Another match, another hard-fought win, and Orient stay top of the table with a lead that has stretched to 4 points. Far too early to get in any way carried away, but I for one could get used to this.
In truth the match at home to Walsall wasn’t too much a of spectacle save for the pre-match tributes in memory of the Queen, in fact I am actually struggling quite hard to think of anything significant that happened in the opening period except for the pressing and harrying of our forward players which seemed to make life rather uncomfortable for Evans in the Walsall goal, a couple of sighters from the visitors and one low drive that Vigs initially bobbled and then had to be sharp to regather. Other than that, it was your stereotypical midfield battle. Just before half-time Tom James slipped Charlie Kelman through, but his shot was straight at Evans.
Things got a bit better in the second half, thanks in no small part to Orient finding the back of the net less than quarter of an hour in when Omar Beckles, staying upfield following a corner that had been half-cleared, poked home after George Moncur’s initial shot was blocked. It wasn’t pretty by any means, but they all count as the saying goes.
We have seen a much more solid and resolute Orient side from a defensive perspective this season so far, and once again we saw out the match and secured the 3 points without too much concern. Although I can’t have been alone in hoping for a second goal to make us all a bit more comfortable.
Both Aaron Drinan and Archie continued their respective returns from injury, each coming on as second half substitutes which got me wondering whether Richie might feel tempted to freshen things up from an attacking point of view? To take absolutely nothing away from Paul Smyth, Charlie Kelman and Ruel Sotiriou who have combined for a total of 7 of our 16 league goals this season; I have always had the suspicion that Drinan and Archibald are seen as definite/likely starters by Richie when they are fully fit. Might the gaffer be tempted to rejig the forward line in an attempt to score more goals?
After the match Richie said: “Another good win…a win in which we weren’t fluent at times in the first half…we just didn’t have the courage or the bravery or sometimes the quality to play through them.” In no small part that was probably due to the way that Walsall set up and tried to frustrate us. On Wednesday evening I was very kindly invited onto the Orient Hour (recording of the show: The Orient Hour – s07 e11 – hosted by Trevor Singfield, Rich Priest, Howard Gould and Gareth Platt – Phoenix FM), one of the key discussion points before and during the show was whether teams are now trying to set up to be hard to beat against us rather than trying to take us on. The evidence of the Walsall game, as well as those against Mansfield and Tranmere at home and Rochdale away last week suggests that might be something that is increasingly posing a challenge for us.
Tuesday evening saw us back in EFL Trophy action against Sutton United, I always enjoy these games as they feel less pressured than league matches. After the 11 changes and the 5-0 defeat at Oxford in the opening game of the competition, it was encouraging when the team was announced that the side looked much more balanced with more experienced players combining with those who are trying to make their case for greater minutes.
The biggest talking point however was the performance of debutant Chelsea loanee Jayden Wareham who clinically slotted home two goals in the opening ten minutes, could and probably should have had more, and looked every inch the finisher we believe he is. It is probably too early in his development and time with Orient to suggest that he merits a start in the central striker role just yet, but his emergence along with the additional minutes for Archie and Aaron Drinan, now means that the gaffer has good and effective options if he does opt to shake things up in the front line.
There was also another spectacular goal from Tom James, who seems as if he is running his own personal goal of the season competition, this time it was an injury time free kick that left the Sutton keeper grasping at thin air, although his initial positioning at the far post could be questioned. Another intriguing aspect was the way that Richie, as he seemed to do at Oxford, tried to take a back seat in coaching the team, instead allowing Matt Harrold and Paul Terry to be the presence in the technical area, only emerging to offer the pair the odd snippet of advice. It seems our head coach not only has a focus on developing the players at our disposal but also his coaching staff.
Next up is the long (and very expensive for those going by train thanks to Avanti West Coast’s downright incompetence/ arbitrary pricing, to put it politely!) trip to Barrow for a top-of-the-table clash that as Richie said no one would have predicted 8 months ago. Sadly (or happily for my wallet! Although I had to plump to travel via Leeds thanks to the country’s most inept train operator!) attendance at the Rugby League Grand Final, rules me out of going to Holker Street this season.
After narrowly escaping relegation back to the National League last season, under new manager Pete Wild, formerly in charge at Halifax Town, the Bluebirds have won 7 and lost 2 of their opening 9 matches, and like ourselves have emerged as unpredicted early pacesetters.
It is way too early in the season to suggest that the result in this one will prove definitive for where either side will end up come the end of the campaign; it does however feel like a match with the potential for us to gauge just how we are shaping up. While a victory would lay down another marker that we should be taken seriously as team with bona fide top seven ambitions, a draw would in itself still be a creditable result.
Up the O’s