Last Saturday’s goalless draw against Northampton was frustrating from a number of perspectives. Firstly, after being held to a draw up in Doncaster the previous weekend thanks to an equalizer 15 minutes from time, not being able to find a breakthrough after playing almost the entire second half against 10 men, felt like an opportunity to bounce back to winning ways that we squandered.
Secondly, there seems to be a growing concern amongst Orient fans that we simply aren’t scoring enough goals, something we touched upon in last week’s post (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings- Two points dropped in Doncaster for the Orient and some random musings on: “Ultras”/ Fanatics, trains, and live screening of football on Saturday afternoons.), despite our generally highly positive start to the season. Adding to this concern is that teams seem to have cottoned on to the fact that sitting deep against us blunts our attacking threat, and we aren’t able to stretch their defences and create the space for more and better chances for our attacking players.
Finally, that we have now gone three matches without a win after such a blistering start to the campaign and my personal worry, unfounded as it might turn out, is that our start may have overexaggerated how good we actually are as a squad, and we are now regressing to the mean somewhat.
On the face of it the performance against Northampton wasn’t that bad, and we have to remember that they are more than likely to be in the promotion mix again this season having gone so close last time out, but it felt like another game that we could and possibly should have won. While the Cobblers looked the more likely in the opening 10 minutes or so, after that it was us that controlled possession and played most of the rest of the opening period in their half. There were two gilt-edged chances: one from a George Moncur free kick that forced a decent stop from Burge, the other a Dan Happe header from the resultant corner that grazed the top of the crossbar, but we went in at the break all square.
The red card 3 minutes into the second half, slightly harsh as it possibly was, meant that a defensively organised Northampton side were probably always going to try to see the rest of the game out for a valuable away point in the circumstances. We had our opportunities, but I don’t think I would have been the only one who didn’t truly believe that the crucial opening goal would come.
For me the absence of El Mizouni due to injury and Darren Pratley due to illness meant that we lost some of our drive in midfield, as solidly as their replacements Craig Clay and especially Jordan Brown played. As a result, I am struggling to remember too many decent opportunities we had in the second half apart from an effort from range from TJ that forced Burge to parry, a block from Brown that clipped the upright and effort from Paul Smyth cutting in from the left that forced another decent save. In the end it was another frustrating result.
In more welcome news, Stevenage being held to a draw themselves at Gillingham, means that we remain second, 2 points off the top with a game in hand. Not quite time to panic or be down on the team just yet, it just feels that if we are going to rebuild the momentum that we had prior to the defeat by Newport, we need to find a way to be more threatening in our attacking play, and of course to find the back of the net more regularly. As Richie said in his post-match interview on Saturday: “this is a marathon not a sprint, and it’s up to us to improve and we’ll do that.”
We have now played a quarter of our league matches (usually a decent point to analyse a team’s start) and have a total of 30 points from our 13 games so far, comfortably above the coveted 2 points per game pace (2.3 in fact!). Yet why are we all not completely chuffed with the start that we have made? Are we a bit, chastened by the early optimism of the last campaign where a decent enough start was squandered with a run of woeful form, worried that it might have been something of a false dawn? Or do we just need to be a bit more pragmatic, recognise this is a tough division to get out of and that early points on the board are very welcome, but the tough work starts from here?
Being something of a stats geek (the clue’s in the moniker!) I had a look at the points totals needed to secure third place and automatic promotion for each fourth tier campaign since 2004/05 when the current league structure was finalised (excluding of course the 2019-20 which was terminated early due to the pandemic with final positions settled on a points per game basis). The highest total recorded was by Hereford in 2007/08 with 88 points and the lowest being Wycombe in 2008/09 and Port Vale in 2012/13 with 78. Realistically speaking anything above 84 points was enough to get teams promoted from the bottom tier in 7 of those 17 campaigns, so that provides a workable benchmark.
For Orient to reach that 84 points mark would require us to pick up points at a rate of 1.6 per game for the remaining 33 matches of the season. If we are able carry on at something approaching the rate that we have been, then a place in the top three certainly looks achievable, however we all know football doesn’t work like that, especially in this division. Even though we are all a bit disappointed after the last 3 results, I don’t think many of us would have predicted a start quite as good as we have made, a 69% winning percentage is nothing to be sniffed at and it could of course have been even better if we could have turned our 3 draws into wins. Is it genuinely feasible for us to carry on at this incredible pace? Only time will tell I guess.
Of course, one of the other impacts of the O’s great start has been the increased attendances at Brisbane Road. Saturday’s crowd of nearly 9,000 was by Dulcet Dave’s recollection the biggest home crowd we have had since our return to the Football League. While we of course want to see the club becoming more attractive to neutrals and casual supporters to increase its matchday revenue as it continues to develop, the impact on us regulars also needs to be considered.
It has always been something of a mission to get any refreshments and/or go to the loo at half-time in the East Stand, but last Saturday it was nigh on impossible. I am not sure whether it is the same in the other stands, but beyond the supporters’ matchday experience the club is losing out on significant revenue to supplement the ticket income. There is reason why it is easy to get served at the big expensive corporate venues of the Premier League. Food (pardon the obvious pun!) for thought for Mark Devlin and his team.
Being the hopeless football obsessive that I am, I of course went to the Pizza Cup game against Chelsea U21s on Tuesday evening. Despite the hour and a half delay to kick-off thanks to the visitors being stuck in traffic, and the defeat thanks to two late breakaway goals, the competition served its purpose by giving a run out in a relatively competitive match for those players who haven’t featured so much this season. Stephen Duke-McKenna in particular looked lively on the left flank in the opening stages at least. That is us out of the competition for another year, but I doubt many of the coaching staff, players or fans will lose a lot of sleep over it. One thing that I did find quite interesting though was the smattering of Chelsea fans who seemed to be taking it much more seriously than anyone else in the Justin Edinburgh stand, each to their own I guess.
Next up of course is a trip to Carlisle (if anyone can get there!), who themselves have only lost one game but interestingly have also won six and drawn six. The sheer distance involved as well as the home side’s form makes this a big ask, having said that though it would be an excellent place to get back to winning ways. Here’s hoping!
Up the O’s