another cross from Tom James, only for us all to halt our celebrations just as they were getting going with the sight of the linesman on the far side waving his flag. Thankfully referee David Rock had a different view of it, overruled his assistant and awarded the goal. No need for VAR in League 2! 3-0 at half-time away from home, it is difficult to make a better statement of intent than that.
As a result of Orient’s control of the game, the 2nd half felt like something of a formality, a case of staying solid, seeing out the game and getting the 3 points in the bag, and of course the travelling support going through our repertoire of songs to taunt Barton, I couldn’t think of a “nicer” bloke for it to happen to.
In the final minute, as seems to be happening a little bit too often in recent matches, Bristol were awarded a penalty after a coming together between Shad Ogie, on as a substitute for the once-again injured Dan Happe, and Saunders. It was another that seemed harsh to my biased eyes. Pitman smashed it home and Rovers had their consolation goal. In truth though it was a very comfortable afternoon for the O’s.
Next up it’s the visit of Mansfield Town and a reacquaintance with former front man Danny Johnson, it will be interesting to see how he compares with our current front trio who have all scored in each of the last 2 league games. The Stags have managed just a single point from their last 6 matches and lie in 20th place in the table. At the risk of getting carried away, another 3 points and that optimistic feeling will be running rife in E10.
Up the O’s!