I had intended to post last week considering whether the defeat at home to Crawley could be consigned to just being a bad day at the office, or whether we should start to worry about our hopes for the season. However, my birthday and associated trip to Merseyside for the visit to Prenton Park meant that while I had drafted it, I didn’t actually get round to posting, maybe that was for the best given how disappointing a display it was?
Crawley Town at Home
Let’s start with the visit of Crawley to Brisbane Road. I knew as soon as I finished the previous week’s post that I was tempting fate. After two really encouraging four goal home wins, I just had to go and suggest that the O’s had bounced back to form and could start having aspirations up the table again. Then 19th placed Crawley came to town and put us very much back in our place. (Note to self: never allow yourself to be blinded by optimism again when writing about Orient!).
In fairness to KJ and the boys there haven’t been too many performances this season that have suggested we shouldn’t be thinking about the promotion places. Harrogate at home definitely, Northampton possibly, although I for one I am convinced that the weather at Sixfields certainly didn’t help. The other times we have dropped points have been frustrating but have never felt like we got what we deserved. Even the gutting result at Port Vale felt like we were hard done by, even if it was largely of our own making.
Poor Mrs Football Nerd had fallen off her bike and broken her wrist and one of her fingers the previous Thursday (nothing to do with being pissed we hasten to add!), once she had decided that she wasn’t going let the trivial matter of some broken bones make her halt our run of going to every Orient league game this season, it became more of a case of making sure we got her there as safely as possibly, so we set off as early as possible to try and avoid any Christmas shopping chaos. This approach worked as the DLR and Tube were fairly quiet, but it also created one of our most surreal moments when we bumped into none other than Craig Clay on the Eastbound Central Line platform at Stratford, thankfully he was on his way to the match not Christmas shopping. There is something refreshing about our players and staff being humble enough to use public transport.
The only change to the team from the stunning win over Swindon was the introduction of Adam Thompson in the middle of the back three in place of Omar. After the game KJ revealed that Beckles’ absence was due to Covid reasons, we can only guess what that might mean but have to hope that he is available for selection soon as there was no question that we missed him in this one. It would be too easy to suggest that the reason for our defeat was the absence of our big number 19, or that Thompson is to blame, but the enforced change did seem to disrupt our defensive solidity.
Right from the off the O’s looked out of sorts, the crispness of the passing and the slick movement that had been a joy to watch the previous Tuesday was gone and seemed to have been replaced by a ponderousness that thankfully we haven’t seen much at all this season. As a result, it was the visitors that forged the early chances as we really seemed off the pace.
Just past the half hour mark from a long ball forward their right wingback, Davis, found midfielder Francomb surging into the box and he fired past Vigs first time for 1-0. It hurt because it is the sort of goal that we score when we are at our absolute best.
Minutes later Tom James, who has made such an important contribution so far this season, went down after what looked like a tough tackle and had to be replaced by Dan Happe. It looked pretty serious the way the Welshman had to be helped from the field and reports suggest that he is likely to be out for quite some time. On the Fan Forum a couple of days earlier Martin Ling had suggested that one of our key priorities for the January transfer window is cover at right wingback / right back, now it feels like a must-need acquisition.
Rather than come out with a point to prove after an underwhelming first half we started the second half very much in the same vein. H and Drinan were starved of decent service up top, and we really didn’t look like a team that was going to come storming back into the match.
Eventually we got the ball in the net, somewhat fortuitously it has to be said, Archie overhit a cross that rebounded back off the upright and in off the keeper for 1-1.
If we were hoping this was the cue for the O’s to spring into life and push for the win, we were sadly to be mistaken. Just five minutes later Crawley were back in the lead from another sweeping move that saw Appiah slot home. The goal very much took the wind out of our sails and we never looked like stealing even a point. Right at the end skipper Darren Pratley was shown a second yellow card, an indication of how frustrated the players were feeling perhaps? It was a gutting display because it was so much poorer than what we normally produce at home.
Tranmere Rovers Away
As many of you will know, as a born and bred Wirralonian I have something of affinity with Tranmere Rovers and used to watch them quite a bit in the past, so when the fixture list decreed that we were off to Prenton Park just 3 days after my birthday, there was only one thing to do: get ourselves up there on the Thursday evening and carry on the festivities.
On the way to Euston and then on the train up north, the missus’ injuries had got worse, on top of the busted arm and hand she was now struggling to walk (no, it was nothing to do with the medicinal beers on the train!), after another Friday morning trip to A&E she was diagnosed with a delayed strain of her groin and upper thigh. She briefly toyed with the idea of giving the match a miss, but a few pints during the course of the world’s shortest pub crawl which covered no more than a 100 metres or so in any given direction from our hotel in the centre of Liverpool, we talked sense into her, helped by the fact that we were meeting my Dad and his wife for breakfast on Saturday morning and as a Wirral resident he would be able to drop us at Prenton Park on his way home.
While the ground has changed significantly since the late 80’s and early 90’s there are 2 excellent pubs in very close proximity: The Mersey Clipper (it may have changed its name but the signage still uses its old moniker) and the Prenton Park Hotel, the latter of which is now immediately opposite the away turnstiles, so the choice was simple for us.
Just as I was about to message Lord Dazza to see where he and co were going for a pre-match drink, he walked through the door, presumably having reached the same conclusion on which of the 2 pubs was better. After a catch-up and a round of shots, paid for by Daz but ordered by some of the younger members of the crew who had got the one thing that Daz can’t stand, Sambuca, a long-standing friend of mine from school, partner in World Cup adventures and Tranmere Rovers die-hard Paul arrived as planned. He fitted easily into the conversation in which we discussed how much more real football at this level is than the money-driven world of the Premier League.
As we all now know only too well, in the build up to the match, more and more of our players were being ruled out as a result of Covid on top of the injuries and the suspension of skipper Darren Pratley that we already knew about. As a result, we cobbled together a line-up that included 3 left-backs, Matt Young making his full league debut in the middle of the park and just 4 subs named on the bench, although miraculously one of the available replacements was Paul Smyth, presumably taking a break from his ongoing injury woes!
With a capacity of over 16,500 the most dominating feature of Tranmere’s home is the huge Kop Stand which replaced the previous open terrace and now houses the home fans behind one goal. This means that the Cowshed Stand (so named after it replaced the previous covered terrace that looked very much like a home for livestock and often smelt similar!) now accommodates the travelling support, a factor that was especially disconcerting for yours truly.
Despite the depleted nature of the side, Orient got off to a promising start establishing themselves well in the game. After an early ball fizzed across the face of our goal, Dan Kemp tested Doohan in the Rovers’ net with a curling free kick, Vigs was forced to save low from Hawkes but that was about it in the way of goalmouth action in the opening 45 minutes.
After a half-time pint and a catch-up with Raj, who we see at most away games and after home games in the Coach, we were back in situ and hopeful that the O’s might secure an unlikely point out of this one. Those hopes were crushed on 58 minutes when Jay Spearing, once of Liverpool, rifled home from the edge of the box. Paul later confirmed back in the pub that may have been the only thing of note he has ever done for Tranmere.
Credit to Orient and despite having to scramble to clear on a couple of occasions we had 2 great chances from Drinan and H at the death to sneak a draw, but it wasn’t to be.
So that’s now two defeats in a week after we had been hopeful of starting to climb the table. While the defeat against Crawley was disappointing because of the poor performance, the fight shown up on the Wirral showed the spirit of the players and offered further hope.
The ongoing impact of the pandemic saw a number of matches postponed last weekend and despite the fact that we have dropped 6 points in a week we still sit in 9th place just past the halfway stage. I for one feel that it has been a decent first half of the campaign despite some disappointing results with what is essentially an almost completely new squad. We are only a good run of results away from putting ourselves back in the play-off mix. Colchester on Boxing Day would be a good place to start, assuming it is able to go ahead.
Before signing off, we just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all for reading about our adventures following the O’s, I hope I speak for the pair of us when I say that is has been even better than we imagined when we decided to embark on this crazy journey back in the summer. We can only hope that we don’t end up locked out again, although we have actually missed listening to Dulcet and Matt on the live stream. There will of course be some more Orient musings after Colchester, until then:
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and…Up the O’s!