First and foremost – Happy New Year to you all!
Let’s hope that the O’s can carry on (this horrendous ongoing pandemic allowing) and make 2022 a year for us all to truly remember!
It is probably fair to say that when I posted my final piece of 2021 just before Christmas, none of us could have imagined that we would see all of Orient’s 3 scheduled festive fixtures called off due to Covid issues. In each of these cases it was down to the opposition asserting that they would be unable to field a side to fulfil the fixtures. This state of affairs was particularly galling given that just a week previously we had been forced to cobble together a squad including 3 left-backs, a youngster making his full debut in the heart of midfield, and just 3 outfield subs named on the bench in order to ensure the game against Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park was able to go ahead.
With the benefit of hindsight, I for one can’t help but wonder if Messrs. Ling and Jackett might have been better served to ladle it on thick and try to have that match postponed (see Colchester, Newport, Bristol Rovers and numerous other examples across all four divisions for reference!), rather than show the integrity and respect for the spirit of the game that they did? As annoying as it was to have no Orient matches to go to over the holiday period where traditionally (in the “old normal”?) the fixtures used to come thick and fast, if there is to be a benefit let’s hope it is in terms of refreshing and re-energizing (and hopefully adding to) the squad ahead of the second half of the season.
Equally, the postponements may not have been completely unwelcome in the Orient Nerd household, for while yours truly was climbing the walls with no football to go to, it gave the missus further time to recover from her bicycle accident-induced injuries without ruining her bid for an Orient League Golden Season (attending every single league match home and away), which has always been our unstated but deep-lying ambition for this season as regular readers will be only too aware.
Of course, Orient haven’t been the only team affected by the impact of the highly infectious Omicron strain of the virus, by my reckoning (well having done a quick Google search!) a total of 17 top-flight games and numerous EFL matches have been postponed over the course of essentially a fortnight. All of which begs the question as to why the football authorities / government didn’t introduce a pause to the season, a firebreak I believe is the accepted term, while this latest wave of the virus washed through the country? Wouldn’t it have been better to put football on hold for a couple of weeks and resume when it was safer to do so? Oh yes that’s right, over and above the health of the players and the supporters, it is the TV piper that calls the tune! That and the fact that next season is already planned to operate on a condensed timescale due to the need(sic) to have the Qatar World Cup in autumn/winter.
All the postponements have left the respective league tables looking very skewed with teams having played different numbers of games and making it more difficult to discern how any team is actually faring. Assuming the season is able to continue, and for me there is a very real fear of a return to games behind closed doors to do so or the chilling dread that we might see another campaign curtailed, there is already a significant backlog of fixtures building up for most teams across all divisions.
From an O’s perspective, the Christmas postponements combined with our progress to the third round of the FA Cup mean that we have at least 4 rearranged fixtures to slot into what is already a cramped second half of the season schedule. I cannot be alone in looking at our upcoming fixtures and wondering how many of them will actually go ahead as planned.
Beyond the impact on the leagues, this week also saw Liverpool successfully appealing to have the first leg of their League Cup semi-final against Arsenal rearranged because of a depleted squad. At the time of the postponement: 3 players had tested positive for Covid (Joel Matip, Roberto Firmino and Alisson Becker); 4 were out injured (Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi, Harvey Elliott and Thiago Alcantara) whilst Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keïta are at the Africa Cup of Nations. Far be it for me to suggest foul play of any sort, but injuries and players being at AFCON are not exactly unforeseen circumstances.
While the competition rules (which were changed ahead of this season I hasten to add!) state that postponements are permitted as long as the rearranged game can be played before the next round, ie the final on the 27th of February, it does create an understandable feeling of bitterness amongst us Orient fans after we saw our team forced to forfeit our third round tie against Tottenham in September last year with the majority of the first team squad forced into isolation.
Quite how the rest of the season plays out is anyone’s guess, after the FA Cup game at Stoke we are due to travel to Oldham to resume our league campaign, whether we will actually be on our way to sunny Greater Manchester a week on Saturday is anyone’s guess at this stage. If the last couple of years living with this virus have taught us anything, it is that we should take nothing for granted. Here’s hoping that we get over this current wave and we can continue to follow the Orient, almost as normal, right up until May.
Up the O’s!