The problem with drawing just over half of our 19 league games so far, or to put it another way (well this is an Orient Nerd piece after all!) picking up just 49% (28) of the 57 points available so far this season, is that when we face the higher-placed teams, especially away from home, there is little in the way of wiggle room.
Slowly but surely, despite solid wins at Brisbane Road over the likes of Exeter, Bradford, Hartlepool and Sutton, the gap between Orient and the automatic promotion places is starting to grow. We currently sit in 8th place in the table, 5 points behind 3rd placed Exeter, not an insurmountable gap but to do so would require us stringing a number of wins together while hoping that those above drop some points.
After a run of 5 frustrating away games without a win (10 dropped points to carry on the stats theme!), there can’t have been many O’s fans who wouldn’t have taken a draw at Sixfields against promotion-chasing Northampton. However, our performance and the result in the artic conditions proved something of a reality check for KJ, the players and of course the Orient faithful.
When Mrs Football Nerd and I started out on our season-long quest to try to watch every single Orient league game we always suspected that there would come a time when the missus would see her arse on an away trip in some far-flung and less than exotic lower league outpost. Prior to the fixtures being released the likely candidates that we expected probably included: Bradford, Barrow, Carlisle, Exeter, Hartlepool, Rochdale, Oldham and actually Scunthorpe (which funnily enough turned out to be a very enjoyable away trip). Little did we anticipate that Northampton, around 70 miles from London, on a Saturday afternoon was going to be the first. Thanks to the effects of Storm Arwen, the first named storm of the season (see you can learn something from watching BBC Weather!), it was however absolutely freezing with a “feels like temperature” of -7 to -9.
It wasn’t just the beyond adverse weather conditions that caused Mrs Football Nerd to flip however, when we pulled up in the taxi from the station (well we certainly weren’t subjecting ourselves to the half hour walk up in those conditions) outside Carrs Bar which is actually part of the stadium complex, the pre-match drinking option we had carefully selected after thorough research on Football Ground Guide and a number of similar websites all of which suggested it welcomed away fans as well as home fans, only to be turned away by the steward manning the doors and told in no uncertain terms that it was in fact for home fans only.
He then told us that we could head up to the Sixfields, a Hungry Horse pub for the second match in succession (maybe we should look into getting a loyalty card!), which was already filled with a number of Orient fans, this was in fact the pub we were led to believe was for home fans only. Either all those guides are out of date or more realistically it was a decision made to stop the sizeable number of travelling O’s fans from packing out the stadium bar before the home fans arrived. Whatever the rationale it was a strange situation. After tramping up the sizeable hill back to the retail/ leisure park we were thankfully able to thaw out for a while as we watched Arsenal v Newcastle.
The news about this ground was to get worse still, as we approached the turnstiles, we were then told that there was no beer on sale again, although this time it didn’t feel like such a transgression of our human rights given how cold it was, Bovril being the go-to choice for football fans in sub-zero conditions. We then discovered that there were no pies on sale other than cheese and onion ones, which is quite obviously beyond a veritable disaster. Right then was the moment that the missus fell out with Northampton as an away day. How she didn’t give up and go back to London from there must have been an extreme strain on her dedication to the cause.
The ground is actually based in what looks like a man-made valley but provides very little cover from what was a biting wind. The stadium itself is a kind of incomplete modern-built one, 3 of the stands are the sort of mundane affair that you encounter at many (most?) relatively newly built grounds, nice and modern enough but soulless with little to distinguish them from any other of its ilk. The stand running along the east side of the ground however was opened to supporters in 2016 but is yet to be completed, the wide-open upper tier combined with the open corners provide no shelter from the elements at all, obviously more of an issue on a freezing late November afternoon than in the early or late stages of the season.
From the south end of the stadium, where the away fans are accommodated, you have a clear view of the big hill with the Sixfields pub at the top. Given what was to come from the O’s I spent a not insignificant amount of time dreaming of being back in there trying to get slightly warm.
The only change to the starting eleven for Orient was the return of skipper Darren Pratley as Craig Clay had been ruled out after taking a heavy knock up at Scunthorpe. Although of course it came as no surprise that after playing all of 20 minutes at Glanford Park, Paul Smyth was injured yet again. Honestly, I am still unsure if he is actually made out of glass or just terribly unlucky.
In the opening exchanges we won an early free-kick in a good shooting position, wing-back Tom James tested Roberts in their goal with a curling strike that looked like it was sneaking into the top left-hand corner only for it to be batted away by the keeper at full stretch.
As the half wore on H couldn’t direct a header on target, and Dan Kemp fizzed an effort on the turn wide, but we weren’t able to make our positive start to the match count.
Then with half-time approaching, we once again conceded a scrappy goal from a set piece. Pinnock’s long throw aided by the wind was flicked on at the near post, despite the presence of Hector and H two of our tallest players, and poked home by Doskins. I have honestly lost count of how many of these sloppy goals we have conceded this season, but they seem to be becoming even more frequent.
KJ made 2 subs just past the hour mark, the fact that he made the move relatively early for him suggested that he knew we needed to change things up, Ruel and Connor Wood are decent enough options, but it had most of us in the away end scratching our heads when we realised it was Archie and “Drinaldo” who were making way. Would we have been better served to push Archie forward and keep Drinan’s industry? Equally, why we didn’t even contemplate switching from a back 3 to give us more bodies forward is a mystery. The result of the subs was to further blunt the little attacking threat we were showing.
From there, the rest of the display was one of misplaced passes, aimless long balls and scrambling to try and win back possession.The performance coupled with the worsening weather made for a thoroughly depressing afternoon.
So where does this leave Orient and their promotion aspirations now? Of course, we have a break for the FA Cup in what looks like a tough task against 10th placed Tranmere tomorrow. Immediately after that though we face 4th placed Swindon Town at home on Tuesday night, a game we surely need to perform much better in than we have of late. A defeat in that one and we could find ourselves further off the promotion race still. The squad has shown us in flashes what they are capable of producing, now feels like the right time to start doing so on a regular basis. Tuesday night would be an excellent place to start.
Up the O’s!