Going into the Easter weekend and the usual schedule of two matches in quick succession, there can’t have been too many Orient fans that wouldn’t have accepted 4 points out of 6 as being a decent return. However, the fact that we followed up the fairly comprehensive win over Salford City at their place by letting a 2-0 half-time lead slip against a struggling Harrogate Town at Brisbane Road, might have taken the sheen off things a tiny bit.
I completely get that it could have been even better if we hadn’t allowed Harrogate back into the game, but as we have been saying for a few weeks now: our results need to be taken within the context of our position in the table and how close we are getting to reaching our ultimate target of promotion to League 1 and (hopefully) the league title.
The game at Moor Lane on Good Friday looked a stern test for our high-flying O’s given that the Ammies were nestled in the final play-off spot and that we had never previously won there, albeit from just four previous appearances. The only change to the line-up from the previous week’s victory over Carlisle United was Ruel Sotiriou being chosen to the play the central attacking role in the absence of the suspended Charlie Kelman and the injured Aaron Drinan.
Whether it was that enforced alteration to the established line-up, or just a case of things clicking back into gear from an attacking point of view, but we looked like we really meant business right from the kick-off. As we had seen in our previous match, the opposition’s approach in trying to play football against us suited us and we were able to play our football the way we wanted.
We made all the early running and could have taken the lead earlier with efforts from Paul Smyth and Ruel Sotiriou, as well as a decent appeal for a penalty when George Moncur seemed to have his ankles clipped while in a threatening position. When the opening goal was rifled home by Sotiriou after an alert pull back from Kieran Sadlier, it was thoroughly deserved. To then follow that up with a second through a sweeping attacking move that was slotted home by Moncs, capped off a hugely impressive first half of football away from home against a team with play-off ambitions themselves.
We may have had to weather a few lively spells in the second half with Rob Hunt in particular producing some stunning last gasp interventions, and perhaps should have increased our goal tally, but we saw the game out well for another very welcome result.
Speaking after Friday’s game, Richie made no pretence of hiding his emotions at beating a team that he undoubtedly feels never really gave him a chance (Salford’s loss being very much our gain and all that!), but he also praised his own players describing them as: “different class”.
Against Harrogate on Easter Monday, in some very typical British spring-like weather, we carried on in very much the same vein as we had played up in Greater Manchester. That man Ruel Sotiriou opening the scoring after just 9 minutes: latching onto a loose ball, driving through the middle and wrongfooting his opponent before slotting home. When Sotiriou made it 2-0 ten minutes before the break, this time turning home Paul Smyth’s cross from the right at the near post, we really should have been home and hosed.
However, whether it was fatigue, a dropping in our levels, or Harrogate, who were desperate for the points of course, upping their efforts, we allowed them back into the game too easily thanks to two goals in three minutes early in the second half. For me both goals had an air of sloppiness about them, and while they may have been avoidable, these things happen in football and I for one am finding it hard to get too down about things.
That is 7 points out of the last 9 and our unbeaten run extended to 12 matches, and the gap to fourth place now stands at 11 points with us having game in hand. As some have started to say (Dulcet Dave in particular), and of course without wanting to jinx things, it is starting to feel like a case of when and where we will secure promotion, rather than if.
Next up of course is a trip to the southern outskirts of London/ Surrey to face Sutton United who are probably too far adrift to make the play-off places, while Carlisle are at home to Northampton. After that we are at Gillingham on Tuesday evening whilst Carlisle host Stockport, could either of those rounds of fixtures prove decisive in securing third tier football for next season? If so, with sold out away ends at both, there could be some party after either of those matches.
Before signing off for this week, it would be remiss of me not to comment on Ruel Sotiriou’s performances playing through the middle and scoring 3 goals in 2 games, which reminded us that when he is on form he has a real finisher’s instinct, arguably more so than either Kelman or Drinan, and as he has proven previously is capable of finding the back of the net. Whether Richie sees his longer term future in that role remains to be seen, however if he can continue to apply himself as he did over the long weekend, then he gives us an additional option in the central striking role at least for the final weeks of the season.
Up the O’s