Going into the game away at Doncaster, a team sitting just outside the top 7 who were only relegated last season and should surely be amongst the teams involved in any potential promotion/play-off conversations, most Orient fans would have probably considered a point to be a decent return. Especially having lost at home to end our unbeaten run the previous weekend. However, am I alone in thinking that being held to a draw stings a bit more than I thought it would?
Against Newport last week (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings- Orient given a wake-up call by Newport County?), even though we weren’t at our best and conceded two sloppy goals in the first half an hour, we had more than enough decent chances to (at least) salvage a point. At Doncaster we dominated the opening period, but after Paul Smyth scored another magical goal, we seemed to drop our intensity a shade.
The loss of Idris El Mizouni to injury, followed by the replacement of George Moncur and Theo Archibald with Craig Clay and Charlie Kelman (taking nothing away from the latter pair who have both impressed this season), seemed to dilute our drive in the centre of the park and stymie our creativity to be able to open up the deep-sitting home defence. Were we deliberately trying to manage the game to its conclusion, or was it simply a case of Doncaster raising their game and us not being able to match it?
There was no doubt that Doncaster, presumably after some choice words from manager Gary McSheffery, were much more up for it in the second half, but when Biggins equalized with a quarter of an hour to go, we weren’t able to reseize the initiative and push for the winner. Having been in control and ahead it felt very much like two points dropped rather than one gained.
After the match Richie said similar: “It was two points dropped because of the domination of the first half” and “we need to be better… we need to play through the lines a little bit more and we need to get our attacking players in better areas more often”. Doing more from an attacking perspective has become something of a recurring theme from the gaffer over the early months of the season, even in the games we have won fairly comfortably.
It is of course still very early days in a very long season, but after that blistering start we seem to have gone off the boil a tad in the last two matches. Seasoned League 2 watchers will know that the very nature of this division and the 46 match schedule means that all teams will drop points, often in unexpected matches, and teams will have bursts of good form and results, as well as spells of indifferent performances when picking up points becomes something of a struggle. It is highly unusual for teams to run away from the others. However, with important games coming thick and fast it feels like we need to find a way of getting ourselves back into top gear and fast, lest we get reined in by the chasing pack.
Looking purely at the numbers, we have scored a total of 20 league goals from 12 matches this season, second only to Saturday’s visitors Northampton who have scored 3 more having played a game more. Not on the face of it grounds for too much concern, however as former Orient defender Terry Howard suggested during the course of our discussions on this week’s Orient Hour, that is not a massive total for a team that has had the start that we have had. Does Richie feel the same, hence his ongoing post-match assessments that we could and should have scored more in a number of our games?
First and foremost, if you look at where the goals have come from: Paul Smyth is our leading scorer with 5, George Moncur and Charlie Kelman have 3 each (albeit 2 of the former’s were from the penalty spot), Tom James has 2, and the rest have been solitary contributions from Omar Beckles, Idris El Mizouni, Archie, Ruel, Aaron Drinan and a couple of own goals.
As a result of the pre-season injury to Aaron Drinan, up until Saturday our starting front three had been consistently drawn from Smyth, Archie, Kelman and Sotiriou, should we have expected more from those players, or is it the case that we have not yet been able to deploy our preferred attacking set-up? Instinctively I can’t help but feel that Richie’s first choice trio is the Archie-Drinan-Smyth combination which started at Doncaster.
Next up of course is the visit of Northampton Town to Brisbane Road tomorrow afternoon, the Cobblers made a solid enough start themselves only losing two and drawing two of their opening dozen matches. Last week’s defeat at home to Salford leaves them in third place in the table and 3 points behind the O’s having played that extra match. It promises to be another really tough test for us and without completely contradicting what I wrote earlier about dropping points, it does feel very much in the must-not-lose category.
After Saturday the tough league games keep coming as we travel to 7th placed Carlisle, host Gillingham the following Tuesday, before entertaining 4th placed Salford. While the next few weeks won’t be completely season-defining, they will help to give us a clearer indication of how realistic our promotion ambitions are looking; if we go into the Boxing Day clash with surprise early table-toppers Stevenage still in the top three or thereabouts, we should be able to look forward to an exciting second part of the campaign, if we have dropped points and places then it may well be a different story.
Some random musings
Before signing off for this week I just wanted to touch upon a couple of issues that have been doing the rounds on Orient-related social media:
- “Ultras”/ Fanatics: most of you will have seen the polls about whether we should create an “Ultras” section within the South Stand. Whilst the word “Ultra” carries with it some very negative connotations (as well as the good), having seen and heard Crystal Palace’s Holmesdale Fanatics in action, anything that adds to the matchday atmosphere can only be a good thing. For me though it should grow organically rather than come over as contrived as it does at some higher level clubs (mentioning no names of course!).
- The bloody trains: I completely get that workers should have the freedom to stand up for better pay and conditions, especially in the current economic climate where we’re all facing rising costs for everything. However, when strike action starts to impact our football-watching is when I have a major issue. If the train drivers et al want our support can’t they aim to impact people going to work rather than alienate thousands and thousands of travelling football fans?
- Live streaming of football at 3pm: it was reported this week that the EFL will consider removing the 3pm Saturday blackout in the sale of its next television and media rights. While I understand that it was brought in in the 1960’s to protect live attendances, it feels completely antiquated in this day and age. There are all sorts of supporters who can’t make games in person for a whole host of reasons, and as we know all too well it deprives the clubs themselves of an additional revenue sources. Hell, it might even blunt the threat and impact of further train strikes if we have the option of watching on the live stream!
Let’s leave it there for now, here’s hoping the lads can bounce back in tomorrow’s big match.
Up the O’s