So, dare we possibly believe that as of tomorrow we might actually get to see our beloved O’s in league action for the first time in 5 very long weeks? If you are anything like me, you will have checked the relevant websites and social media feeds countless times in the last few days, each time dreading finding out that yet another match has been called off thanks to this bloody virus. Even tomorrow morning, I will be taking nothing for granted and will keep checking right up to the point that we take up our seats and the familiar refrains of Tijuana Taxi ring out around the ground as the teams emerge and the match actually kicks off.
To try to put a positive spin on things, in a strange way it almost feels as if all of the postponements have granted Orient a kind of unofficial (and much needed?) winter break. The schedule for lower league teams in England is punishing to say the least. While of course there was the little matter of a second trip to the Potteries of the season for the FA Cup game against Stoke City to negotiate as the one competitive match played in this spell, the chance for the players to recover from the knocks and niggles that they will have inevitably been carrying, and more time for KJ to work with his still relatively new squad, may prove something of an unexpected bonus, a blessing in disguise even.
Of course, the flip side of that, and a point that continues to bug Mrs Football Nerd, is the issue of lost momentum. That a team deprived of the cut and thrust of competitive action week in and week out can lose its edge and may take some time to get back up to the level required for a renewed push towards the play-off places. With the games set to come thick and fast between now and the 7th of May: Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday for the majority of weeks in the foreseeable future, assuming no further postponements of course; then if we are serious about rekindling our promotion tilt then we are going to need to be back at our top level right from the off.
Before our impromptu winter hiatus, it is probably fair to say that it wasn’t exactly plain sailing for the good ship Orient. We had failed to follow up that stunning 4-1 midweek win over play-off chasing Swindon and lost the following two league games: frustratingly getting beaten at home by Crawley and then going down 1-0 at Tranmere despite the mitigation of having something of a depleted squad. If only we could have found some “injuries” (as many other teams seem to have done – mentioning no names of course!) that would have led to that one being postponed!
As a result of those disappointing results and having our next 4 league matches postponed as well as the trip to Bradford rearranged, we currently sit down in 13th place. However, we do have 2 or 3 games in hand over all the teams above us, other than Port Vale who have played 1 more match than us, and we are only 7 points off the last play-off spot, albeit 12 off the top three. Perhaps not quite where we hoped we might be approaching the halfway mark, but not completely adrift, with the additional consideration that it is by and large pretty much a brand-new squad for this season.
Across the first 5 months of the season there has unquestionably been a clear difference between our form at home and the results we have managed to pick up on our travels. The performances at Brisbane Road (Harrogate definitely, and probably Crawley, aside) have for the most part been convincing enough to suggest a promotion push could be on the cards this season. In our 11 matches in E10 we have picked up 21 out of a possible 33 points, a rate just under the magical 2 points per game mark.
On the road (to borrow a term from our cousins across the Pond) however, that drops to less than 1 point per game (10 points from our 11 away games), with us having recorded just 1 win at Bristol Rovers, 3 defeats and a scarcely credible 7 draws. Speaking on the LO Down podcast the week before last, Lord Dazza (@darenreisman) suggested that while some of those can be viewed as “good draws” where we have come back to salvage something after trailing, others can be seen as games where we have dropped 2 points by letting the opposition back into it, think: Newport, Rochdale and Scunthorpe. That is of course without even mentioning the goalless draw at Stevenage where our attack looked really blunt and the calamity at Port Vale where we somehow managed to throw away all 3 points despite being 2-1 up going into added time.
To further hammer home the point we have scored 24 goals at home and conceded 7 for a goal difference of +17, away from E10 that drops to -1. While very few, if any, teams perform significantly better away from home, it is those 7 draws that provide the biggest frustration. Turning say just 3 of those into wins, for example, would see us in 8th position just a point off the play-off places and still with games in hand.
If we are being brutally honest with ourselves, and KJ and Nigel Travis have both touched upon this recently, the squad has always been a bit thin in terms of numbers. Understandable given the significant churn in playing personnel in the summer, but not helped by the significant amount of game time missed by Paul Smyth and Callum Reilly through injury and the under-utilisation of Tyrese Omotoye who went back to Norwich and then to Carlisle in search of more minutes on the pitch.
At the recent Fans Q&A, Nigel suggested that we were anticipating bringing in (at least?) 3 new players. We saw the first of these unveiled last week in the form of Dan Moss a right back on loan from Millwall to replace Tom James who is out for most of the rest of the season. This was then followed by the announcement that we had signed Otis Khan, who can also operate at right wing back or in midfield, on an 18-month deal after his contract expired at Walsall. While both of these seem like logical and sensible decisions it felt, even before the news that Craig Clay had undergone surgery and will likely miss the remainder of the season, that we needed at least one more body in midfield, now it feels we may need another and also the aforementioned Smyth and Reilly staying fit for the majority of the rest of the campaign (a long shot I realise given their recent records!).
As we said earlier, assuming we get our season back underway tomorrow, we are very much going to need to hit the ground running as we face 9th placed Port Vale followed by 6th placed Newport at home before travelling to 7th placed Mansfield and 11th placed Bradford in just 11 days. How things stand after that intense run will probably go a long way to shaping the rest of our season. Here’s hoping for a positive re-start.
Up the O’s!