21 January 2016

GUEST BLOG: Can Nolan reignite Orient's flame?

In this guest post, Andy Brown tries to make some sense of the madness consuming our club and asks: Can Kevin Nolan be the man to make sense of this all? 

For the second time this season, the chant of “We’re f**king bored” accompanied by the now familiar mobile phone flashlights echoed around the stadium after another lifeless performance against Exeter, a defeat that pushed Orient further into mid-table obscurity and ultimately cost Ian Hendon his job.

Irrespective of views on the chant, what it signified was how Orient have become stuck in a rut this season – in terms of player quality, tactics, style of play and overall performances.

After a phenomenal start of five wins in a row (despite shaky moments even in those opening five games), the club failed to recover from a 4-0 thrashing down at Exeter, and it was the return fixture that was to be Hendon’s undoing. 

Too many woeful performances, direct, long ball football, dire defending (as a team) and too many draws has seen real apathy set in down at Orient and the mood sour dramatically from the positivity of performances in August.

Hendon: Setup to Fail

In retrospect, it appears Hendon was setup to fail, irrespective of performances and results.

Rebuilding a club from scratch with a squad decimated by want-away and out of contract players following relegation, Hendon had to rebuild an entire team from scratch on a far more limited budget than his predecessor, Fabio Liverani. 

This limited budget also impacted the size of the squad and the appeal of joining the club in League 2 is also a challenge. Injuries to vital players such as Paul McCallum and Dean Cox clearly also limited options in the first team. 

Coupled with highly questionable tactics, results simply didn’t materialise and despite Jay Simpson’s 20 league goals (which merely prolonged the inevitable), Hendon was released on Monday 18 January.

The background to his appointment was many fans seeking a more experienced manager that would have a good understanding and ability to guide the club back out of League 2 at the first attempt. And although the appointment of Andy Hessenthaler as his assistant allayed some fears, it was clear that his appointment was not only a gamble, but in fairness to Ian Hendon, a task of Herculean proportions.

Bizarre Becchetti

Interference from the club hierarchy made this job even tougher. Following the televised defeat at Hartlepool, the players and management were bizarrely incarcerated in a hotel in Waltham Abbey for a week on Becchetti’s orders, while the president was fined £40,000 and charged with violent conduct by the FA after the Boxing Day win against Portsmouth for launching a kick at Hessenthaler.

All this has happened against a backdrop of uncertainty around Becchetti’s seizure of assets by the Albanian government and an arrest warrant issued on behalf of authorities in Albania. 

The Metropolitan Police’s extradition unit in London arrested Becchetti in connection with fraud and money laundering and released him on bail after a security of £50,000 was paid. He was placed under curfew between 11pm and 5am and had to give his passport to the police.

Come Train with Me
On 8 September 2015, Premier League veteran and former West Ham captain, Kevin Nolan turned up to train at Orient.

Ian Hendon said: “It is great to have such a model professional in Kevin at the club, and I am more than happy for Kevin to come in and train with the squad. It is good for our players to be training with a vastly experienced and talented Premier League midfielder."

Nolan spent three months training at Orient, on the pretence of getting fit for a new club, no doubt getting to know the set up. Hendon confirmed the club made a serious offer for Kevin Nolan, which was turned down towards the end of last year.

Et tu, Kevin?

My first reaction to Kevin Nolan signing as player manager was disbelief. It appeared pretty obvious that Hendon was blindsided while Nolan was training at the club and the speed with which the club named a successor seems to suggest an agreement was already in place. 

Moreover, it seems bizarre that Becchetti moving onto his sixth manager in 16 months, has once again opted from a young manager, only this time with absolutely no management or coaching experience whatsoever.

With a good number of experienced managers available, it seemed strange that Orient had once again gambled wildly on a player who was a leader on the pitch, but completely unproven in management.

Might it just work? 

The more consideration is given to the appointment, the more sense it makes in the context of Orient’s structure and hierarchy. Hear me out.

Becchetti is trying to shape the club hierarchy in the manner of a European football club. This means the trainer or first team “manager” is not responsible for any affairs beyond the immediate playing staff and tactics. 

Transfers and non-playing activities are typically handled by a manager or technical director. The role of a first team manager in British clubs is often broader and extends to what players they want to bring in etc.

Hiring an experienced manager would automatically create friction around roles and responsibilities. It is possible that Kevin Nolan is happy to purely focus on the playing staff and tactics, supported by an experienced assistant manager, who has yet to be officially confirmed.

In addition, the appointment appeases many fans, who have been frustrated by the lack of leadership on the pitch since the departure of key players like Vincelot and Cuthbert. Nolan will resolve those issues on the pitch and may be able to identify those who have the leadership potential that has been severely missing this season.

There is, of course, the possibility that at 33, Nolan makes little difference on the pitch and his lack of managerial experience means Orient continue to slide in League 2. Only time will really tell if this was an appointment of real wisdom (or luck) or sees us looking for manager number seven in under two years. 

As uncomfortable as the underhand nature of this appointment makes me feel, Nolan’s arrival may just lift the atmosphere and banish the chants of “We’re f**king bored”. Well, for the rest of this season, at least.

16 January 2016

Leyton Orient 1 Exeter City 3, 16/1/16

A game in which... it looked suspiciously like the Orient defence was in fact a huge practical joke being secretly filmed for season two of the Italian reality TV show. What else could explain their catastrophic ineptitude, except maybe that they were all signed, trained, selected and instructed by Ian Hendon?

It was a fitting final swan song for the now-sacked manager, in which he characteristically selected the wrong starting XI in the wrong formation with the wrong tactics then subsequently blamed all the players for getting it all so wrong. Under the current regime it's unlikely we'll do any better with a new gaffer, but we surely can't do any worse...

Jump off your seat moment... Two thoroughly undeserved penalties which Jay Simpson presumably missed on purpose as a way of hastening the manager's departure. Imagine where we'd be if Hendon hadn't been gifted Simpson and Cisak: that's right, in the Guinness Book of Records for Worst Goal Difference Ever In The History Of Football.

Give that man a medal... The aforementioned Alex Cisak prevented the score being 42-1 and has undoubtedly chained his agent up in a basement with a view to systematically torturing him over the course of the next 40 years as punishment for his cataclysmic error of judgement in bringing the Championship-standard keeper to Orient in the first place.

Taxi for... The entire squad apart from Simpson and Cisak. I mean, imagine if a tone deaf but inexplicably aggressive guinea pig was appointed to be the conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. You'd certainly be sympathetic to a drop in their usual standards of performance, but you'd still expect a bunch of professional musicians to at least be able to string a few notes together, regardless of the incompetence of their leader.

In the dug out... Really, Hendon was on a hiding to nothing serving under such a batshit mental regime. God only knows what lunacy goes on behind the scenes and it's unlikely Orient will ever achieve anything other than another relegation or two until that changes. On the other hand the manager didn't really do himself any favours by offering to fight fans; being so willing to blame anyone but himself for his shortcomings; and signing Connor Essam. I'm not saying he was out of his depth, but... *taps microphone* ... if Brisbane Road was a leisure centre he'd have been flailing around helplessly in the kids' pool while threatening the lifeguards for criticising his attempts at the doggy paddle.

Meanwhile on Twitter... Now, we're all well used to the official communication channels of Leyton Orient airbrushing and manipulating stories like a psychotic North Korean dictatorship. But few of us would have expected them to go as far as trying to alter the result of an actual real-life football match being witnessed by over 5,000 people and the TV cameras of Channel 5. But, by Christ they gave it their best shot on Twitter after Jay Simpson missed the first of his two penalties, posting "2-3 Game On". I look forward to them re-classifying the reign of Ian Hendon as nothing more than "banter"...

29 November 2015

Leyton Orient 1 AFC Wimbledon 1, 28/10/15

Two of Hendon's substitutes against Wimbledon
A game in which... Orient went 1-0 up and then Ian Hendon substituted off the whole team and replaced them with 11 local bricklayers with the specific task of swiftly walling up the goal. I'm joking, of course: Ian Hendon's substitutions actually made even less sense than that and the fact that the manager was so ready to batten down the hatches at home against an average AFC Wimbledon side – even before we went down to 10 men – shows either a total lack of ambition or total lack of tactical nous. I'm opting for both. 

Jump off your seat moment... The moment a West Stand fan quite literally did jump off his seat at the final whistle and throw a bit of run-of-the-mill, seen-it-a-thousand-times-at-a-football-match abuse at Ian Hendon. And what did the manager do? Think to himself that since fans pay their money, they're entitled to their opinion? Consider that though he disagreed with the sentiment he was a professional and should not respond? No, Ian Hendon actually came tearing back to the touchline shouting "You talking to me?" like a deranged coke-head who's seen Taxi Driver 4,328 times. He then suggested the fan come back to the dressing room and say it to his face, despite the fact the fan was already saying it to his face. Next week: Hendon puts the club chef's head in a vice as a Joe-Pesci-in-Casino-inspired lesson for serving slightly lukewarm tomato soup. 

Give that man a medal... Imagine where Orient would be without Jay Simpson? That's right, in the Guinness Book of Records for being the only club in world football history to have gotten 20 games into a season without scoring a single goal. The striker is the sole reason that Ian Hendon is able to brush aside the deep chasms of concern about Orient's on-field performances, point at the league table and blithely state "We're still in touching distance of the play-offs." 

Taxi for... Ian Hendon. Sometimes this season his tactical decision-making has been baffling, sometimes it's been bewildering, but today it was just batshit mental. Ironically, it seemed that the manager had accidentally stumbled across a central defensive partnership that was actually holding firm in loanees Cole Kpekawa and the impressive Jean-Yves M'Voto. But then, with a one-goal lead and 35 minutes to go he elected to go 5-3-2 and bring on Mathieu Baudry wearing a sign around his neck that stated: "Hey, Wimbledon, I know you haven't had a single shot on target yet but why not just attack us for the rest of the game and see if you can do any better." 

In the dug out... Have I mentioned Ian Hendon's performance today? Well, the delights don't end there, for once Orient went down to 10 men the manager felt the best policy was to sit eight players in front of Alex Cisak and then hoof the ball long to a lone target man in the hope of hitting Wimbledon on the break. So naturally the lone target man he chose was winger Blair Turgott, who is well known for his heading, strength and ability to hold the ball up. This tactical ruse precipitated such relentless Wimbledon attacks that at one point their goalkeeper Ben Wilson was able to sweep up the ball in Orient's half

Meanwhile on Twitter... "The problem with Ian Hendon being 'one of our own'" wrote fan Laurie Hann as he hit a nail on the head with a hammer, "is that we are consistently shit." 

07 November 2015

FA Cup: Leyton Orient 6 Staines Town 1, 7/11/15

A game in which... Orient and Ian Hendon proved a point. The point was that if we're playing in the Ryman Premier League in the 2018/19 season we'll probably fare reasonably well. Just kidding, no one can complain about a 6-1 victory, but I'm not sure it tells us much about the Os' prospects for the rest of the league season. As for the opposition, I'm contractually obliged to make a reference to Ali G, so let's just say big up the Staines massive for their commitment to playing attractive, passing football, despite the scoreline.

Jump off your seat moment... Now, we all know Dean Cox likes to be the big fish in a little pond, but today he must have felt like a humpback whale in a puddle such was the ease in which he slotted his 30-yard free kick into the top corner of Staines' goal.

Give that man a medal... Today saw a blistering substitute performance from Scott Kashket and proof twice over that – contrary to recent evidence – Ollie Palmer is not biologically incapable of placing a ball into an empty net. But man of the match has to be Frazer Shaw, who was faultless in defence, penetrating in attack and set up two of the goals. What a way to mark his return to the starting XI.

Taxi for... Lloyd James. What a way not to mark his return to the starting XI: he misfired passes, repeatedly got caught in possession and missed one chance that was such a sitter it was actually delivered to him via Furniture Village.

In the dug out... Was Ian Hendon resting first choice players or were these his new first choice players? Has the diamond been ditched for good or was 4-4-2 simply the order of the day against Staines? Would James and Payne really play together in central midfield in a league match? No one knows the answer to these questions, least of all Ian Hendon.

Meanwhile on Twitter... Not only is Orient president Francesco Becchetti wanted by the Albanian authorities for fraud and money-laundering, but he's also under curfew until a hearing on 7 December. It's not all bad news though, because fan Fred Nathan has some friendly advice: "If I was him, I'd negotiate so he could be locked in his house at 3pm most Saturdays."

01 November 2015

Leyton Orient 0 Accrington Stanley 1, 31/10/15

A game in which... the entire Orient team scooped out their own brains with a spoon and placed candles inside their empty skulls in an apparent attempt to give Accrington a Halloween scare. It didn't work: the visitors needed no tricks and treated themselves to the easiest three points they're likely to get all season.

With ghastly defending, horrific attacking and an eerie absence of tactics, this was a bloodcurdling performance from Ian Hendon's team. Yes, the league table says we're still in the play-off places, but 11 points in the last 11 games paints a truer picture of the scale of our gruesome predicament.

Jump off your seat moment... Orient had one clear-cut chance in the entire game. One. Tragically that chance fell to Connor Essam, who would likely not score a goal were he to play football infinitely in a time-space continuum. Now, I'm not saying Essam has a head like a 50p piece, because that would be a hideous slur on a 50p piece, which can theoretically only spin a ball off in one of seven random directions. But there really is little point in the defender coming up for corners if – like today – he can't convert into an open net from two yards.

Essam and Baudry 
Give that man a medal... Dean Cox had to spend only another pointless 30 minutes or so on Ian Hendon's naughty step before the manager introduced him to the pitch, albeit bizarrely in place of the one player – John Marquis – who'd looked vaguely effective in the opening salvos of the game. And, God knows, once there the winger tried his little heart out, but must have felt like he'd arrived late at a Halloween party at which all his friends were taking their zombie costumes a bit too literally.

Taxi for... "Bradley Pritchard is a central midfielder and that's where he'll play," lied Ian Hendon at the start of the season before repeatedly sticking the former Charlton man out on the right where – as numerous former Orient managers have discovered and yet bizarrely ignored – he is utterly ineffective. The gaffer has now tried 4,567 different formations in his 18 games in charge, all of which contain both Pritchard and his footballing doppelgänger Sammy Moore in one guise or another. Unless Hendon knows of some ancient curse that says the hounds of hell will be unleashed on Brisbane Road should the pair ever be separated, it might be an idea to try dropping one of them.

In the dug out... Now, I am not suggesting that Ian Hendon should be sacked. (Though Becchetti pulled the trigger on Russell Slade for a run of results far less damaging than the current one.) But it would be helpful if the manager could give fans the slightest sense that he actually knows what he's doing rather than reverting to Liverani-esque behaviour such as inexplicably dropping star performers; publicly blaming his players in post-match press conferences; and double training sessions. What next: "Big house in the box"? The return of Gianvito Plasmati?

Meanwhile on Facebook... It's half-time and you're enjoying a Brisbane Road burger (ok, stay with me on this, you're going to have to use a bit of imagination). You need a little sit down, and where better to do it than the opposition dug out, as the fan in this video proves. Minutes later a pair of ever-vigilant stewards intervene, although should the interloper have chosen the home dug out they probably wouldn't have bothered. Tactically he may have done a better job than Ian Hendon in the second half...

17 October 2015

Leyton Orient 2 Oxford United 2, 17/10/15

A game in which... Orient's first half performance wasn't just dire, it was a stain on the whole of human history, like the Crusades, the Black Death or Amanda Holden. In fact, it was worse than that: it was a display of Fabio Liverani-esque ineptitude. That the Os rallied in the second half, showed some fight and came away with a point should be commended, but let that not paper over the cracks. Seven points from our last eight games is relegation form.

Jump off your seat moment... A first senior goal for youngster Scott Kashket, who was just a twinkle in his father's eye when Orient last played Oxford in League Two, nine years ago. He won the man of the match award in the Supporters Club too – quite something given he was only on the pitch for 43 seconds – and was soaked in Champagne by Mr Becchetti for his troubles. What's the president going to do if Kashket actually wins us a match one day – piss on him?

Give that man a medal... Ollie Palmer continues to confound. Put him in the starting line up and he trudges up and down like an ageing donkey giving sporadic rides to doleful toddlers in a faded seaside town. Bring him on at half time – as Ian Hendon did today – and he's a thoroughbred racehorse, all rippling muscles and lustrous hair. What I'm saying here by way of equestrian analogy is that he won a lot of headers and generally managed to point them in the right direction.

Taxi for... Plenty of candidates for this one today, including woeful performances from Dean Cox and Blair Turgott, but let's instead point the finger of shame at Mathieu Baudry. Today, not content with just a bandage on his head, he also added a Petr Cech-style protector. Next week he'll also include a sombrero and by the end of the season will play each game in the guise of an overloaded hatstand at a low-rent department store. I say this because presumably all this headgear is obscuring his vision: why else would have he simply planted the ball in front of Kemar Roofe for Oxford's first goal, then randomly scattergunned the ball around for the rest of the match?

In the dugout... Imagine this: you've gone into hospital for a routine wisdom teeth removal
operation, and during it the surgeon inadvertently severs your jugular vein, but then just about manages to sew it up again before you die from massive blood loss. Would you praise him for saving your life, or chastise him for almost killing you in the first place? Today Ian Hendon was that surgeon, making a catastrophic error in his team selection (4-4-2 but with no Payne or James?!) but then atoning for his error with some bold half-time substitutions.

Meanwhile on Twitter... When he's not spraying people with Champagne or allegedly laundering money through failed Albanian hydro-electric schemes, what does our esteemed president get up to? That's right, he leers out of car windows like a maniac – or, as TLC might say, hangs out the passenger side of his best friend's ride, trying to holler at Orient fan Billy Herring.

03 October 2015

Leyton Orient 3 Notts County 1, 3/10/15

A game in which... the entire Orient team remained locked in the dressing room for a full 30 minutes of the second half. And while Andy Hessenthaler tried unsuccessfully to pick the lock with his credit card ("Leave this to me lads, I saw it in a film") and Connor Essam sat in the corner weeping like a baby ("My sisters used to barricade me in a cupboard, ok") Notts County simply waltzed around the pitch unencumbered by opposition players.

Thankfully they only managed to score once during that time, and when Orient eventually broke free from their temporary prison, a poacher's effort from Jay Simpson and a belter from Sammy Moore allowed them to take all three points. A win – hurrah! – and a just-about deserved one after an impressive first half.

Jump off your seat moment... Only one candidate here: that's right, the moment when Ian Hendon killed a plummeting ball stone dead on the touchline almost if he didn't used to be a lower league journeyman. Just kidding, of course we must hail Sammy Moore's wonder-goal, a shot that dipped and swerved so much it was almost if he just booted it and got lucky. Jesus, just kidding again.

Sammy Moore in action today 
Give that man a medal... Sammy Moore. Because aside from his thunder-strike, he also volleyed in a sublime Bradley Pritchard dink – yeah, you heard – and put in a performance so industrious that Jeremy Corbyn is currently trying to renationalise it.

Taxi for... It was an improved performance from Ollie Palmer after Tuesday's catastrophe, but the big striker still left fans scratching their heads – and not just because there's been an outbreak of nits at Brisbane Road in the last week after resident practical joker Paul McCallum hid everyone's shampoo in Alessandro Angelieri's in-tray. Palmer's a decent player, for sure, but he needs to start putting away some of his chances or he'll soon be replaced by... Oh, hang on, there isn't anyone.

In the dug out... With the squad at its current size, it's little surprise that Ian Hendon's tactics are to simply play the 11 senior players he has available to him in a diamond formation and then bring on Blair Turgott with 30 minutes to go. (Notts County, by contrast, have about 96 players available for selection.) With the loanee additions that the manager promises are coming this week, he should be able to radically shake things up. Expect, for example, Blair Turgott to sometimes come on with just 25 minutes to go next time.

Mathieu Baudry in action today 
Meanwhile on Twitter... "No footballer has ever loved a head bandage as much as Mathieu Baudry,"tweeted fan James McMahon today in response to the fact that the French defender ended up swathed like an Egyptian mummy for the 476th game in succession. His latest head injury is so bad it requires plastic surgery, prompting a sympathetic tweet from Aussie larrikin Alex Cisak: "It's not like his looks can get any worse!" What a drongo.
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