Probably for one of the only times this season, it is fair to say that Orient were poor against a struggling Colchester United last Saturday. To make matters worse, just when we thought we had somehow done about enough to scrape a victory, we then managed to throw it away by conceding two goals in the closing minutes of the game.
For me, we looked a bit off the pace right from the start of the match. There may have only been four changes to the line-up that had faced Swindon a fortnight previously: Darren Pratley replacing Craig Clay in the middle of the park, George Moncur coming into the number ten role with Ruel Sotiriou moving to the right in place of the injured Theo Archibald, and Paul Smyth replacing Kieran Sadlier on the left; but we just didn’t seem to have the same drive and impetus that we have been used to seeing from the side for the vast majority of this season.
In particular Idris El Mizouni was much less to the fore than we have seen him in recent weeks, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the deployment of Pratley alongside him may have stifled the Tunisian’s play to an extent? Also, while having the benefit of two weeks without a game after the Mansfield postponement may have seemed like a bonus, did the enforced break quash our momentum?
Speaking after the match Richie was forthright in his criticism saying: “I think if you look at the game, I’m happy with a point because we didn’t play well from the first minute, we [were] off it.” I completely get his disappointment, but also can’t help but wonder if the context of the situation in which we find ourselves, with the increased pressure of a promotion push and title race, might be getting to the players a little bit.
Several years back a certain Scottish manager infamously referred to this stage of the season as “squeaky bum time” and it certainly feels from a fans’ perspective that the intensity going into each game has been ramped up at least a notch or two, the players are only human and must be feeling it too. While complacency is too strong a word to use, having got ourselves a two goal lead did we then think that the job had already been done instead of keeping our concentration and seeing out the game? The fact that Colchester’s goals came in the 89th and 92nd minutes and were the result of sloppy, almost casual, play suggests an element of us switching off before the result was secure.
While on the face of it Carlisle and Stevenage sharing the points at Brunton Park meant that our six point lead at the top of the table remains intact, the feeling of frustration amongst the Orient faithful is very definitely growing. In fact, you could almost feel it in the air coming out of Brisbane Road on Saturday evening. It is almost as if we all feel confident in what this team might achieve, but a bit like a kid waiting for Christmas we are desperate for us to get there as quickly as possible.
In our discussions in the Supporters Club after the match, there seemed to be two distinct perspectives on what our recent results mean for our promotion and league title aspirations. On the one hand are those of us with the point of view that it is another game down and another step closer to what we all hope we can achieve, given that we still boast a healthy enough lead at the top of the table; on the other is the opinion that we have now drawn three games in a row that we could, and probably should, have won and as a result could have been six points better off and closer to where we want to be than we currently are.
Our current unbeaten run has now stretched to a total of 8 matches, but we have won 4 and drawn 4 of those, so I can fully understand why some fans are worried about us needlessly throwing points away. However, as the gaffer has said on several occasions, it is a long hard season and teams will have good runs and poor spells. We have seen it ourselves and those chasing us have experienced similar in recent weeks, the fact remains that with 10 games to go, just 4 wins would see us reach the 85 point mark which should be enough to secure promotion with, depending on the other teams’ results, another 2, possibly 3, victories needed to secure the title. We still have our destiny very much in our own hands, as Richie said to Dulcet: “I wouldn’t swap our position for anybody’s”.
Next up of course is the long trip to the North East to face Hartlepool. While the Monkey Hangers are languishing amongst the relegation places, we know all too well that trips like this are by no means a foregone conclusion. If somehow we can get back to doing the basics well, score a goal or two and make sure we are professional in the way we manage the game, it is a match that we are more than capable of winning. Another 3 points on the board would certainly do a lot to reassure the fans.
After that one, we are back in E10 to face Carlisle who after drawing at Bradford on Tuesday evening are 7 points behind us having played a game more. Obviously we can only take each game as it comes, but that is starting to feel like a very important match indeed.
Before signing off for this week, it would be completely remiss of me not to mention the “chants” by a minority of the visiting fans on Saturday. Personally, I am all for a bit of banter, it is part and parcel of being an away fan, and I realise that all clubs have a small minority of idiots, but there is a line that should exist between supporting your team and having a laugh, and being thoroughly disgusting. Hopefully Colchester will be able to identify those responsible and make sure they aren’t allowed to carry on like that ever again.
Up the O’s