Well that was a kick in the teeth wasn’t it? There is no disgrace in being beaten by a team who are only a point behind you in the league and who are likely to be in the promotion mix come the end of the season, but to come back from being an early goal down, to be leading 2-1 in the 90th minute only to throw all 3 points away by conceding 2 seemingly soft goals in added time was really difficult to take. It is difficult to be too critical of KJ and the lads given the start to the season we have had, Harrogate at home aside of course, but this felt very much a case of throwing away what could have been an excellent win and another boost to our momentum.
The day had started so well for Mrs Football Nerd and I, the proximity of Stoke meaning that it was a completely civilised 11:20am departure from Euston, although we did of course make sure that we got there more than an hour before our train was due to leave so we could enjoy a couple of pints in the Signal Box pub at the station.
The hour and a half or so journey slipped by easily enough and we arrived at Stoke with plenty of time to get up to the ground. With Stoke essentially being a grouping of 6 individual towns, it is actually quite spread out. Port Vale is rather confusingly in Burslem and the recommended route is to either get a bus and change at Hanley to another bus or to jump into a taxi outside the station. Being uber-organised as I am for these adventures, I had noted down the details of the buses we needed, but when we asked one of the people working at the station, he recommended that as we had some spare time we might as well go for a drink at the new (well it certainly wasn’t there when I have been before!) Titanic Brewery bar, called Bod apparently because the first one opened on Bodmin Avenue in Stafford (who said these posts weren’t cultural?), which is part of the station. Who were we to disagree?
After sampling some of Titanic’s finest offerings, it took less than 10 minutes up to Vale Park in a cab although we did suspect that it might not be so straightforward getting back. The ground itself is a traditional-looking football ground and with a capacity of 20,500-plus it is bigger than most of the ones around the lower leagues. It is another one of those grounds that looks like different bits have been added as time and finances have permitted.
Upon taking up our seats, I was pleased to (re)confirm that our section was not only behind the goal but also that it had a roof as the weather was rather more wet than it had been in Newport and Bristol. With space potentially available for up to 4,500 visiting fans, the 356 of us who had made the journey did feel as if we were rattling round the place a bit. Mind you the other 3 stands accommodating the home support were struggling to be half full at best.
The biggest shock in terms of team news was that Tom James was down to start at right wing back, with it having been reported that he was suspended after his 5th yellow card of the season against Mansfield. Allegedly he had escaped due to an administrative error upon the submission of a match report. His second half booking in this one means that he is most definitely suspended for Barrow on Saturday though. Alex Mitchell had picked up an injury and was replaced by Dan Happe and Hector came in for Craig Clay in central midfield, other than that it was the usual first choice team deployed in the now very familiar 3-4-3.
It always tends to take the wind out of the sails of a team if you concede an early goal and so it was to prove for us when Jamie Proctor nodded home the opener for Vale with just 6 minutes on the clock. After that we struggled to establish ourselves in the game, at least up to half-time, and seemed to lack the creativity to forge out any real chances. So poor was the first half as a contest that the missus had a brief power nap in her seat which she assures me was nothing to do with the beer and food she had consumed, while the rest of us tried to lift the boys to get back into the game.
Presumably there were some choice words said at half-time, Harry Smith speaking on Tuesday at half-time at Crawley suggested as much, but we looked much more on our usual game in the second half. Paul Smyth returned from injury for his first appearance since Salford away, when he replaced Archie immediately after the break.
Smyth was involved in the equalizer on the hour mark when he slid Aaron Drinan through the inside right channel, Drinan pulled the ball back across goal where it was turned home for an own goal by Vale’s Dan Jones. If things had been subdued in the away end in the first half now it was going mental, the missus wasn’t asleep now she was standing on the back of the seats in front of us cheering like mad.
The game was well and truly in the balance now and then with just 4 of the 90 minutes remaining Tom James won the ball about 25 yards out from their goal, dribbled forward and let fly, it beat the keeper’s reach and skidded low into the bottom left-hand corner. Cue pandemonium in the away end mixed with a sense of relief.
The least said about what happened next the better, suffice it to say that Politic was in acres of space in the middle of our penalty area for their equalizer and no one got in the way of the ball to Proctor or looked to prevent his shot for the winner. A tough one to take no doubt.
As we suspected we had no joy in calling a cab from the ground but once we installed ourselves in the Old Post Office, complete with upside down clock to really confuse drinkers, which was a mix of home and away fans without a hint of trouble, although we did hear about the despicable insults directed towards Vigs on social media.
After some friendly locals advised us we were better off getting the bus we decided that was our best option even though the missus had a taxi on order. Even having to change buses it was easy enough once we realised that “bus stop B” actually meant “bus stop V” in the local dialect and we were back in plenty of time for another pint or two in the station pub.
As we boarded the train back to London, we got talking to some fellow travelling O’s: Paul, Harry Kane (not that one, although he did look just like him!) and Phil Bailey (no not that one although that really is his name, even if the missus took some convincing that the artist who collaborated with Phil Collins on the famous record wasn’t in fact a white gentleman with grey hair from Essex!), and decided that the best way to pass the time on the way back to London was to have a few beers and treat the carriage to a collection of Orient songs and of course “Easy Lover”. We are sure our drunken warbling was very much appreciated by our fellow passengers, especially the day-tripper Manchester United “fans” on their way home to Surrey. Of course, the only way to round off another cracking awayday, despite the result, was for the 5 of us to have a pint back in the Signal Box.
While the EFL Trophy won’t be very high up KJ’s priority list this season, it does provide a useful opportunity for some of the squad players who haven’t been featuring regularly to get some valuable game time. To then win 4-0 away at a similarly changed Crawley Town, the first time we have ever won there, did provide something of a fillip after the heartbreak of Saturday.
Given our commitment to trying to go to every league game home and away and the earlier kick-off time, the missus and I decided that we didn’t need to go to this one and instead settled for watching it on the live stream. Listening to Dulcet and Matt again brought back some not unhappy memories of following the Orient on TV for the vast majority of last season which provided a big part of the motivation for our madcap adventure this season.
Next up it’s another long away trip up to Cumbria, with an 8:30am start and a scheduled arrival into Barrow for noon, the missus and I have banned ourselves from drinking until we get there. This would be the perfect time for the lads to bounce back with another 3 points.
Up the O’s!
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