I just knew that as soon as I wrote about Orient with a large dollop of optimism given our bright start to the season (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings: The Outbreak of Optimism in E10 Continues), it might well come back and bite me on the backside. Although on the face of it being disappointed at being held to a 0-0 draw at home may in itself be seen as a sign of the progress that the lads have been making under KJ.
Frustration was my main takeaway from last Saturday afternoon: frustration at Mansfield’s spoiling tactics (more on that later); frustration at not being able to take any of our chances, especially later on in the game; frustration at having our momentum slowed down and frustration that we couldn’t take advantage of top of the table Forest Green Rovers and surprise package Harrogate Town both being held at home.
As I processed the game over the weekend, I started to remind myself that this is a very tough division and past experience tells us that teams will have good runs and runs of iffy results and can move up and down the table alarmingly quickly. Yes, we should be frustrated but Port Vale, who we face next, were the only one of the teams currently in the top seven to win at the weekend, so any damage was thankfully limited.
Even though Dan Happe was judged to be fit enough for a place on the bench after injury forced him off at Bristol, KJ opted to stick with Shad Ogie in the only change to the starting eleven. The consistency of selection should be applauded but it remains to be seen whether Ogie has moved ahead of Happe in the pecking order and will keep his place alongside Mitchell and Beckles.
A lot of talk ahead of the game focused on the return of former Orient striker Danny Johnson, who had scored at a regular rate for us at least in the first half of last season, and how he would compare to our new attacking trio of: Drinan, Smith and Archibald all of whom have been finding the back of the net with a welcome regularity. It also seemed that stopping Smith in particular had been a key focus for Nigel Clough and his charges in their preparations for the match. The main conclusion they seemed to draw was that if you could nullify the big striker by pulling his shirt at every opportunity and stopping his jumps towards the ball that would go a long way to taking him out of the game.
For the first twenty minutes or so Mansfield utilised their best niggling and spoiling tactics to impede our play and break up the game. Usually, I try to avoid being overly critical of the officials, but I felt that the referee, Mr Speedie, was too weak in trying to stamp out the niggling play and as a result he played into Mansfield’s hands. Quite what the linesman on the East Stand side contributed to the game is beyond me, he might as well have paid for a ticket to watch it until his eventual seemingly reluctant flagging for the red card after the kick on Archie 5 minutes from time.
I have seen some comments and I did wonder myself what Old Big ‘Ead himself, Brian Clough, would have made of his son’s use of some darker tactics, but the onus wasn’t on Mansfield to make it easy for us. If we are going to be as successful as we all hope we might be this year, we are going to face teams, particularly those lower down the table, who will make life as difficult as possible for us and who will view taking a point from their trips to East London as a decent result. From our side of things, we need to make sure we can vary our approach and find a way to open these teams up. Admittedly that would have been easier on Saturday if Big H had been able to link the play more effectively. They may have pushed it a bit and would have been thankful for a lenient referee, but they managed to stop us for the most part.
We did seem to settle into the game a bit more after that initial stop-start opening, Aaron Drinan on the right looked as if he just about had the beating of his opponent but wasteful finishing, good defending and goalkeeping prevented us from making the breakthrough. Just before half-time we had a massive shout for a penalty when the ball struck Hewitt on the arm. Given how soft the penalties we have conceded this season have seemed for me it was one that should have been given, even if others felt it would have been harsh.
The second half saw Orient as the only team really on the front foot, as the players pushed for that all important opening goal, you could feel the intensity of the home crowd rise, as we were all willing the ball into the net. The key chance just simply wouldn’t come.
One of the things that has been noticeable about KJ’s management so far this season is his willingness and ability to change things up when needed. This time he replaced Clay with Hector 10 minutes into the second half. Obviously the manager knows way more about football and the fitness of his players than any of us, but it was a change that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. If you are involved in a muck and bullets midfield battle, that sort of situation seems tailor-made for the tenacious Craig Clay. I agree that Hector adds drive but surely we needed that alongside Clay’s tackling not instead of it? Similarly, later on unless there was an injury we weren’t aware of or he was fatigued, I couldn’t work out why Drinan came off for Ruel.
Despite Mansfield being reduced to ten men thanks to Sinclair’s kick at Archie and 7 added minutes we couldn’t make the breakthrough and had to settle for a point. After the game KJ said that while it was frustrating the fact that we were getting into good positions, even if the elusive goal, didn’t come was a positive sign and encouraging.
Next up, fuel crisis permitting, is a tough-looking trip to 4th placed Port Vale who have won their last 3 matches, how we bounce back from the disappointment of being held to a draw at home will tell us a lot about KJ and his charges. The one absentee we know of for that one will be Tom James who was shown his 5th yellow card of the season on Saturday, so far this season his deliveries from crosses and his long throws have been a key part of our attacking armoury, who replaces him will be interesting, might we see a return to right back for Craig Clay?
Up the O’s!