I don’t know about you, but I could really get used to this: another match, another win and Orient stay top of the table for the second week in succession. Thanks to our old friends Salford beating Stevenage, we now even have a lead at the summit, albeit just the one point over Barrow. Once again we may not have played at our best as Richie hinted in his post-match interview, but we did what we needed to do against a struggling, in terms of the league table, but spirited Hartlepool side.
For the second week in a row, it was the same starting eleven, even with some potentially key players to return fully from injury it really feels as if the team almost picks itself, and not simply because we don’t have enough viable replacements, more on that later.
Orient got off to the best possible start when Charlie Kelman was brought down on the edge of the box as he burst down the right onto a ball over the top from skipper Darren Pratley. There was a case to be made that the initial contact was outside of the area, but given our usual luck with refereeing decisions of this nature, and as we were to be denied a bona fide penalty (at least to my biased eyes!) later on when Paul Smyth was manhandled to the ground chasing a loose ball, I am placing it fully in the ”these decisions even themselves out” category. Having waited a full century of league matches between successful penalties, it was really pleasing that George Moncur slotted the ball home comfortably again.
We could have doubled our lead not much later when first Kelman forced a save from Killip in the Hartlepool goal, and then Omar headed an Archie free kick just over the bar. Then came the moment when Paul Smyth raced onto another looping Pratley ball over the top, it ballooned up off the keeper with Smyth being the first to locate it, as he went to tuck it away he was wrestled to the ground by a desperate defender. In all truth it looked much more of a penalty than the one we were awarded. Strangely the referee seemed to deem that having given us one penalty, he wasn’t going to give us another.
Whether it was the shock of not being awarded the spot-kick that was to blame, but Hartlepool then equalized McDonald slotting home after working space for himself in the area, just past the half hour mark. Again, it is very early days but there seems to be a greater resilience about the 2022/23 version of Orient and just 6 minutes later we were back in front: Kelman slotting home his 3rd goal in 5 games after a sweeping counter attack in which he exchanged passes with Archie down the right-hand side.
We started the second half pretty much as we had finished the first, largely in control. Just 3 minutes in Vigs sent Archie away with one of his pinpoint kicks, Archie slid in Paul Smyth who was able to roll the rebound home after his initial effort had been saved by Killip. If we thought we were pretty much home and hosed from there we were to be disappointed when referee Bourne “found” a penalty for the visitors, judging that El Mizouni had brought down Crawford but somehow missing the blatant handball in the build-up. Umerah converted sparking a brief flutter of anxiety amongst the Orient faithful until Ruel Sotiriou, on as a sub, settled the match once and for all rifling home on the half volley.
After the match the gaffer said that: “some of our attacking play, some of our football was exciting, we scored four…we could have scored a lot a lot of goals.” Of course not wanting to get carried away at this early juncture, the way the first team is shaping up is grounds for optimism in even the most guarded of O’s fans’ books.
If the first choice eleven is looking largely settled, with the notable exceptions of how and where Aaron Drinan might slot into the formation, and how we are going to utilise Deadline Day loanee from Chelsea, Jayden Wareham, now that H will be at Exeter for the duration of the campaign; the evidence of the Pizza Trophy game at Oxford suggests that there is work to be done with the rest of the squad. While we shouldn’t get in any way hung up on a defeat by a League 1 side in a game in which we changed the entire starting eleven, especially when the league is the number one (only?) priority, if and when injuries and suspensions bite, which they inevitably will, are we confident about the level of the players that will come in to replace our first-choice line-up? The defence especially was all over the shop on Tuesday night with a glaring lack of marking and some very poor decision-making.
Exiting the EFL Trophy early on won’t matter in the slightest if we are truly capable of achieving what we all hope we are come May, but many good sides have been derailed by a lack of quality replacements to call upon when needed. While it is completely unrealistic to expect to have two equal quality options for each position (unless you are Man City or another nation-state funded club of course!), getting more out of our back-ups could prove vital as the season progresses.
Next up is my hometown team Tranmere Rovers (Football Nerd Weekly Ramblings- Leyton Orient v Tranmere Rovers- Desperately trying to avoid breaking football’s greatest taboo.), and while the Wirral-based club haven’t got off to the best start this season: winning just 2 of their opening 6 matches, they beat us home and away last season and are usually likely to be in the promotion mix. In a conversation with my mate Paul, a diehard Tranmere fan who has sadly been ruled out of attendance tomorrow by a nasty bout of tonsillitis, he suggested that: Rovers have a young team that’s showing signs that it is starting to gel. New Director of Football, James Vaughan, has focused recruitment on promising young players who haven’t quite made the cut at Championship level with Bristow at left back/ wing back and McAlear in midfield, both 20 years old with some experience at a higher level, being two in particular to keep an eye on. (Breaking News: this morning it was announced that Vaughan will be leaving to take up the role of Loans Manager with Everton. Modern football eh?)
Tomorrow’s match has the makings of being an intriguing clash. However, if the O’s can carry on the form they have shown since the start of the campaign, then we should have every confidence of another positive result.
Up the O’s