Apologies for the missing musings last week, but with the match at Crewe having been called off due to a frozen pitch, and my “celebrating” a landmark birthday at the end of the week, I felt it probably best to try to pull some logical/coherent thoughts together for this week. This time we start with a dollop of déjà vu for the Orient faithful as once again after having a fortnight between matches, the O’s swept to another fairly comfortable home victory upon their return to action.
The 2-0 win over Sutton United, one of only two League 2 fixtures that went ahead last Saturday thanks in no small part to the now famous heated dome over the pitch, was a battle only from the perspective that it took us all the way up to past the hour mark to open the scoring. In truth there was only really one team who looked like they were going to secure all 3 points.
The only change to the now recognised first team was the withdrawal of George Moncur reportedly due to illness, he was replaced by Aaron Drinan, although some of the pre-match conversation I was involved in in the Supporters Club focused on wondering whether Paul Smyth might be able to do an effective, if slightly more direct-running based, job in the number 10 role in Moncs’ absence?
As the game got underway it seemed that while Archie may have been given some licence to drift inside at times, Smudge was definitely sticking to his wide left mandate while Aaron Drinan and Charlie Kelman seemed to be trying to operate more as a central attacking pair. Perhaps adjusting to this slightly different approach explains why we took so long to find the breakthrough?
The first real action of the match at a very wintry-looking Brisbane Road (with snow that had been cleared from the pitch piled around the perimeters and strangely in front of the new digital advertising boards- not sure how well that went down with the commercial team!), came when Smudge (surprise surprise!) tore down the left wing and pulled the ball back for Charlie Kelman, who couldn’t quite direct his reflexive effort on target.
Theo Archibald rattled the cross bar with a left-footed free kick after Kelman had been fouled on the edge of the area, but that was about it in terms of meaningful chances for our boys in the opening period.
The second half started in a similar vein with Orient largely in control but not finding the opening, until Archie picked up a loose ball and played it out towards Smyth on the left, the Sutton defender misplayed his interception, and our Northern Ireland magician did the rest: cutting inside and rifling an effort across goal and into the top right hand corner of the net. That was Smudge’s 9th league goal of the season and places him joint sixth in the League 2 scoring charts. The rousing ovation he received when he was later replaced by Ruel Sotiriou shows how much his continuing outstanding contribution this season is fully appreciated by the supporters.
We made certain of the points ten minutes before full-time when Alistair Smith took a wild swing at Craig Clay’s ball into the area but succeeded only in looping it over the head of keeper Jack Rose and into the net. Job most definitely done.
The win coupled with Stevenage’s scheduled match at Wimbledon falling foul of the weather, saw the O’s stretch their lead at the top of the table to 7 points, but more significantly perhaps increased the safety net/gap to fourth place to a hugely reassuring 16 points. Having been chastised by the missus and a few other readers for getting too carried away too early after sharing my thoughts a couple of weeks back, I won’t make any bold proclamations about what this incredible starts means for where we will end up. However, I will say that compared to where we were this time last year: having just lost at Prenton Park and about to undergo several postponements and that 15-match winless run, we simply have to enjoy it for what it is.
After the match the gaffer described the performance as “professional” although admitted that “for the first 20, 25 minutes [there was] no sharpness in our play”, he then later suggested that with the loss of George Moncur he opted for a change in shape which needed time on the training ground, but they just didn’t have that time to get the requisite work in. What is that old maxim about teams that can win without playing at their best?
Of course, next up is the “top versus second clash” with Stevenage (is it me or does that just sound weird?) which as we all know, in a clear indication of the growing profile of our club, has been moved from Boxing Day to the 27th of December to allow for it to be screened by Sky Sports. That is followed by a trip to Newport three days later and then a tough-looking visit to Northampton on the 2nd of January. Once we have completed the match at Sixfields, (assuming no further weather-based interventions of course!) we will be beyond the midway point of the season, while nothing is guaranteed, if we come through this run of four matches having garnered a decent points return and are still sitting pretty at the top of the table, then we can look forward to a very exciting second half of the season. Here’s hoping!
Up the O’s