In last week’s post (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings- Orient given a reality check at Ice Station Sixfields) I aired my growing concern that Orient’s stuttering form, culminating in the defeat at arctic-like Northampton, could mean that they started to fall further off the promotion race pace. For a while now I have felt that apart from a few isolated performances or spells in games, Orient’s freshly assembled but nonetheless talented squad hasn’t quite been delivering at the level we might have expected so far this season. In many ways I was hoping that the cup game against Tranmere Rovers followed by the league visit of 4th placed Swindon Town might provide an ideal opportunity to make a statement about what we might be capable of. Oh, how the O’s delivered!
Longer term readers of these musing will know that I am a native of the Wirral and lived up there for a significant part of my formative football years. Having been a fairly regular attendee at Prenton Park during the late 80’s and early 90’s, which coincided with a stunning rise from the bottom tier to the verge of the top division under legendary manager Johnny King, I will always have something of an affinity with Tranmere. Sitting just 2 points and 2 places behind Orient in the league table with a game in hand, this second round FA Cup tie was always going to be a real test, especially given Orient’s frustrating recent results.
After a cagey opening spell where both teams seemed to be feeling each other out, Orient and the game sprang into life midway through the first half with Hector playing in H with a brilliant through ball, the big number 9 took care of the rest. When Omar Beckles made it 2 just past the half hour mark, there really only looked like being one winner.
The second half was a joy to watch from an Orient perspective, not only did we notch 2 more goals: a penalty from Drinaldo our first successful spot-kick during the course of 90 minutes since Lee Angol (who?) converted against AFC Wimbledon in the EFL Trophy on October 6th 2020, and H sliding the ball home from close range after a superb sweeping counter attack that brought back memories of #Jacketball as the media people at the club dubbed our style of play in the early part of the season.
Alas our reward for eliminating Tranmere wasn’t to be the glamour away tie at a big Premier League club but instead a second trip to
Mordor the Potteries this season, this time to face Championship Stoke City, and on a Sunday too. Tottenham / West Ham will just have to wait until we have dispatched with the Potters!
As fun as a cup victory and progress to the Third Round of the FA Cup for the first time in 8 years is, it is how we perform in the league that is ultimately going to determine whether this campaign is seen as a successful one or not. Coming into the game only outside the automatic promotion spots on goal difference and on the back of 6 wins in their previous 9 league matches Swindon Town seem to be very much amongst the favoured teams to be in the promotion push come the end of the season. Another seemingly very stern test for the O’s.
From the first whistle KJ’s plan seemed to be to try to contain a talented and slick Robins side by defending the halfway line (the “half press” as pioneered by, amongst others, Dynamo Kiev’s supremely influential coach in years gone by Valeriy Lobanovskyi for any football tactics geeks that might be reading this!). Thankfully the players ignored the fervent encouragement from parts of the East Stand to push further up the pitch and risk leaving themselves exposed at the back.
The tactic worked pretty well to contain Swindon in the opening stages and when Drinaldo opened the scoring after a brilliant crossfield pass from Shad Ogie and an incisive low cross from Tom James, you could feel a renewed belief emanating from all around the ground as the 955 (what a turnout for an away game a long way from home on a Tuesday night!) travelling fans were stunned into silence.
Having gone a goal up, Orient seemed to sit deeper to try to defend what they had. It proved to be something of a dangerous approach however and allowed Swindon more of a foothold in the game. Three minutes before the break McKirdy, he of the ponytail and Jack Grealish-style rolled down socks, stooped low to head a cross from the left past Vigs. It felt slightly inevitable and given recent league form something of a concern that once again our decent early work might be undone.
The second half however was another indication that things might really be starting to click with this Orient side. After some early pressure from Swindon, the O’s seemed to find their rhythm again and with a renewed impetus we really took the game to Swindon. On the hour mark Archie fired in a teasing cross from the left and man-of-the-moment Drinan stretched out a leg to turn home his 13th goal of the campaign. The wild celebrations amongst the 3,000 O’s fans who had turned up on this miserable Tuesday evening suggested we recognised that our team was very much in the ascendancy.
A mere matter of minutes later H controlled another Archie cross and despatched it home to double our lead. You could actually see Swindon starting to rock, unsure of how to deal with Orient’s continuing onslaught. The O’s wrapped up the match with 10 minutes remaining, Drinan’s shot was parried by the keeper but only as far as H who simply had to nod it home for 4-1 and to draw level with his strike partner on 13 goals for the campaign.
Speaking on the Fans Forum yesterday evening Martin Ling suggested that while they had high hopes of both Smith and Drinan, 26 goals between them before the halfway point is beyond expectation. More than that though, the way they are linking up promises much for the rest of the season and our promotion aspirations.
The win moved us back up into the play-off places but also closed the gap a little bit on those above us. More importantly it stopped the gap from widening. Next up is 19th placed Crawley at home tomorrow, if we are serious about competing at the very top of the table this feels like a game in which we really need to take all 3 points again, another 4 goals would be very nice too!
After that are 2 festive away trips to Tranmere and then Colchester, while both sit below us in the table, as we all know our away form has been disappointing since the win at Bristol Rovers in September(!) and those games might provide a great opportunity to start to put that right. We can worry about those matches in due course however, right now let’s enjoy the week we have just had.
Up the O’s!