Another Saturday and another two points dropped, as Orient once again failed to capitalise on a winning position. It put me in mind of that old joke about why we shouldn’t trust the squad to walk anyone’s dog as they simply cannot hold onto a lead!
Once again Stevenage and Carlisle conspired to lose their respective matches, and even though Northampton won it felt like another opportunity to pad our lead at the top of the table squandered.
The draw at Victoria Park extended our unbeaten run to nine matches, but the fact that five of those games have been draws (or ten points thrown away from a glass-half-empty perspective!), four of which have come in consecutive matches, probably explains why an increasing number of Orient fans are starting to get a little bit twitchy as we progress through the run-in. So where is it not going right for the O’s?
Speaking after the match the gaffer reflected on a familiar theme, after being asked by Dulcet Dave whether it felt like a sense of déjà vu only picking up a point from a winning position again, he responded: “Yeh but we should have been out of sight, we should have been two or three up,” speaking about their goal he suggested: “It’s a bad mistake obviously, we should deal with it down in the left hand corner.” There you have the perfect summation of Orient’s performances over recent weeks: we should have been comfortable but in the end the sloppy concession of a goal let us down.
I have been concerned all season that we haven’t been scoring enough goals for a team that is leading the way and has performed as well as we have for the majority of the season. That issue has been exacerbated by the fact that recently we seem to have developed the very unwelcome habit of conceding goals, especially late goals, and we simply haven’t been able to respond.
In the last three draws the opposition equalizers have come in the 64th minute, added time after conceding the first goal in the 89th minute, and the 81st minute. The easy suggestion would be that we are taking our foot off the gas rather than seeing the game out properly, but I can’t help but wonder if the pressure of the situation might be getting to the players, just as it most definitely is the fans.
Equally, in recent matches there seems to have been a lack of certainty over what our best line-up in terms of starting eleven and most effective substitutions is. Aaron Drinan’s performances in the last two matches have been the very epitome of a forward in desperate need of a goal, although whether that will come before the end of the season is anyone’s guess. While Richie stuck to the same three behind Drinan, albeit with Paul Smyth and Ruel Sotiriou switching flanks at Hartlepool, the only threat we truly seemed to carry came from the mercurial Northern Irishman down the right hand side.
Over the last couple of weeks in particular, the goals we have conceded have come after Richie has made a number of subs. While I am sure the gaffer has his reasons for the changes in personnel and the timing of them, I am still not 100% sure how we ended up with Jamie McCart in the left back spot that led to the goal on Saturday, even though it was Ed Turns’ error that opened up the chance in the first place. It feels almost as if the gaffer’s motivation is trying to give minutes to as many players as possible rather than making purely tactical changes or leaving players on when they are performing competently enough. It almost feels as if the January signings, as necessary as they undoubtedly were, have resulted in us having too many players to choose from now that we have established players returning to fitness.
Still, all is not lost. As I seem to find myself writing on a weekly basis at the moment, our destiny still remains in our hands, and if we can get back to winning ways, and very soon, I think we will all start to feel a bit better about our automatic promotion and league title prospects.
Battles at the top of the table always intensify the reactions of us supporters as we are just so desperate for the boys to achieve what we all believe they are capable of. Every time we don’t pick up maximum points we start to fret that we are going to blow it. While this is common amongst the fans of all teams, pessimism, and a fear that it will all fall apart seem to be something that are particularly prevalent amongst the Orient faithful, yours truly most definitely included!
Next up of course is what feels like an absolutely pivotal round of fixtures as we host fourth-placed Carlisle, while second-placed Northampton face third-placed Stevenage at Sixfields. If we can somehow find a way to win our game while at least one of the other two drop points, that would be a huge boost to our confidence. While a draw would still largely be survivable, a defeat with a victory for either of the other two would start to ramp up the pressure on us even further ahead of the final eight games of the campaign.
While there was a smattering of frustration amongst the travelling support after the final whistle last Saturday, once many of us started to congregate at the station for the one direct train back to London just under an hour later, something magical happened: a spontaneous and truly heartfelt singsong broke out. It felt almost defiant, a recognition if you will that we might be doing it tough at the moment but there is still every reason to keep the faith. This has been one of the best seasons in Orient’s entire history, we just need the lads to finish the job and to take us to the promised land of League 1. As supporters we need to do our bit and show the players that not only have we thoroughly enjoyed the season so far, but also that we are with them every step of the way.
Up the O’s