In an interview on Sky TV’s Soccer AM back in 2004, Iain Dowie coined the term “bouncebackability” while he was manager at Crystal Palace. Dowie used the phrase to describe how his team had gone from the fringes of relegation in December to winning promotion via the play-offs in May. Since he first said it, the phrase has become an accepted term in football parlance to describe “the ability to recover after a setback.” The phrase seems perfect to describe what our beloved O’s have just done over their last two league matches.
Just when we might have been starting to harbour some concerns about our prospects for the season after a frustrating run of three games without a victory (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings- Further Frustration for the Orient Faithful.), things feel very different now after two wins in quick succession.
Starting with last Saturday’s trip to Carlisle, Avanti West Coast’s rather annoying train strike meant that the missus and I had to rule out another trip to the border city, as I know did quite a few of the regular travelling Orient faithful. With no option of being able to watch it live (at the risk of sounding like a broken record, when oh when are broadcasters going to see sense and end the Saturday afternoon blackout? – 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.); we were reduced to following score updates online and watching Soccer Saturday. Having not done that for quite some time, I had forgotten how much of a nerve-wracking experience it can be.
Thankfully the O’s got off to a flying start with Archie notching his first of the afternoon within the opening 2 minutes. When Carlisle pulled one back through a header from a corner on the quarter of an hour mark, it is fair to say that just for a fleeting moment, the tension ramped up a notch or two in the Orient Nerd household, until that is Archie restored our lead 2 minutes later.
When Edmonson was sent off for striking Darren Pratley in the face ten minutes before half-time it really should have made life easier for us. Especially when Aaron Drinan made it 3-1 five minutes into the second half, however it sounded like Carlisle raised their game and made it more of a tussle than perhaps it should have been. When Jordan Gibson made it 3-2 it made for a nervy final half an hour or so, but in the end we held on for what felt like an important win. Grinding out a win in Cumbria…haven’t we been here before already this season?
Following hot on the heels from the win at Carlisle, we were back in league action on Tuesday night when Gillingham came to Brisbane Road, amazingly managing to arrive on time despite being based in Kent (perhaps a certain Under-21’s team might take guidance from their logistical planning!).
While the first half wasn’t exactly an all-action spectacle, the match really sparked into life seven minutes into the second period when Archie slipped Paul Smyth through on the left wing, and our mercurial number 7 did the rest: calmly cutting inside and rifling home into the bottom left hand corner. The opening goal seemed to shake Gillingham’s belief somewhat and from there we were largely in control of the match. Although we had to wait until the 73rd minute for the all-important second when substitute Ruel Sotiriou slammed home from close range after a defender had miscued Archie’s low cross.
One of the most striking things about Tuesday night’s performance was that it was achieved with something of a changed line-up and the use of all five subs who all made an impact after coming on. While the back four stayed the same as we have come to expect, we seemed to amend our shape slightly from the 4-3-3 that we have used pretty much throughout the season to date, to something that looked more like a 4-2-3-1. While there isn’t too much difference between the two systems, using Paul Smyth as a second striker in the number 10 spot in place of George Moncur who is more of an attacking midfielder, who I believe was having a wisdom tooth removed, seemed to augment our attacking threat. While young Jayden Wareham, making his first league start, was unfortunately unable to find a goal to mark the occasion, we just looked more menacing in attack especially when we switched the wingers over in the second half.
Speaking after the Gillingham match, the gaffer shared his thoughts about needing to rotate the squad: “we can’t achieve anything in the first 15 games [of the season], we can’t achieve anything in the next 15, we need to keep players fresh throughout the season, so the rotation is important”. Hard to disagree with that, especially given the success we have had in our last two matches.
On the theme of squad rotation and depth, it was interesting to learn that Harry Smith has cut short his loan deal and returned to Brisbane Road, having apparently found it difficult to settle at Exeter. Obviously the most important thing is that he puts his mental wellbeing first, so even though he won’t be available for selection until January, it will be intriguing to see how he fits in with Richie’s future plans. We now have a number of options for the central striking role in: Drinan, Kelman, Sotiriou and Wareham, however it is possibly true to say that none of them has claimed the spot definitively. Might H see an opportunity to establish himself there, or might he have to accept the “Plan B” role that he was initially reluctant to adopt? Another one for Richie to determine as the season progress, but in the meantime welcome back Harry and another 13 league goals would be very nice, thank you!
Next up of course are our old “friends” from the National League, Salford City, tomorrow in what is shaping up to be another pretty tough-looking encounter. While the Ammies form has been a little bit patchy of late, having lost their previous two at home to Bradford and local rivals Stockport, they did manage to secure all 3 points on Tuesday evening against bottom of the table Hartlepool. They now sit in 5th place in the table, 9 points behind the O’s; their budget of course (if not their attendances!) should dictate that they ought to be in the promotion/ play-off mix come the end of the season.
Looking at the current league table, there are a couple of things that stand out. Firstly, those clubs who were largely fancied by many to be fighting at the top end, ie: Northampton, Mansfield, Salford, Swindon and Bradford are all now in the top seven; and secondly the gap between our first-placed O’s (doesn’t that always sound great?) and 4th place now stands at 9 points and 11 to 8th. As Richie said we can’t achieve anything right now, but our fantastic start has put us in a very good position, probably better than any of us could have imagined.
There is still a very long way to go of course, but if we can carry on in anything like the form we have shown over the first third of the season then we could find ourselves in a very promising position come the end of January/ beginning of February, when we will have played 30 games. Here’s hoping anyway!
Up the O’s