Looking at the pure facts: three matches played, no goals scored, two points picked up and a potential seven dropped; suggests that the festive period has been a bit of a slump for our beloved O’s. It has been our second run of “poor” form this season matching the spell in early October when we lost to Newport at home, then drew at Doncaster before being held to a goalless draw at home to a stubborn Northampton side. Although this time we now have some significant concerns around team selection, particularly in the backline, as a result of injuries and suspension.
On the flip side of that coin however, three games in six days, two of which were against the other sides in the top three, and a tough away trip to South Wales, was always going to be a big ask. While we are probably right to feel a little bit disappointed, it doesn’t feel like it is time to push the panic button just yet. Despite the dropped points, we are still top of the table, even though Stevenage have closed the gap to two points, and hold a fourteen point safety net to fourth place, although fifth place Bradford could narrow that to eleven should they win their game in hand.
However, perhaps the most concerning issue through the last three matches has been the fact that we didn’t manage to score (legally that is!) in the 270 minutes plus lots of added time we played. All through our excellent start to the season I have had the nagging concern that we don’t quite have enough firepower at the top end of the team and, as ridiculous as it appears to say about the League’s joint third top scorers, are simply not scoring as many goals as a team that has been completely flying perhaps should have.
Stevenage was frustrating from the pure perspective that despite looking the more likely, to all but Steve Evans that is, we couldn’t find the breakthrough that would have earned us a statement victory. With Paul Smyth absent at Newport and Northampton we looked concerningly toothless.
Leaving Smudge out of consideration for now, as well as George Moncur’s 3 successful penalties, the rest of our attacking payers have managed just 13 league goals between them (Moncur 1, Drinan 2, Archibald 3, Sotiriou 3, Kelman 4 – as per Transfermarkt.co.uk). While it is an accepted modern approach to want the goals to be shared around the team, should we be expecting more from our front line?
All the way through our phenomenal start to the season, I can’t have been alone in worrying where the goals would come from if we were to be without Smyth for an extended period of time. The evidence of the last three matches did nothing to appease my fears, and right now we can only hope that our Northern Ireland magician’s current fitness issues are not too serious, and he will be back in the fold as soon as possible.
At the back end of the team, we will likely be without the desperately unlucky Dan Happe for up to three months, we know for certain that Omar Beckles will not now be available until our trip to the Wirral at the end of this month, and we await news on how serious the hamstring strain that Shadrach Ogie was feeling at the end of the match at Sixfields is. The worst case scenario is that we could be going onto Saturday’s match at home to Doncaster with one recognised senior centre back available: Adam Thompson who will of course be seriously lacking in match fitness after his own extended period out injured.
The one scant crumb of consolation is that we find ourselves in this position at the opening of the transfer window, so are in a position to bolster the squad if we are able to find the right players to do so. In his interview after the match at Sixfields the gaffer asserted it was “time to get the cheque book out”. In response in an interview with the club website Director of Football Martin Ling suggested that the addition of another centre back has now become the key priority, and even though we won’t panic we do need to bring some new players in. While he wouldn’t be drawn on specific numbers, or players, he did suggest that alongside a central defender, we are probably one short in midfield and also highlighted the possible need for another striker.
Ling also suggested that we have “hit a bump in the road…but we’ve earnt ourselves a position in the league where we can take some bumps and come out the other side”. Therein is where the crux of the issue rests for me: we made an excellent start with the players that we have, we need reinforcements, but we don’t want a repeat of last year’s disastrous January transfer window where we bring in players as a short-term fix (even if in most of those cases they weren’t actually particularly effective…Hi Frank!) and are then looking to offload them at the end of the season.
Of course, another thing to consider is what role, if any, Harry Smith might play when he is available for selection ahead of the Barrow game. While the rumours around a certain Macauley Bonne have been exciting, I for one expect that his wages and desire to play at a higher level might kibosh that nostalgic notion. I would be happy to be proven wrong and would love nothing more than to see Macca back and banging in the goals that drive us to another promotion, but I suspect the interest being shown by clubs at a higher level rules that out.
For now, we remain in an excellent position but need to get back to both scoring goals and winning ways as quickly as we possibly can. After that autumn blip we reeled off six wins out of seven to put us in the position we were in going into the festive period. Next up we have two home games against two teams loitering just outside the play-off places, while of course we should take nothing for granted (we are Orient fans after all!), some goals and a couple of decent results would set us up nicely for the return game at Stevenage in a fortnight’s time, a match I believe we have sold out our allocation of tickets for.
We have made a start to the season beyond any of our expectations, with 22 games still to go there may well be some further bumps in the road (to borrow our Director of Football’s phrase), but there is still everything to play for to turn this into the season that we all dream it could be.
Up the O’s