As I said at the end of last week’s post (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings: Orient get back to winning ways at a “tropical” Brisbane Road.), now that we are past the halfway mark and entering the run-in to the season, it feels as if we are very much in one game at a time territory as the O’s look to consolidate their promotion/ title push. As frustrating as it was to be held to a goalless draw by Barrow at home last Saturday, Stevenage drawing at Harrogate and Northampton losing at Stockport meant that the two points dropped doesn’t impact us in terms of the league table too much. Although Carlisle’s win meant that the safety net to fourth place now stands at 15 points, with the Cumbrian side having a game in hand.
While we all knew that Barrow would provide a stern test, given that they themselves are chasing a play-off spot, perhaps the most frustrating aspect was that we couldn’t find the all-important breakthrough that would have made the result more positive. In our last five matches we have managed to find the back of the net just the once, that being Archie’s wonder strike against Doncaster. Should we be concerned?
At the risk of repeating myself ad nauseum, I continue to worry that we simply haven’t been scoring enough goals for a team that has pretty much led the way since the opening game of the season. Our fantastic start to the campaign has given us some wiggle room, (as our friends across the Pond would probably say), but when we fail to convert games we are drawing into wins, it starts to eat into the points cushion that we have built up. While a gap of essentially five wins is still comfortable, the chasing pack can chip away at that every time we fail to pick up maximum points. We should also acknowledge our record-breaking defence (eight consecutive home clean sheets is simply phenomenal!) whose miserly performances have provided a solid base to our performances.
On the flip side of that, as other commenters have mentioned on various social media pages, if we take last season as a barometer, everyone’s “favourite vegan club” won the title with a points total of 84 (level with Exeter City). To reach that tally we would need to pick up 27 more points from our remaining 20 matches, a points per game average of 1.35. On the face of it that seems realistically achievable, assuming we don’t blow up in spectacular fashion. It is also fair to admit that we have faced some tough teams over recent weeks even if we have survived rather than prospered, although it does feel, to me at least, that we need to start putting teams away when we have the opportunity to do so.
Probably the least said about the game against Barrow the better, it was tense but far from being a classic tussle. The big surprise came when the teams were announced with new signing Ed Turns due to start the game, the Wales U-21 skipper’s loan move from Brighton having only been confirmed the previous day. To be fair to him it looked like it took a while for him to settle into the game, but once he did he looked very much like a composed defender.
With Archie and Aaron Drinan ruled out through injury, they were replaced by Ruel Sotiriou and Charlie Kelman with Smudge moving to the right. Once again we looked fairly toothless in attack and struggled to create too many meaningful opportunities. Perhaps the greatest attacking impetus on display came at the end of the first half when a fox ran onto the pitch and up the right wing, what is it with Brisbane Road and wildlife at this time of the year?
While the game was entertaining through its intensity, the frustration built as it started to become clear that we weren’t going to fashion the much-needed breakthrough or conjure another moment of magic as we had the previous week against Doncaster. For all the reasons outlined earlier, a draw isn’t the worst result in the world, however another suspension to a defender, this time Tom James after being shown two yellow cards, further depletes our options at the back ahead of a very big match at Stevenage.
After the match the gaffer reflected on a performance in which he felt “we weren’t bright enough…we played too slow…we weren’t crisp enough…we didn’t deserve to win the game.” When Dulcet Dave asked him if the lack of goals in recent matches was a cause for concern, Richie agreed: “It’s a worry”, although he also suggested that it just isn’t down to the strikers, but that we are also not being creative enough.
It does feel to me that sparking ourselves back into form from an attacking point of view might prove to be key to how we finish the season. Rather intriguingly as we chased a late winner Harry Smith was introduced to the fray for a fifteen minute cameo. Judging from his body language and approach it struck me that he looked determined to force his way back into the boss’ thinking.
Of course next up is that very important looking trip to Hertfordshire to face second-placed Stevenage. While through most of this piece I have expressed concern about our lack of goals, this feels like a game that we must not lose. Based on the experience of the recent home fixture and acknowledging the style of football we are likely to face from a Steve Evans’ side, it seems timely to have added another battle-hardened central defender in the form of Jamie McCart on loan from Rotherham.
Touching on the transfer window for a second, we have now added two central defenders, can we expect more new arrivals? In his post-match interview on Saturday, Richie suggested that we need another striker and that he was hoping to get a winger/ number 10 in given the injury concerns over Steven Duke-Mckenna and Theo Archibald. He also highlighted the fact that there has been a lot of movement from certain clubs in the division in terms of signings but that we had “been keeping our powder dry”. Quite what that will mean in terms of new arrivals remains to be seen.
For now, all we can do is to focus on the trip to Broadhall Way, hope the lads can put in a positive performance and pick up a decent result, then see how things are looking before we head up to the Wirral for another testing match next week.
Up the O’s