Two defeats in quick succession have all but ended any pretensions Orient had of being in the play-off mix come the end of the season. It is of course mathematically possible to climb the table, but barring something completely unexpected and spectacular, it is hard to see how a team that has won just 7 of their 28 league games to date can even contemplate a top 7 finish, despite the good news messages that keep emanating from the club.
Those two defeats have stretched the O’s latest winless run in the league to 8 matches and once again we failed to score even a single goal in 180+ minutes of play, not exactly the foundations on which to build a surge up the table in the latter part of the season. Right now it is hard to see where our next goal, let alone victory, is coming from.
For me, and I am sure many others amongst the Orient faithful, the defeat by Colchester was one of the toughest to take. Going a goal behind after just 4 minutes to a team that if we are honest, we should be sweeping aside seemed to knock what little confidence we have in our play out of us, and we struggled to produce very much of note at all for the entire afternoon. Once again, it was a match to be endured rather than enjoyed and the team looked completely bereft of ideas.
Only the previous Tuesday we had gone to Valley Parade to face a similar marooned in mid-table mediocrity Bradford City side and been unlucky not to take all 3 points, obvious questions about game management aside of course. The general feeling amongst Orient fans was that the change in system to a 4-3-3 had given us better control in midfield and made us look like a much more cohesive unit. Skipper Darren Pratley suggested in his programme notes going into the match against Colchester that: “At Bradford, we went back to the formation which suited us well at the start of the season, in a 4-3-3 shape. I think teams had sussed out our 3-4-3 formation, so it was a change we needed to make.” So why did KJ opt to change back to the 3 centre-back system in the next match?
Going into that match Colchester were languishing just above the relegation places, had recently sacked manager Hayden Mullins and brought in 10 new players during the January transfer window (how’s that for being “aggressive” in the transfer market?). As a result, after yet another defeat for Orient they now sit just 3 (yes 3!) points behind us in the table and you would be hard pushed to find any Orient fan who fancies us to go there and pick up what could be an important, possibly even vital, win in a few weeks’ time.
Exeter on a Tuesday night in February was always going to be a big ask in terms of getting a result even at the start of the season, given how dire we have looked since the beginning of December getting absolutely anything out of the game would have been a major surprise. Once again there was a change to the formation (rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic?), this time we were “treated” to a more traditional 4-4-2, with Harry Smith dropped from the squad completely and Adam Thompson and Dan Happe occupying the full-back positions. It smacked of an attempt to stifle the opposition and to try to nick a goal on the break. We held out until added time when Omar Beckles conceded a free kick just outside the area which was nodded home by Diabate facing little resistance. It may sound harsh, but we got exactly what we deserved from another timid performance.
Last week I suggested that: “If by the end of the month we find ourselves in and around the play-off conversation then we might all start to believe again,” two matches later we feel even further away with any remaining hope dwindling to almost nothing.
The reaction after Tuesday on Orient fans’ social media pages has focused largely on who is to blame for where it is all going wrong, with suggestions that: the manager and his tactics are outdated, the recent recruitment has been poor and the Director of Football is to blame, and/or the ownership are deluded if they think that what we have in place from a personnel point of view both on and off the pitch, is anywhere near good enough for the rather lofty ambitions that they seem keen to espouse on a regular basis.
As a mitigating factor, we have been rather unlucky to lose players to long-term injury, the latest of course being Dan Happe after he was stretchered off with a serious knee injury on Tuesday, and that two of our summer acquisitions, and presumably intended first teamers, have hardly played all season in the form of Paul Smyth and Callum Reilly. There are also rumours of illness within the camp which may explain the ongoing absence of Connor Wood in a team that is struggling to find full backs, unless of course this is all still related to the alleged falling out between player and manager earlier in the season.
For me though I can’t help but think back to the moment when Tom James limped off the pitch against Crawley, the announcement just a couple of weeks later that Craig Clay needed an operation and Theo Archibald’s injury (illness?) issues that have kept him out of all but 3 of those 8 matches. As good as that trio were earlier in the season, surely it cannot be as simple as to say that losing them all at the same time, explains how we have veered off course? If it is, then we might be in bigger trouble than anyone of us thought!
Another major question is what has happened to Harry Smith and Aaron Drinan? Before this woeful string of performances, the pair of them had notched 26 goals between them in all competitions, now while admittedly feeding off scraps due to very poor service, you wonder if they will ever score again.
For the first time this season I am struggling to frame tomorrow’s match against Salford with any positive expectations, I guess all we can do is to hope for a much-improved performance, a few Orient goals and maybe even a win. To consider the alternative is just too depressing. The play-offs may well be out of reach, but a better run of games would certainly go down well with the Orient faithful. Here’s hoping anyway!
Up the O’s!