Stop me if you heard this one before…Orient go into a game looking like favourites but somehow end up settling for a draw in a match that they seemed more than capable of winning. In many ways this has been the story of the O’s season, at least in the league. The draw at Rochdale was the O’s ninth of the season so far, considering it was our 16th league match of the campaign that means that we have drawn more than 50% (56% to be precise!) of our matches so far.
While we still sit in a fairly acceptable position in the table: 9th place just 5 points off the automatic promotion places, there is an inescapable feeling (at least for yours truly) that we could have done even better than we have thus far. I wrote a couple of weeks back, in the immediate aftermath of the thumping victory over Hartlepool that: “…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,” (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings – Orient find their form again while the referee makes his mark in the wrong way.). That assertion was based on the principle that if you win all your home games and draw all those away from home (which of course no team will!) you would average 2 points per game; carrying that logic forward maybe we are actually on track having beaten Hartlepool at Brisbane Road and drawn at Rochdale?
For the missus and I it was the eighth awayday (how have we gone past the third-of-the-way-there mark already?) on our madcap adventure to watch every one of Orient’s league matches this season. When we were originally booking the tickets for this trip it rather surprised us to find out that the best and cheapest way to get there was to go via Leeds and to then take a local train through the Pennines to Rochdale.
In another concerted effort to be on our best behaviour, we decided that there would be no drinking until Leeds, but with half an hour to wait for our connecting train we (re)assured ourselves that we would be able to stock up on supplies for that part of the journey. Our hearts sank however when we boarded the train to be told that not only was it going to be delayed slightly because of a technical issue, but that it would also be running at a reduced speed. A quick check on our phones and we realised that there were plenty of trains to get from Leeds to Rochdale, but we probably wouldn’t have time to nip to the offie, so we would be beer-free all the way to Rochdale.
Worse still, when leaving the train at our destination we soon discovered that there isn’t so much as a hint of a pub (or anything very much at all!) near the station so we decided that our best option was to get a cab up to the ground where there are 2 pubs to choose from which are actually part of the stadium complex (I realise that might be pushing it a bit far as a description of the area surrounding the Dale’s ground!).
In the end, we opted for the Ratcliffe Arms simply because that was the first one we found. Once inside it provided a very vivid reminder of the Phoenix Club from Peter Kay’s (in)famous TV show, although possibly with even less glitz and glamour and an overwhelming smell of vomit which may have been emanating from the carpet. Still, it was friendly to away fans, easy enough to get served and we could watch the end of Port Vale taking on Bradford, we even had the commentary over the PA until it all went a bit awry with feedback/ static.
Anyone who has conducted any research into Spotland as an away ground will know that there are two specifically highlighted catering options: the apparently excellent Willbutts Lane chippy and the renowned pies at the ground. We opted for the latter, but the missus bitterly regretted that decision when she discovered that her steak pie, tasty though it was, would have been more appropriately described as a “gravy pie” such was the paucity of meat within it. I took no joy (honest I didn’t!) from reminding her that in the North West a meat and potato pie is a perfectly acceptable go-to option. You can take the lad out of the North and all that…
The ground itself is fairly nondescript but decent enough set-up for this level, the most striking feature from the away side (once again along the side of the pitch, grr!) is the reflective windows on the executive boxes in the stand opposite which are angled and, whether by design or default, reflect the on-pitch action and are in fact quite distracting.
After that win over Hartlepool last time out in the league, the only change to the starting line-up was Darren Pratley dropping to the bench to make way for a midfield partnership of Craig Clay and Hector Kyprianou, a move that the missus along with a significant proportion of the Orient cognoscenti has been calling for, for some time. Our skipper obviously brings leadership and organisation and is clearly trusted by KJ, but there is a feeling that his greater contribution is off the pitch. Craig Clay on the other hand, let us not forget he is one of the only players remaining from that hastily gathered together squad from the summer of 2017 when Nigel and Kent took over, has consistently this season shown he is capable enough at League 2 level.
Away from home you always want to keep things tight in the opening stages, to feel your way into the game and to not give the home side the early impetus. It is probably fair to say that conceding in the opening minute was most definitely not part of the plan. However, that is exactly what we did when Alex Newby nodded home from close range with just 36 seconds on the clock.
Credit to the lads though and they worked their way back into the game after that initial setback. We very nearly equalized just over quarter of an hour into it when Aaron Drinan’s header from Dan Kemp’s cross crashed down from the crossbar into the goalmouth, it would have been interesting to see how close that was to crossing the line if goal-line technology was in use at this level.
6 minutes later though our in-form striker did have us back on terms when he collected a ball from Kemp on the half-turn and slotted it home, although in fairness even the most-biased O’s fans might have suggested there was a hint of offside about it. That is 9 goals in all competitions (including 7 in the League) for “Drinaldo” now as he seems to be really growing into his role as one of our main strikers and perhaps our main goal-threat.
Orient were very much in control for the majority of the second half, Rochdale were really poor and could hardly string a couple of passes together. When Craig Clay rifled home from the edge of the area (yes you read that right: Craig Clay!) just past the hour mark, there only looked like being one winner. Football can be a cruel cruel game though, especially away from home, so when Newby bundled the ball home after Vigs had saved a header from a corner in the very last minute, it felt like a real kick in the guts. A point’s a point away from home but it was still tough to take.
Having bumped into Lord Dazza (@darenreisman) at half-time and watched the second half with him and his assembled associates, he very kindly offered us the chance to squeeze into one of their pre-ordered taxis on the way back to the station, saving us the estimated 40+ minute walk back, which also included a timely stop at a local off-licence. Logistical planning way above our efforts!
Now it is on to the visit of Sutton United to E10 tomorrow, a team that we have some familiarity with from our days in non-league, who actually sit a place and 2 points better off than us in the table in their maiden Football League campaign. The fact that they have lost 4 more matches than us demonstrates clearly the impact that drawing too many games can have on a team’s league position. There was sufficient encouragement from the display against Hartlepool, and also for spells at Rochdale, to suggest that we have enough about us to win this one, but would any of us be really surprised if the spoils were shared once again?
Here’s hoping the lads are still very much on track and that as we leave the ground tomorrow evening, we are not only singing along to “Rockin’ all Over the World” but also that we have leap-frogged Sutton and started to close the gap to the teams at the top. With a trip to bottom of the table Scunthorpe following swiftly afterwards the chance is really there to start to gain ground on the clutch of clubs above us in the table.
Up the O’s!