After the positive draw against league leaders Forest Green, I can’t have been alone amongst the Orient faithful in hoping that our trip to Stevenage offered an ideal opportunity to get our first win on the board since the victory at Bristol Rovers more than a month ago. However, the fact that we didn’t win, that once again we failed to create anything much in terms of clear-cut chances and displayed the now all-too-familiar long ball up to Harry Smith and hope it sticks strategy, was disappointing to say the very least.
The optimism that imbued the Orient faithful at the start of the season as we watched KJ and the new squad pick up 15 of the first 24 points available with a solitary defeat at home to Harrogate and creditable draws from tough away fixtures at Salford, Carlisle and Newport, has all but faded to be replaced by frustration.
That is now 6 games without a win and more worryingly the goals seem to have all but dried up and the style of football, Forest Green aside, has seemed too slow in tempo and a long way away from when we were putting the likes of Exeter, Bradford, Oldham and Bristol Rovers to the sword. It seems as if the Port Vale result in which we went into added time 2-1 up but still somehow managed to lose the game, has knocked the players’ confidence. Since that game we have mustered 4 points, but of even more concern just 2 goals.
For Mrs Football Nerd and I on our crazy tour of the country following Orient, Stevenage away came as something of a disappointment as not only had we been there previously in February 2020 before the world as we knew it changed forever, but also because as the train journey takes just over 20 minutes we hardly had time to drink sufficient beer before we got there. Although we of course did ensure that we arrived at Kings Cross with ample time to enjoy a couple of leisurely pints in the rather excellent Parcel Yard pub at the station.
Once we arrived in Stevenage, mindful that there was no beer available inside the ground we headed straight to the Old Post Office in town which we remembered from last time was like a Wetherspoons in terms of prices with the added bonus that it shows live football. We did wonder if the football may have played a role in this pub’s survival where the actual Wetherspoons next door had shut down?
While we were waiting at the bar, we bumped into an old awayday associate of ours, Dave, who the missus once tried and failed to convince to swap his Big Mac meal for a couple of cans of lager on the way to Maidenhead back in the National League days, and who we used to bump into on all our Orient travels. Alas work commitments these days mean Dave now struggles to get to too many home games let alone the aways. It made us realise that no matter how the O’s perform, it is still a privilege to be able to watch them every week home or away.
Up at the ground we thought we would sample the clubhouse bar, the Broadhall Suite, which even at that early-ish time was filled with a nice mix of home and visiting fans and was friendly and pleasant enough.
The other annoying thing about Stevenage, or more specifically Broadhall Way/ the Lamex Stadium, is that unlike most (all?) lower league grounds they insist that you take up your allocated seat and remain sitting in it for the duration of the game which made for something of a more subdued atmosphere in the away end.
As soon as the game got underway it quickly became very clear that this was going to be another game where the lower in the table opposition sat deep and challenged us to break them down. Annoyingly the space to play wasn’t there, as it had been against Forest Green, and we reverted to aiming long balls in the direction of Big H who was too isolated so even when he did win the ball was lacking support.
We barely threatened the goal with any real purpose and when we weren’t playing it long, we seemed content to pass it sideways without any pace and seemingly little intention to try to open up their massed defensive ranks. Late on we did have what seemed like a decent shout for a penalty when Ruel Sotiriou was bundled over in the box. According to KJ in his post-match interview the referee had told him that while there was contact there wasn’t enough. I have to say that is a new one on me! In the end it was another highly frustrating performance and result, the team just don’t seem to have the same belief that they did a few weeks back, before Port Vale dare I suggest?
So where do KJ and the boys go from here? To take an optimistic perspective we are still in 10th position in the table just 4 points off 3rd place, not exactly a terrible position but imagine what a difference it would have made if we could have won just 2 of these last 6?
Also of concern is that there is a group of teams from Exeter in 4th down to Newport in 12th separated by just 3 points, unless we start to pick up more than just single points from drawing our games we run the risk of lagging behind that chasing pack. Our next 3 league matches see us take on Hartlepool and Sutton United, both of whom are in the group, with 15th place Rochdale in between. It is all too easy to say we need at least 6 or 7 points from those 3 matches but that is certainly how it feels if we are to stay in touch. We certainly need to find a way to make our attacking play click again and to start threatening the opposition goal much more regularly.
A few weeks back the front-line of: Drinan-Smith-Archibald seemed like the answer but now KJ doesn’t seem so certain. Ruel’s recent goals place him in consideration although whenever he has started, he has seemed to be on the periphery of the game for large parts. Dan Kemp’s performance against Forest Green showed the creativity and the link between the midfield and attack that he is able to bring but he is always going to struggle to be involved if we continue to lump it forward towards H. Paul Smyth has looked lively in his brief cameos but is injured once again, whilst Tyrese Omotoye seems to have been forgotten about.
Sparking the attack back into life while retaining our defensive stability is going to be the key to getting ourselves back on track. How we do that is not completely clear, this presumably is why KJ with his experience was the favoured candidate in the summer. It feels like a big game on Saturday let’s hope that Kenny has the answers.
Up the O’s!