20 February 2011

FA Cup: Leyton Orient 1 Arsenal 1, 20/2/11

The build-up
As befits one of the biggest games at Brisbane Road for many years, the club did everything in its power to try and hype up the atmosphere before kick off. Essentially this involved letting off about 50 balloons and getting a few girls from Faces Nightclub, Gants Hill, to stand around in their pants. But no matter - today the entertainment was going to be provided by the football. Or more likely, by Arsenal.

The first half
Orient, it has to be said, began the game as nervously as a thirtysomething buying a Justin Bieber CD. Still, you can hardly blame them for the odd misplaced pass under the circumstances. And while losing the ball to an Arsenal player is like asking Richard Madeley to keep an eye on your shopping - that is, you ain't going to see it again for a while - the defence held heroically firm. This was helped in no small part by the fact that Nicolas Bendtner has apparently been taking shooting lessons off of Adrien Patulea.

The second half
Better from the Os - they were more composed and created a number of chances, especially in a neat little spell of pressure after the Arsenal goal. The stats might say that the Gunners completed almost 4 billion passes to Orient's 17, but simply knocking a ball from player to player isn't a measure of success - otherwise Ryan Jarvis's half-time kickabouts would be the stuff of legend. Anyway, Arsenal of course had chances, but there were relatively few heart in mouth moments. Then this happened...

The moment when the roof came off
There have been some great moments at Brisbane Road over the years - I won't list them all as I don't have a spare 15 seconds - but Jonathan Tehoue's masterful late goal is one that's set to live long in the memories of Os fans. Not so much a super sub, more a highly advanced thermo-nuclear watercraft.

Who played well?
Ok, we just drew with Arsenal. Everyone in an Os shirt is a hero. Special mentions should go to Stephen Dawson, whose performance was so industrious it could have provided the power for a small village in Essex. Jamie Jones was commanding; Charlie Daniels indefatigable; Jimmy Smith energetic and Ben Chorley immense. Andrey Arshavin, meanwhile, was presumably so put off his game by the incredible likeness of Andrew Whing to Max from EastEnders that he fluffed Arsenal's big chance to go 2-0 up towards the end of the game.

Moment to savour
Dean Cox marking Nicolas Bendtner at a throw-in. Bendtner had him in his pocket. Literally.

Going to Wembley?
Of course not, but this season has been a real joy for Os fans and only a fool - Robbie Savage, for example - would bet against the team making a late bid for the play-offs. Hats off to you, fellas.

19 February 2011

Seven things Arsenal need to watch out for against Leyton Orient

Today is likely to be the most exciting day in east London since Danny Dyer decided to move out to Essex. Yes, it's Leyton Orient v Arsenal, a repeat of the 1978 FA Cup semi-final and a chance for the Os to exact revenge on the Gunners for being much, much better than them on that fateful day and throughout their entire history.

All known logic points towards a heavy Arsenal victory, but then again all known logic also suggests that Olly Murs should not be able to eke out a living as a pop star, yet he does. In other words, you never know - and if Orient play out of their skins and Arsene Wenger decides to give valuable experience to the Arsenal under-11 side, then the Os could well keep the margin of defeat down to just four or five goals.

Here, then, are the seven things that Arsenal need to be wary of:

1. Dean Cox

Yes, the Arsenal defence might have stopped Lionel Messi scoring midweek, but it's unlikely they've had to deal with a 4ft 7in winger hiding behind a corner flag and then popping out to headbutt someone in the knee. Already this season the man they call 'Tiny' has scored seven goals and made 15 assists - and that's one more than a certain Cesc Fabregas has made over the same period.

2. The food

As anyone who's ever eaten a burger at Brisbane Road (and lived) can testify, food isn't one of Orient's strong points. Should the Arsenal team decide to indulge in any pre-match nourishment at the stadium, then it's likely that Theo Walcott won't be the only player with the driving runs.

3. Jimmy Smith

Previously a player so bland that he was once asked to endorse a new brand of mild tofu, the midfielder has recently turned himself into a formidable goal machine. If he can get his head on the end of a few crosses he may well accidentally skew one of them into the net.

4. Orient's 'two-ball' trick

Unlike at proper clubs, the Leyton Orient crowd delight in throwing one ball back on to the pitch just as play has restarted with another. And while Arsenal might be all big and clever with one ball, they're probably less used to defending against two, which could play to Orient's advantage.

5. Jamie Jones

All of Orient's goalkeepers throughout their entire history have had a pronounced weak spot. Ashley Bayes's was his inability to collect crosses; Glenn Morris's was his kicking; Stuart Nelson's was his madness; Peter Shilton's was his obesity; and Mervyn Day's was, you know, saving stuff. Not Jamie Jones, though - a hero between the sticks and a player who might just be able to prevent Arsenal scoring more than seven.

6. The manager

Arsene Wenger may be a master tactician, but could he devise a sound defensive strategy if he was forced to play Elliott Omozusi at centre-back? Probably not. Big Russell Slade, on the other hand, has tranformed Orient into a delightful, ball-playing team who've lost just once in the last 20 games and who keep defying the traditions of the club by winning games by more than a one-goal margin.

7. The celebrity fans

Arsenal may claim Prince Harry, Piers Morgan, Jay-Z and Dido as supporters, but can their team be inspired by the man who wrote the moving and historically accurate musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat? I think not. Yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber will be cheering on the Os on Sunday and hoping, like me, that any dream will do.

12 February 2011

Leyton Orient 4 Bristol Rovers 1, 12/2/11

A game in which... Orient continued a run that is now so impressive, it could probably beat Paula Radcliffe in a race - and without the need to take a piss halfway through either. Let's not worry that Bristol Rovers had the better of the second half, for Orient did what good teams are supposed to do: they absorbed the pressure and hit back. It really has been some time since the Os have played with such confidence and, unusually, we are actually winning games by more than a single-goal margin. (Note: even in the promotion season of 2005/06 this only happened on six occasions.)

Moment to savour... Russell Slade was obviously so confident of victory towards the end of the game that he generously gave a run out to the winner of the half-time schoolboys' penalty competition, 11-year-old Tom Carroll. I'm not saying that the Spurs loanee looks young, but when he gets home his mum's going to be furious that he's got mud all over his new red shorts.

Head in hands moment... When Jamie Jones went down with what initially looked like a serious injury. Even the most ill-informed of TV pundits - let's say Robbie Savage, for example - could work out that Orient's goalkeeper is going to be pretty busy against Arsenal next Sunday, so we need our number one between the sticks.

King for a day... It's easy to mock Jimmy Smith. I know, I've been doing it all season. But I have to concede that the ex-Chelsea man has got better and better to the point that he's now become a critical part of the Orient team. Today he put in another energetic and effective shift and nodded the Os 1-0 up with well-directed glancing header. Albeit only after seconds after he'd managed to skew a much easier chance straight back to the corner flag.

Boo boy... Absolutely no one, though the Revmeister did manage to defy all known physical laws of the universe in the build-up to the fourth goal by missing an open net from approximately six millimetres out. Thankfully Harry Kane spared his blushes by putting the ball away for him.

In the dug out... Orient, according to assistant boss Kevin Nugent, "hate getting beaten". Which is surely something of a minimum requirement for professional footballers? But then again he and boss Russell Slade are clearly doing something right - and can claim credit for sending on double-goalscorer Harry Kane at just the right moment.

What would Martin Ling have done? Used the post-match press conference to talk about the battle for places in the starting eleven for the forthcoming FA Cup tie against Arsenal. "At this point every position is up for grabs," he'd state, before going on to send out a team containing Brian Saah, Loick Pires and Derek Duncan.

Play-offs? Five points off the play-offs with a game in hand. Can Orient make it? Well, stranger things have happened in the world. (Well, only one stranger thing to be fair, and that was Gazza turning up to offer renegade nut job Raoul Moat a fishing rod and some chicken.) Still, Orient are in formidable form and the only way is up. Or down, I suppose.

08 February 2011

Leyton Orient 3 Swindon Town 0, 8/2/11

A game in which... Orient were coasting so much it was almost as if they were simply circumnavigating Cornwall, albeit with less danger of being attacked by a scrumpy-fuelled local married to his own sister. Make no mistake, this is a team in formidable form. Over the last few seasons Orient have frequently managed to raise their game against the better sides, only to come undone against the division's lesser lights. Not any more: this was an efficient dismantling of a lacklustre opposition that was done and dusted after just 30 minutes.

Moment to savour... Scotty McGleish's legs have done their fare share of chasing hopeful balls punted upfield by clumping defenders over the years (well, he did play for Barnet), but tonight there was still enough life in them to scamper to the byline in the second half and execute a deft back heel to Dean Cox.

Head in hands moment... Big Russ electing to pass on a set of detailed instructions to Jonathan Tehoue ("Stop falling over") while the ball was still in play, then bollocking the striker for not closing down the defender.

King for a day... Hard to single out one individual in a fine team performance, but let's take this opportunity to sing the praises of another fautless display by Jamie Jones. It's not often that Orient have had a keeper worthy of a song (though Lil Wayne's Drop The World may have been an appropriate soundtrack to the handling ability of Mervyn Day) but the Scouser got a little ditty out of the South Stand tonight and continues to impress.

Boo boy... No one on the pitch, that's for sure, but - in a departure from the normal conventions of fan behaviour - the South Stand began abusing us supporters in the West Stand just because we're taking part in a season-long sponsored silence for charity. Anyway, we're saving our voices for the Arsenal game, when we're fully planning to shout a couple of words of encouragement when the team takes to the pitch, and cheer a bit if we score.

In the dug out... Big Russ started with what he seems to regard as his strongest starting 11 and, once again, got it spot on. It's also great to see that, unlike many previous seasons, we've got real options on the bench, along with Ryan Jarvis too.

What would Martin Ling have done? Claimed that the result proved that he and his team aren't distracted by the forthcoming FA Cup tie with Arsenal. "I'm arshavin none of this talk of distraction," he'd say. "Persie-nally speaking, I think it's just a tired old clichy."

Going down? Absolutely not. Although we have to accept that Swindon showed about as much inspiration as a casting director claiming, "I know just the man for this action role: Jason Statham", this was the performance of an Os team who are looking up the table, not down.

05 February 2011

"Then we all got hammered... " - Tony Grealish on Orient v Arsenal, FA Cup semi-final 1978

A few years ago I had the pleasure of speaking to Tony Grealish about his time at Orient. The London-born Irish international made 195 appearances for Orient between 1974-79 and was a vital component in the team that reached the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal in 1978.

In advance of the forthcoming FA Cup tie against Arsenal, here's what Tony had to say about that semi-final of 33 years ago, a game Orient eventually lost 3-0, thanks to two deflected goals by Malcolm McDonald and another by Graham Rix.

“I remember watching the draw for the semi-finals. Bloody hell, we were the bottom of the barrel so it didn’t matter who we played. But Arsenal, that was a humdinger.

"In the week leading up to the game, I just couldn’t wait to get out there. I couldn’t sleep. Everyone wanted to take a picture of us. We’d go to training and there’d be six or seven television crews there. It was massive. Even when I went for a game of golf people would be taking photos. Good thing was you’d often get a free Indian out of it or something. Peter Kitchen, in particular, was always scrounging something out of everyone. Typical northerner.

"Unfortunately it had affected our league form. In the bread-and-butter games, the ones that put bums on seats, we weren’t performing. You’re not supposed to be distracted as a professional player, but for some reason we couldn’t reproduce the performances from the FA Cup in the league. You go from playing in front of 40,000 people to going to Rotherham or something with people eating fish and chips in your face. It’s a bit of a comedown.

"To be honest, I didn’t think we could beat Arsenal in the semi-final. We’d ridden our luck to get that far and at times you’d think, maybe we do have a chance. But then realistically you think there’s no way on God’s Earth. If you looked at the players in the Arsenal team, well, you just had to hope it wouldn’t be an embarrassment. I know this sounds terrible now, but I thought if we could get through the game, it would be a bloody miracle. But then I just thought, who gives a shit? Let’s go out and have a blast and see what happens.

"I wasn’t too nervous before the match itself. I was excited and just wanted to get out there – my adrenalin was pumping. Jimmy Bloomfield [Orient’s manager at the time] always told me to express myself. That sunk into my brain. Be confident and express yourself.

"I had to man-mark Liam Brady, who was my team mate in the Republic of Ireland side. Jimmy said to me, ‘If he goes for a shit, go with him.’ It was a simple as that. My job was to make him do nothing. To be honest I found it a bit embarrassing. I know it sounds daft, but I felt that I’d only just got to know that lads in the Irish team, and now I had to give Liam a bit of fucking grief.

"But I did my job - I got into him a bit and niggled him to slow him down. He got a bit huffy and puffy. Once they went two goals up, though, he relaxed a bit. And those two deflected goals by that bloody idiot Malcolm McDonald, well, one was going for a throw in and the other one was going for a corner. When they got the goals they played better. They had a two goal start and they started to take the piss. We needed luck on our side and we didn’t have it.

"In the dressing room afterwards, everyone was a bit sad and choked. As much as we’d lost, it was the way that we lost it. Those two horrible goals. But then Peter Angell [Orient’s coach] came in and said that we’d had a fantastic run, we’d been fantastic for the club, and not to forget who we’d played to get this far. He got a bottle of beer, opened it up and said, ‘Here’s to you lads, well done.’ It broke the ice. We were all feeling sorry for ourselves, but once a few more beers came out we realised that we’d had a good run. Then we all got fucking hammered.

"I’ll never forget the experience. For a little club in those days it was fantastic. I’ve had some good times since, but our FA Cup run of 1978 was one of my best all-time experiences.”
You can read the full story of Tony's time at Brisbane Road in the book Leyton Orient Greats

01 February 2011

Leyton Orient 0 Brighton 0, 1/2/11

A game in which... Orient proved that on current form they're a match for any team in the land, except Arsenal. Let's not forget that Gus Poyet has taken time out from impersonating Cornelius in Planet Of The Apes to fashion a pretty impressive Brighton side that beat Orient 5-0 exactly a month ago and are currently atop League One. So a gutsy point is no disgrace, especially when you could have forgiven the Os players for suffering a post-FA Cup hangover. (Though now Sean Thornton has moved on there's probably less chance of the team going on a three-day bender after each victory.)

Moment to savour... The South Stand erupting in a rousing rendition of 'We've got Tiny Cox'. I admire your honesty, lads, but too much information, thanks.

Head in hands moment... There are many things to admire about Ben Chorley but his dribbling ability isn't one of them, as he demonstrated when he attempted to dink past the entire Brighton midfield in the first half, almost gifting the opposition a goal. Still, it was the only blight on an otherwise towering performance.

King for a day... Whenever something was happening on the pitch, you could be sure that Stephen Dawson was in the thick of it. The all-action Irishman could even have got a late penalty if it wasn't for the fact that he blatantly dived. Either that or he was hauled down by a lurking poltergeist.

Boo boy... It was an all-round impressive display from everyone in a red shirt, but Paul-Jose M'Poku's cameo was much like Jennifer Aniston's Madame Tussauds waxwork - that is, a pale imitation of its usual self.

In the dug out... You can't argue with Orient's current form and it seems Big Russ got it spot on again. Giving Adam Chambers a brief run out at the start of the game was a masterstroke, allowing Stephen Dawson an extra two minutes of recovery time from his weekend injury before coming on to the pitch refreshed and ready for action.

What would Martin Ling have done? Taken the opportunity of the first game after the closure of the transfer window to blood his new signing, Julian Joachim. "I've said all along that I'd sign a big striker," he'd say defiantly, "and Julian comes with a big heart, a big desire to win and a big wage packet. That he's only 5ft 6in is beside the point."

Going down? Certainly not. Although mathematically Orient are still in a relegation battle, one defeat in the last 16 games tells a different story. Arsenal, no doubt, are trembling...
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