Even though it has only been two weeks, doesn’t it feel like quite some time since our beloved O’s were in action with that stunning comeback win up at Stockport? Of course, the small matters of a month made up entirely of away fixtures, and a highly controversial autumn/ winter World Cup have only made things feel more surreal. Being completely honest there have been a few occasions over the last fortnight when I have had to remind myself that we are not in between seasons, but merely having an FA Cup elimination-forced pause before things go back to normal.
Despite all the controversy over the “award” (read: bought by bribery and corruption!) of FIFA’s flagship tournament to somewhere with an appalling human rights record and no footballing pedigree whatsoever, to name just two of the highly contentious issues; the missus’ and my unbounding football obsession, as well as that of 3 of our mates, meant that we couldn’t resist a trip over to the tournament itself for our third World Cup adventure. An absolute whirlwind of 5 games in 4 stadiums in just 5 days. (Full details of which will be featured on these pages in due course!).
When we initially arrived in the Middle East, having of course watched the Stockport game on Orient Live before setting off for the airport(!), the initial feeling was that Qatar had wanted all the prestige and heightened profile of hosting the tournament, but weren’t necessarily prepared to handle travelling football fans from across the globe, the very late U-turn on having beer available at the stadiums being very much a case in point.
However, as the actual football got underway and we started to mix with other fans from football’s more traditional heartlands, it started to feel more and more like a bona fide World Cup. While the number of actual fans travelling from Europe, North and South America and Down Under was smaller than we have usually experienced; with all the stadiums and therefore all teams based in and around the one city made for something of the carnival atmosphere that the four week festival of football usually creates.
While we can never (nor should we!) ignore the issues around the host country, the tournament itself is shaping up nicely and both of us were more than sad to come home, although as consolation we can still enjoy following the tournament as it progresses, and of course Orient are back in action tomorrow.
Anyway, back to matters Orient, that win at Stockport felt like another important one in a potentially tricky game, although haven’t we said that on a number of occasions already this season? The 3 points secured in Greater Manchester brought our total to 45 from our 19 games played, with a very welcome gap of 11 points to 4th place.
As Orient fans we are all too aware that we should take nothing for granted, and indeed for self-protection reasons should always anticipate the worst, but such a spectacular start to the campaign was something that not many of us would have predicted, but we sure as hell have to enjoy. All this without really fully firing from an attacking point of view just yet.
While I am (guardedly of course!) starting to feel a few glimmers of optimism towards what we might achieve come the end of the season, the next few weeks throw up some challenging encounters. First up of course is the visit of fifth-placed Bradford City tomorrow lunchtime, a team that surely remains amongst the favoured teams for a promotion push.
Rather bizarrely the Bantams are a more effective team in terms of results away from Valley Parade, having picked up 5 more points on their travels than they have at home. With what is going to be a very large travelling support behind them it makes for quite a challenge for our high-flying O’s. While we should always want to win, especially on our own patch, escaping without defeat would probably be a very good result in this instance.
Following on from that is another trip to Crewe, and while the Railwaymen may be languishing in the bottom half of the table they have won their last 2 and have just confirmed manager Lee Bell as a permanent appointment. While we will obviously be targeting revenge for our cup exit, the home side won’t be pushovers.
The following week we entertain Sutton Utd who seem to be struggling to match their form from the latter part of last season, followed by second place Stevenage the day after Boxing Day. By the time we have finish that game we will have completed exactly half of our matches, if we are sitting on or above the 50 point mark going into the second half of the season, it will make for very happy reading for the Orient faithful.
Of course, the other great news that was finally confirmed earlier this week was that the gaffer has signed a new contract that will potentially keep him at the club until the end of the 2024/25 season. It is clear that Richie believes in the vision and the direction of the club, and like most of us believes that the promised land of promotion, at least to League 1, is a very realistic proposition. The impact he has had on our performances and results since he walked through the door just eight months ago, have been beyond our wildest dreams, given where found ourselves at the time.
Whisper it quietly, but the coming months might just be even better for the Good Ship Orient. Here’s hoping so!
Up the O’s