For those of you who read last week’s piece (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings – More frustration for the O’s, how do we spark ourselves back into form?) you may have picked up on the frustration that I was feeling at the O’s ongoing winless run, in fairness it wasn’t hard as I didn’t exactly disguise it very well!
It wasn’t that I felt that KJ was getting it wrong, or that the players weren’t up to the standard required to compete at the top end of the table and potentially have a genuine tilt at promotion, it just felt that things weren’t clicking. Where we had looked good, for the most part at least, across the first 8 games, the following 6, in which we couldn’t muster a single win and managed just 4 goals, suggested that things had gone off the boil and that we had lost the spark that carried us through the earlier part of the season.
There is an oft-cited quote attributed to Aristotle (referencing Ancient Greek philosophy hey, whatever next for Orient Nerd?) to describe something that is better or more effective as part of a team, that: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”, for Orient over the last few weeks, since the cruel defeat at Port Vale, the opposite has very much been true. The new players are clearly good enough and seemingly an upgrade on what we had before, the manager obviously knows what he is doing and has more than enough experience, but the overall performances were falling short of what was anticipated.
On Saturday at home to Hartlepool KJ and the lads made it more than clear that we were capable of so much more than we had been showing. It wasn’t just Drinan’s hat-trick (brilliant though it was), H’s first goal for a month and a half, or the thumping 5-0 win. It was our approach to the game, the way we pressed the ball aggressively high up the pitch and when we turned it over in positive attacking areas we were straight on the front foot and into the attack.
For Tom James’ goal there was a total of 6 Orient players driving straight at the Hartlepool area once we had won it back just inside their half. Gone was the long ball aimed somewhere in the direction of H, to be replaced by crisp, more incisive, passing that opened up Hartlepool again and again. The club and myself got a bit carried away by the whole notion of #Jacketball when things were going well early on, but if the style of football under KJ is going to be akin to what we saw on Saturday then sign me up right now!
So where had that performance been hiding? The only changes from the drab goalless draw at Stevenage were Craig Clay replacing Hector in central midfield and Aaron Drinan starting for the first time since Barrow away to partner H up front. Dan Kemp again operated more as a number 10 behind the front pair but this time instead of watching the ball fly over his head time and time again, he was able to get on the ball between the lines and link the midfield with the attack as he had done against Forest Green, the one time in those 6 recent games that we played anything like fluidly.
Archie was once again asked to play at left wing-back and I get that this has a lot of fans scratching their heads as he is not seen as a defensive player, and many would prefer a more defensive-minded wing-back in the form of Connor Wood. For me it seems clear that KJ wants to use Dam Kemp infield but is concerned that this approach narrows our attack and leaves us lacking width. Archie’s natural instincts are to carry the ball up the wing and we know his delivery can be very effective. No lesser tactical authority than Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel suggested just this week about wing-backs that: “if you play in a back three it is not really a full-back position, more of a midfield position”. Can we infer that Kenny’s thinking is the same? That instead of having to choose between Kemp and Archibald he thinks he has found the way to include both of these attacking talents? It may not have worked at Stevenage, but it certainly looked like it did on Saturday!
Of course, we also had one of those “Remember this for Question of Sport!” moments when referee Alan Young, having forgotten to play the 4 minutes of added time at the end of the first half, opted to add it on at the start of the second and then turn the teams round to kick off the second half. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. In all of my time watching football I have never ever seen anything like that. Mind you even allowing for that unfortunate error, the actual standard of his refereeing was a lot better than many (all?) that we have seen in recent weeks!
The key for Orient from here is to use the momentum generated to pick up more points than we have been doing and to really put ourselves in the promotion mix. Mrs Football Nerd and I were chatting after the match on Saturday and suggesting that if a team were to win every home game and draw every away game that is an average of 2 points per game. Obviously, that is unlikely, and every team will have unforeseen losses or drop points when they expected to win, but if Orient could pick up something approaching 16 points from our final 8 games of 2021, we would be in very good shape going into the new year. Before then though we have a brief cup sojourn with Ebbsfleet in the FA Cup followed by Charlton at home in the EFL Trophy, wouldn’t a cup run be nice? I am sure Danny Macklin would agree!
Speaking of Danny, Saturday was of course the Football-for-a-Fiver initiative and I get the whole notion behind lowering prices to attract more people, especially families, through the turnstiles, as the theory is that they will spend more on food, drink and souvenirs while they are there. However, it must have come as something of a surprise/ disappointment that despite it being advertised as a sell out in the build-up the attendance of 5,560 home fans (once we have deducted the 673 travelling supporters) was significantly below capacity.
Did people who had bought tickets simply not turn up? Were season card holders put off by the prospect of large numbers of day-trippers lengthening the queues for refreshments and toilets? Did half-term and the decent enough weather play a part by encouraging people to go away for the week? At least for us “traditionalists” (read grumpy middle-aged fans!) in the East Stand it meant that we didn’t have to wait too long for our pies and pints, however the strategy might need something of a rethink. With such a US flavour to our board I am sure there are lessons that could be learned to ensure there is a full house on these types of days in the future.
Up the O’s!