Another autumn and another early exit from the FA Cup for Leyton Orient. How annoyed you personally feel about our elimination from the world’s oldest cup competition last weekend, may well depend on where you see the club’s priorities going forward for the rest of the season. It might also be influenced somewhat by the subpar performance we put in in the subsequent league game at Wimbledon the following Tuesday evening (more on that later).
One school of thought suggests that extended cup runs help to build on the momentum already established in the early months of the season and, depending how far you progress and who you end up playing, they can boost the club’s coffers, especially ahead of the January transfer window. The opposing perspective is that barring a miracle of quite some stature, Orient are never likely to reach Wembley let alone win the competition, so we are better off being out of it and able to focus our efforts on our ultimate priority of promotion.
Listening to his comments after the match at Crewe last Saturday, I got the feeling that Richie found himself a bit betwixt and between those two points of view. Yes there were a number of changes to the starting line-up, with the likes of: Ogie, Brown, Clay, Duke-McKenna, Sotiriou and Kelman coming into the side and George Moncur being given some minutes after his recent dental-based absence; but the fact that we had the ball in the back of the net twice only to be denied by reportedly poor officiating, and that Craig Clay’s tackle seemed in no way to merit the red card he was shown, suggests that we did enough to win the tie.
After the game Richie admitted that he probably made “too many changes” but also reminded us that we found ourselves in something of an unusual position as we of course had a very big midweek away game looming on the immediate horizon. In many ways it would have been difficult to know whether to stick or twist.
In the end, if victory had been secured at (New) Plough Lane we could have shaken off the cup exit as being based on misfortune and squad rotation, however the out-of-sorts display we put in and the subsequent 2-0 defeat, left the Orient faithful feeling very much deflated.
For me, we started well enough in Tuesday night’s match, and had a spell of decent pressure in the opening 20 minutes or so but without being able to capitalise on our early dominance (sound familiar?). Assal’s opening goal for the hosts felt very much against the run of play, and obviously benefited from a dollop of luck with the deflection off Tom James, but it also seemed to throw us off our game.
The lead up to half-time showed a number of our players getting frustrated with Wimbledon’s “robust” tactics, most notably a certain Glaswegian wide-man who seemed to very much lose his head. When the combative Harry Pell made it 2-0 ten minutes before the break, we were always going to have it all on to try to salvage something from the game.
The second half carried on in very much the same vein as the first had ended, with us struggling to establish ourselves in an attacking sense, save for an early effort from Archie that forced Gunter to head clear off the goal-line. Our cause not helped in the slightest by the numerous stoppages which disrupted the flow of the game. Despite the introduction of George Moncur, Charlie Kelman and Jayden Wareham to try to spark our forward line into some form of threat; we had to wait until 6 minutes from time to find the back of the net. Jordan Brown, himself on as a sub for the now suspended Tom James, fired home from the edge of the area, only to see his effort ruled out for apparent interference (presumably only visible to the linesman on the right-hand side!) by an “offside” Paul Smyth. It struck me, biased as I undoubtedly am, as an appalling decision. Far be it from me to advocate the use of VAR in League 2 having seen how much it spoils the game the way it is utilised at the higher levels, but it seemed very much a clear and obvious error to me. In the end our lack of clinical finishing probably cost us in this game.
After the match, there was a lot of chatter on social media about Wimbledon’s seemingly spoiling tactics, and while they certainly disrupted our play, we can’t expect the opposition to make it easy for us. There are different ways to play football and being obdurate, defensively solid, and tenacious can certainly be an effective approach, if not especially entertaining to watch. As Richie said in his post-match comments: “listen, it’s a big game for them and it’s a compliment to us that they think it’s a big game…sometimes you have to go through these nights to get where you want to go”. Learning to handle these kind of challenges could prove to be very important in our ongoing development as a squad.
The gaffer also “let slip” in that interview that he was on the verge of signing a new contract the following morning, to not only keep himself at the club to see the job through, but also to encourage some of our existing players to sign new contracts. It may have been a frustrating performance but given the way that Richie has rejuvenated the club from the doldrums we were in back in February/ March and our performances since he took over the reins, it is certainly very positive news and is very much the “pick-me-up” for the fans that he (deliberately?) intended.
As we have repeated on an ongoing basis throughout these opening months of the season, it is a long campaign and there are bound to be bumps along the way, it is how we respond that matters the most. Besides sitting atop the table, with an 8 point gap to fourth and 12 points to eighth, is hardly a disastrous position to find ourselves in. Certainly, compared to where we were when Richie took over.
Next up is the trip to Harrogate, with the Sulphurites having endured a pretty poor start to the season. They have won only 3 of their 17 matches so far, their last victory having been in the middle of October at home to fellow strugglers Hartlepool United. Of course, we know only too well the dangers of taking anything for granted, but this feels very much like the sort of match we might choose as we aim to get ourselves back on track. Here’s hoping!
Up the O’s