It is one of those things with football that depending on the context a similar result can either feel frustrating and negative or it can feel like a positive result and a step in the right direction. The last two Orient home displays being very much a case in point.
Saturday’s goalless draw at home to Walsall, the second time in 2 home games that the O’s have struggled, and ultimately failed, to break down an organised defensive side, felt very much like 2 points dropped, but just 3 days later coming back from 1-0 down against top of the table Forest Green Rovers felt much more like a point gained. Football eh?
On the face of it the draw on Tuesday evening condemned KJ’s men to their fifth consecutive game without a win and dropped them to 10th in the table, albeit just a point off the play-off places; but as Mrs Football Nerd and I conducted our customary post-match debrief in the wine bar on Leyton High Road neither of us was completely downcast about our ongoing prospects for the remainder of the season. In fact, we actually felt somewhat uplifted by the performance we had just seen.
Let’s start with the not-so-positive and another home game in which the opposition came looking for a point at most by trying to stop us playing. I know full well that I am biased, but I can’t be alone in thinking that if the referee against Mansfield had been too weak in stamping out the Stags’ shirt-pulling and niggling tactics, Mr Yates on Saturday seemed only too pleased to award free kicks to Walsall for minimal infringements, but not overly keen to award even the most obvious ones to Orient.
Of course, it is always easy to blame the standard of the officiating, but it undoubtedly played a part in another scrappy performance. From an Orient perspective there was a worrying lack of creativity or an ability to carve out even semi-decent chances. Perhaps we had all got a little bit carried away with our attacking trident after Bristol Rovers away where all three of Archibald, Drinan and Harry Smith had scored for the second game in a row, since then their goals have very much dried up. Since that trip to the West Country our 3 goals have come from: an own goal and right wing back Tom James at Port Vale, and centre back Omar Beckles notching his third of the season up at Barrow.
Against Walsall the tweak in our attacking shape was one that we had seen before with Archie operating centrally behind a front two of Harry Smith and Ruel Sotiriou. This time it didn’t really work and seemed to make us too narrow from an attacking perspective, very much playing into the hands of Walsall’s sizeable centre backs protected by a deep lying holding midfielder. The fact that we mustered a total of 6 shots, none of which were on target, tells you all you need to know about the ineffectiveness of our attack. Although in fairness we did look a bit more lively going forward when Paul Smyth was introduced in place of Sotiriou immediately after the break.
Whether it was always part of the plan, or simply a response to the recent bluntness of our attack but going into the Forest Green game KJ changed things up from an attacking perspective with Smyth replacing Sotiriou and Dan Kemp replacing Archie. Even though Kemp operated in the same space behind the strikers as Archie had in the previous match, the fact that his skill set is more that of a traditional number 10 rather than a central winger, combined with Smyth’s pace forcing the opposition backline to drop deeper, made a tangible difference. All of a sudden we looked more dangerous with Kemp’s creativity and ability to link the midfield with the attack evident from the start.
Similarly, the big man-little man combination of Smith & Smyth also carried more of a threat. Maybe this partnership has been the one that KJ has always had in mind, but injury and absence has denied him it? The game itself was much more open than we had seen at Brisbane Road for a little while, I guess that is what we can expect when in-form teams are in town and actually want to try to play us rather than stifle us. It made for a much better spectacle than the previous two in any case.
As improved as the performance was, I can’t have been alone in fearing the worst when Stevens put the visitors ahead from a rather contentiously awarded corner (certainly everyone in the North Stand seemed to think it had come off a Forest Green player!) on 68 minutes. Thankfully less than 10 minutes later Ruel Sotiriou, on as a sub for Smyth, was played through the inside right channel by Kemp as part of a speedy counterattack from a Forest Green corner and slammed home an equalizer. It was nothing other than completely merited and the sort of incisive play we haven’t seen from the O’s for a while.
Neither side could find a further breakthrough and in fairness a share of the spoils was a more than fair outcome. If we have been somewhat down about successive goalless draws at home, matching the league leaders and playing some slicker attacking football should have given us all a lift.
With a quarter of our fixtures now completed we sit probably where most would have expected/ accepted given the fact we have a new manager, the need to bed in a significantly changed squad and having played some of the favoured teams. It is however vital that we start to rebuild the momentum that has largely been lost over the last 5 games.
Next up we head to Stevenage with rumours that we are taking more than 1,000 travelling supporters with us on the short journey, which should make for quite some atmosphere in the away end. The Lamex Stadium would be an ideal place to get back to winning ways.
Up the O’s!