After a slight bump in the road at Sutton United, the O’s certainly bounced back to form over the Easter weekend, with an expected and fairly routine home victory over now-relegated Scunthorpe United and a gutsy, determined and hard-fought win at play-off chasing Swindon Town, the only team over which we have done the double so far this season.
Starting with Good Friday and the defeat of Scunthorpe, no football match should ever be treated as a gimme of course, but if you can’t beat a team that has won just 4 matches all season scoring a grand total of 26 goals and conceding 76, then you probably need to take a long hard look at yourself as a squad. Thankfully there was no such issue for Orient and we pretty much had the 3 points wrapped up within the opening half an hour, thanks to incisive attacking play and clinical finishes from Paul Smyth, Archie and Ruel.
The only real frustration was that we could, and in all truth probably should, have scored more having hit the frame of the goal 3 times amidst a flurry of decent opportunities. Still if we find ourselves disappointed at only winning 3-0, that tells you a lot about how far we have come since Richie first steadied the ship and then set it off on a much more promising course.
If the win over Scunthorpe can be regarded as very much par for the course, I suspect you might have been hard pushed to find any Orient fan expecting us to follow suit at the County Ground just 3 days later, even if we had put Swindon to the sword to the tune of 4-1 in early December just before we hit the winter doldrums. Going into the game, the hosts were sitting in 10th place but only 2 points off 7th and the final play-off spot, plus they were coming off the back of a convincing win themselves, 4-1 at Harrogate. I think most of us would have taken a draw before kick-off.
While the opening stages may have been something of a stalemate, understandable given the fatigue that both sides must have been feeling after the quick turnaround and as we approach the end of a long season, things really sprang into life 20 minutes in when Big Omar nodded home Archie’s free kick to open the scoring. A mere matter of minutes later Hector was shown a second yellow for a lunge at Louie Barry, which at the time seemed harsh to me (mind you I was a long way away from the incident and am of course just a tad biased!), and it then became a challenge of trying to hold onto what we had.
The quick tactical switch which saw Paul Smyth sacrificed for the more defensive Ethan Coleman pointed to our vastly improved game management under Richie, but it was the fighting spirit, commitment and attitude of those left on the pitch that stood out the most. In many ways that was highlighted by the scuffle that erupted after Darren Pratley was bundled over near the touchline prompting some jostling amongst both sets of players and coaching staff and which resulted in a flurry of yellow cards, most of which seemed to be against us, including one for our gaffer which was quite frankly laughable in its lack of justification or point.
The travelling Orient faithful had been in excellent voice right from the off, but that incident seemed to galvanise even further the spirit of togetherness between the fans, players and coaching staff. I can’t remember if the new “Super Richie Wellens” song (no apologies whatsoever for putting that into your head again for the rest of the day and probably the weekend!) had been aired before that incident but it was almost on a continual loop thereafter.
Going in at the break with our lead intact was vital to boosting the spirit of the lads ahead of the second half. Omar’s second goal just 8 minutes in really gave us belief and the entire second half display was simply immense.
While we did concede a late goal, it shouldn’t take anything away from the performance, the spirit the lads showed or a brilliant result against a team well above us in the league. The post-match celebrations showed the bond that has already been rekindled between the supporters, players and coaching staff, something that was clearly high on Richie’s agenda when he introduced himself to us at that first press conference.
Speaking to Dulcet Dave after the match, Richie himself said it was a performance in which we “dug-deep” and showed “heart, desire, determination, all those words that are easy to say but are difficult to do.” It was certainly one that had every single Orient fan buzzing on the way home.
To continue the feelgood spirt sparked by the two wins over the weekend, yesterday evening the missus and I had the great privilege of attending the Q&A Pie and a Pint evening with Richie, Mark Devlin and Paul Terry. While the club’s requested embargo on revealing the content of the discussions prevents me from going into detail about what was said, suffice it to say that we left the event feeling even more positive and optimistic about the direction of our club. Its future seems to be not only in safe but very much expert hands.
In many ways it feels a bit sad that just as we are really starting to get going on the pitch and the atmosphere around the whole place is better than it has been for quite some time, there are only 3 more matches to enjoy. All 3 of which see us face teams who are ahead of us in the league. Without wanting to put too much pressure on Richie and the lads some more performances along the lines of the one we put in on Monday, will have us all chomping at the bit waiting for the 30th of July (yes it really does get underway then!) to come round. If this season can be filed in the “what-if?” category then already it feels as if the next is very much in the “what-might-be?” mindset.
Here’s hoping for more of the same from the lads tomorrow afternoon.
Up the O’s