Orient headed up to the Wirral last Saturday very much in need of a positive result to give us all a boost. Instead, what we got was another inhibited performance in which we failed to register so much as a single shot on target for the second match in succession.
The current seven match run in which we have managed just one win and a solitary goal has unquestionably, and very evidently, dented the belief and confidence of the players, but has also punctured the feelgood factor amongst the O’s faithful. The 2-0 win over Sutton United in the middle of December feels like a very long time ago indeed!
It isn’t as if we have been battered by much stronger teams in the games we have lost, it just feels that where we had earlier in the season been finding ways to win, currently that ability seems to have completely deserted us.
As we walked out of Prenton Park after the match, there was quite a lot of anger and vitriol aimed at the players and coaching staff from a small minority of the travelling fans. I get the frustration as we are clearly playing below the level that we have shown we are capable of, but the players haven’t suddenly become poor overnight.
We have undoubtedly been impacted by injury and suspension in recent weeks, most notably Paul Smyth who once again pulled up with a seemingly lingering injury in the pre-match warm-up. Remove him from the equation and it is difficult to see where the goals are likely to come from.
As regular readers will know, it has been a major source of concern for me since the very start of the season that this team simply hasn’t been scoring enough goals. It gives me no pleasure to confirm that without Smudge doing the business, or the occasional worldie from the likes of Tom James or Theo Archibald, we look utterly toothless. Did anyone watching Saturday’s performance really believe we were going to make a breakthrough? The fact that our best effort was a header from Harry Smith that looped back off the crossbar late on tells you all you need to know about our attacking creativity, or indeed lack thereof.
Perhaps that is where the crux of our current struggles rest: where in the first half of the campaign we surprised teams with the quality and tempo of our football, have teams now worked out how to play against us? If they set up to sit deep and aim to be hard to beat, we invariably struggle to open them up.
To further compound our lack of attacking impetus, the enforced changes at the back have resulted in us giving away goals more cheaply than we had been, Omar’s own goal against Tranmere being very much a case in point. We can only hope that once we get back to a settled back four with El Mizouni, or perhaps Lyden, screening just in front, our rear-guard will tighten up again.
Speaking after Saturday’s game the gaffer summarised the performance as: “a bit bitty at times, at times a little bit of lack of confidence, especially when we passed back[wards] too many times when we got into good situations…we’re just not moving well with the ball at the moment,” from what we all witnessed it is difficult to disagree with that assessment.
While our recent run has been tough to endure, although of course nowhere near as bad as the 15-match run without a win this time last year, it isn’t time to give up hope just yet. To try to put things into some sort of perspective: we are still just about top of the league, although should Stevenage win either of their games in hand we will be knocked off our perch, most importantly we still have an 8 point cushion between ourselves and fourth place. Yes the gap was much bigger just a little while ago, but a gap remains nonetheless.
Of course next up is a tough-looking encounter with AFC Wimbledon, who for me very much showed the rest of the league how to frustrate us back in November. Given our recent struggles against the more robust and physical sides it would be easy to suggest that this is far from an ideal opposition for us to face. However, if we regroup and go again and somehow manage to grind out a win, then overcoming such a challenge might give us the boost in confidence that we so badly need. To get anything out of the match whatsoever though we are going to need to show more of a streetwise attitude and be much more up for the fight than we were at their place.
Following immediately after that match, on Tuesday evening is the rearranged trip to Crewe, a team currently sitting 16th in the table with just 1 win in their last 5 matches and only 7 this season. If we can get positive results and some more points on the board in our next two games then things will start to feel a whole lot brighter for all of us.
The other major current Orient talking point has been our activity in the January transfer window in which we made 4 additions to the squad. Speaking in an interview with the Orient Hour (https://www.phoenixfm.com/2023/02/01/orient-hour-extra-special-interview-martin-ling/) just after deadline day, Director of Football Martin Ling suggested that our targets had to be hastily revised when we lost 3 centre backs in the match at Northampton which meant we couldn’t bring in the additional forward/striker that we were perhaps intending to.
While it is very difficult to judge players based on the small amount of playing time we have seen from them so far, we have to trust the powers that be at the club with Richie assuring us that the board has backed him, and Ling saying that they secured the players that Richie had identified that would add something to the squad. We can only hope that all the new arrivals can contribute, help us to get back to winning ways and drive us towards our ultimate goal of promotion to League 1.
First and foremost though the focus has to be on Wimbledon, a team I personally feel we owe one to. It is very unlikely to be pretty but let’s hope that lessons have been learned.
Up the O’s