After returning to form against Walsall, Orient’s performance a week later against Sutton United, just like the display away at Oldham, was simply not up to the level required. Once again, we seemed to be off the pace and lacking the effort, work rate and attitude required if we are to progress as we all hope. So, should we be worried?
On the face of it the performances at Oldham and Gander Green Lane stand out as being completely different from the other 6 matches under Richie, yet the nagging fear is that they are starting to come a little too frequently for Orient fans’ liking. If the loss at Boundary Park can be put down to too many changes at one time with the squad players who came in not doing themselves justice, at Sutton it felt a little bit different.
Of course, four changes, all reportedly enforced, is still a lot to make, but two of the players coming in are recognised first teamers in the form of Paul Smyth and Theo Archibald. The other couple being changes in the full-back positions which shouldn’t have disrupted the balance of the team to such a significant extent. Equally, deploying Aaron Drinan through the middle, a role he has played effectively before, shouldn’t have blunted our attack the way that it appeared to. Although given Sutton’s physical approach maybe we would have been able to establish ourselves more effectively, especially in the first half, if Harry Smith had been available. For me we struggled to deal with Sutton’s robust approach through most of the ninety minutes, not helped in any way by a referee that seemed content to let the home side do what they want.
After the match Richie said that he felt that: “for the first 25 minutes it was men against boys”, inferring that we weren’t necessarily as up for the fight as we needed to be against such a big and physically strong opposition. The second half was much better, and we controlled the ball more effectively, but we couldn’t find the goal that our much-improved performance arguably merited.
On the whole the performances and results since our new head coach took charge have been highly encouraging, 4 wins and 2 draws in his 8 matches so far are testimony to that. With survival all but completely mathematically assured we should be pretty satisfied with where we are, however the two matches when the players have basically failed to turn up in relatively quick succession should provide an area of attention for our head coach and his staff going forward.
The right attitude and mentality should be taken as a given in any match, especially for a team and a squad that should be desperately trying to demonstrate that they are a lot better than the way they were playing prior to the previous manager’s dismissal. Yet we have now had to endure a couple of displays in which we were lacking. I in no way whatsoever want to be critical of Richie, as what he has done to reinvigorate the whole club has been nothing short of highly impressive and promises so much for the next campaign, but I do wonder if he maybe undermined himself slightly when he suggested that as soon as we were safe then a kind of pre-season would start? The old managerial theory about not giving players any possible excuse.
With just 5 more matches to go, the next against bottom of the league Scunthorpe, and us holding a 12-point lead over Barrow, Oldham and Stevenage, we will to all intents and purposes be absolutely fine. However, given what we have had to endure through long spells of this season, I think we would all relish a strong finish to the season. In many ways we have already got the results we needed and now the focus should be on the performances and the style of football to take us into the summer and ahead of hitting the ground running from the start of the next campaign. There can’t be any Orient fan who didn’t enjoy those 4 victories in quick succession and some of the football we played was a joy to watch, more of the same between now and May the 7th would be very welcome indeed.
Before I sign off for this week, I just wanted to touch upon Gander Green Lane and the currently very much ongoing “improvements” to its facilities. I get that many O’s followers don’t like going there and might suggest that the ground is very much still a non-league venue. I was actually quite looking forward to it as way back in the darkest recesses of my football obsessive memory I remember them giant-killing Coventry City there in 1989 and more recently watching Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal play there, plastic pitch and goalkeeping coach eating a pie in a pre-planned betting scam et al.
I also fully understand that as an ambitious, potentially upwardly mobile club now that they have reached the Football League for the first time in their history, Sutton will hold further aspirations which will require a much-improved ground. I am about as far from being a building expert as it is possible to be, but surely the summer break would easily afford them enough time to complete the developments they are planning (whatever they may be?) rather than closing the away end to fans other than a half-finished stand, a temporary one and a flat piece of ground purporting to be a terrace?
When the missus and I arrived at the place we pretty much decided on the spot that this was the only visit we would be making, however after the match and accepting that it is easy to get to and from London and there are plenty of food and beverage options in the town, we have a funny feeling we might be tempted back next season. You never know it might have been vastly improved!
Here’s hoping for a successful Orient Easter weekend.
Up the O’s