Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings- The O’s get off to a winning start. Is versatility the way forward?

It’s always nice to start the season with a win, and the fact that we were able to do so in fairly comfortable fashion in front of a reported Brisbane Road crowd of more than 8,500, thanks to the discount ticket promotion, that those in attendance witnessed Orient convert their first penalty in a league game for exactly 100 matches, and that we were treated to a stunning strike from Tom James, all further added to the feelgood factor.

Of course, we should be mindful that Grimsby have only just been promoted from the National League, and we can be certain that there will be many much sterner tests over the course of the long campaign, but you can only beat what is in front of you as the old saying goes. In truth other than the odd slightly hairy moment in our goalmouth, we seemed to cruise through the match.

After the match Richie said he felt the performance was a “six out of ten” and that “we could have had a lot of goals”, in fairness it is difficult to disagree with the gaffer’s assessment. After some of the performances we had to endure over the course of last winter, where you started to wonder where the next goal, let alone point, was coming from, it was the incisiveness and intent of our attacking play that stood out the most for me last Saturday.

With our attacking options limited thanks to injury and suspension, the forward trio of Archie, Paul Smyth and Ruel Sotiriou ably supported by George Moncur, caused the Grimsby rear-guard real problems all the way through the match. Yes we missed a number of chances, but we can hopefully put that down to new season rustiness and when the likes of Aaron Drinan, Harry Smith and Charlie Kelman are all fully fit and available there is going to be something of a selection dilemma at the top end of the team.

The biggest surprise in terms of team selection on Saturday was the deployment of Tom James at the base of a midfield three, which allowed the aforementioned Moncur and skipper Darren Pratley to play closer to the front three. The Welshman’s superb range of passing also gave us the opportunity to play the wide players in more quickly and to get at Grimsby when their defence was still trying to recover its shape.  

When I heard the news of us signing Rob Hunt, another right-back, I have to say I was somewhat confused. My initial fear was that there was an injury issue with James that the club weren’t making public, however when the game got underway on Saturday I started to wonder whether this may have been a plan all along? Hunt’s experience can allow us to use James in a midfield role and to alter our style of play. Increasingly in the modern game managers and coaches value players who are versatile and able to fulfil a number of roles, rather than sticking rigidly to the “2 players for each position” aspiration previously held.

In that post-match interview Richie hedged his bets a little bit in hinting that we are still looking to bring in another holding midfielder but also saying that while: “Tom will do a job in there, it isn’t his natural position,”; still, having another option in the engine room has to be a big plus.

Of course the focus now shifts to tomorrow and the first awayday of the season at Crawley. While we won there at the very end of last season and they lost their opening match away at Carlisle, games this early in the season are notoriously difficult to predict. The hosts are of course under the ownership of American cryptocurrency-funded consortium Wagmi (which apparently stands for: “We’re All Going to Make it”, well you do indeed learn something new every day!) who took over the club in April. They have a newly appointed manager Kevin Betsy who was previously in charge of Arsenal Under 23’s and have brought in last season’s League 2 top scorer Dominic Telford from Newport, and also added Swindon skipper Dion Conroy to their ranks, which suggests that the new owners will be targeting a higher finish than the 12th place (3 points and 1 place above the O’s), they achieved last time out.

The biggest dilemma from an Orient perspective is whether Richie sticks with the same team that looked intriguingly promising last week or whether he changes it to try and get players into their more natural positions? If Craig Clay is deemed sufficiently fit to start with the potential to play the full 90 minutes, might it be a better option for him to come into midfield and Tom James to return to right-back? Will Shad return to the back four or would it make sense to give more minutes to Dan Happe in his ongoing recovery from that nasty injury at Exeter? With new loan signing Charlie Kelman available after his suspension which was a legacy from the last campaign, could he or H lead the line with Paul Smyth shifting to a wider position?

I have to say that while I would generally counsel against changing a winning side, it is nice to have options for the first time in what seems like quite a while. However we decide to set up tomorrow, the focus has to be on putting in another positive performance and making sure we do our utmost to get another 3 points in the bag. It is of course still very early in the season but with some tough opposition to face before the end of next month (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings- Another Orient adventure is about to get underway, but are we still optimistic for the season ahead?), the importance of early momentum cannot be overstated.

Up the O’s

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