After two draws followed by three straight victories Orient’s new manager bounce came to something of an abrupt halt on one of Richie Wellens’ old playing and managerial stomping grounds on Tuesday evening. Before focusing on where things may have gone awry at Boundary Park however let’s start with the hard-fought victory over Barrow at Brisbane Road last weekend.
The visitors came into the game with a new manager of their own in the form of a certain Phil Brown and their early rekindled enthusiasm saw them try to press the O’s higher up the pitch and to make it hard for us to play out from the back, the approach that Richie is so evidently trying to instil in the players as our go-to playing style. Equally, our cause was in no way helped by the sheer number of minutes we have had to play thanks to needing to make up for all those postponed games, that was our eighth match in the last month.
Our evident fatigue combined with Barrow’s energetic start meant that we struggled to make attacking inroads in the opening period save for a wicked free kick that rattled the cross bar and a bullet header both from Ruel Sotiriou the player who has often looked like the most likely source of goals in the last few weeks. Of course, I will also point to the fact that Barrow won the toss and turned us round to make us attack the South Stand in the first half as it just feels wrong. Ridiculous football superstition explains so much!
For the second successive Saturday it was an individual piece of magic from Paul Smyth that opened the scoring for the O’s early in the second half. This time he beat the keeper to a hopeful ball through the inside left channel from Connor Wood, turned and from an almost impossible angle, almost on the bye line, curled the ball home. As always with goals like that there was a debate on whether he actually meant to do what he did or whether there was a healthy slice of good fortune involved. Having re-watched it a number of times on the replay, I am almost 100% sure that he lifts his head up, spots the space, calculates the angle and executes a perfect finish. Only Smyth will know for sure, but I for one am more than happy to see it as a genuine piece of top-drawer skill.
Ten minutes later the inform striker of the moment, Ruel Sotiriou notched his 6th goal of the month latching onto a loose ball in the area and slotting home. 2-0 was enough to secure our third consecutive league win for the first time this season and to send the bumper Football-for-a-Fiver crowd of 6,032 home happy. I guess the club just have to hope that the improved performances and recent results serve to convince some of the non-regular attenders attracted by the cheap prices to come along again in the future.
Tuesday night’s trip to Oldham was disappointing in terms of both the performance the lads put in and to lose the momentum that we had been building since Wellens walked through the door. The biggest talking point amongst the travelling Orient faithful was the five changes that were made to the starting line-up, something that Richie’s mum (yes she was definitely in the away end!) offered as an explanation to some of the fans at half-time. Out of the team went: Darren Pratley, Aaron Drinan, Shad Ogie, Theo Archibald and Adam Thompson replaced by Otis Khan at right back, Ethan Coleman, George Ray, Harry Smith and Frank Nouble.
It doesn’t take a great deal of in-depth tactical insight from anyone that watched the match to conclude that the changes and rejigging of the system impacted the performance. Perhaps the key feature of the wins over Rochdale, Harrogate and to a lesser extent Barrow had been the way that we were able to progress the ball from the back four through the midfield and to create opportunities for the forwards, this time we struggled to move the ball up the pitch with any real efficiency and as a result we struggled to create any attacking impetus. Wellens himself said in his post-match interview we played “snobbish football” and played “too pretty in front of them”. Most concerning was the way that their central midfield two dominated our three through greater energy and commitment to the cause, the least that should be expected from any team, especially in League 2.
While Wellens took the blame for making too many changes in one match, a number of them needed with some of those going out nursing injuries due to the heavy recent schedule, it is also difficult to disagree with his assessment that the players that came into the side “didn’t do themselves justice.” The recent good run has pushed us 12 points clear of the drop zone with a superior goal difference to those below us (we are the only team below 11th with a positive goal difference), and now that the ship has been steadied it is only right that our new gaffer wants to have a look at the squad available to him in planning for the next campaign. However, the only real learning point is that while we might have a decent enough starting eleven, the replacements don’t really offer us much in terms of squad rotation. The midfield in particular seems to be an area in need of focused attention going forward.
In many ways a set back or two is to be expected given the way we had been playing prior to Jackett’s dismissal, and it was never going to be the case that all our issues could be eradicated in the space of just 6 matches, but the performance on Tuesday night will have given Richie and the coaching team plenty to get stuck into in the closing month or so of the season.
With just 7 games to go (where has the season gone by the way?) I for one am still hopeful of getting more points on the board, seeing some more encouraging performances and getting ourselves a few places higher up the table. With trips to Walsall and then Sutton followed by a home game against bottom-of-table Scunthorpe for our next 3, it feels very much a case of trusting the process and continuing our forward development
Up the O’s