28 April 2012

Hartlepool United 2 Leyton Orient 1, 28/4/12

A game which… ended with Orient celebrating like an unattractive beauty queen who's won a pageant by virtue of the fact that all her fellow contestants had the previous night contracted a flesh-eating virus. Yes, sometimes losers do win, and while Orient’s performance was another familiarly flaccid string of defensive errors and limited attacking prowess, the fact that Wycombe, Chesterfield and Exeter all lost means that the Os will be playing League One football again next season.

Moment of magic… Notts County’s winning goal against Wycombe, consigning the Sofa-heads or whatever they're called to relegation and ensuring that even when Orient lose to Rochdale next week, they’ll still be safe. Forgive me if I’m being churlish, but aside from the 1-0 victory at Oldham back in March, Orient’s own battle against relegation was about as spirited as an after-party at a teetotallers’ convention.

Moment of madness… Ben Chorley’s reaction to Hartlepool’s second goal when, true to form, he started wildly berating everyone around him… until he realised there was actually no one around him and the goal was entirely his own fault. This was preceded by giving an earful to Leon McSweeney after the first goal, probably upset that the Irishman hadn’t offered him a custard cream on the coach or something.

Knight in shining armour… Jamal Campbell-Ryce, whose lively display and superb goal was really the only ray of hope in the shroud of darkness that’s enveloped the Orient team. His performances may suggest to Russell Slade that having a flair player in the team other than Dean Cox can actually be quite handy.

Pantomime horse… Probably Chorley again, though to be fair the whole defence looked as shaky as a trifle in a wind tunnel.

In the dug out… So, Russell Slade has had one wonderful season and one dreadful one. Since we stayed up, the former excuses the latter, but the gaffer is more likely to get an offer from B&Q than he is Barnsley this summer, so hopefully he can focus on rebuilding the Orient squad.

Meanwhile on Twitter… “Best of luck to Notts County, Hudders and Yeovil” tweeted Leon McSweeney before the match, a stirring call to arms for an Orient victory reminiscent of Iain Duncan Smith at his very finest. George Porter, meanwhile, showed how focused and up for the game he was with this: “A jelous woman does more work than the F.B.I.” It was actually left to former O and current star of Bambi On Ice, Loick “Robert” Pires to give some proper advice: “DO NOT RELY OR DEPEND ON OTHERS.”

Lesson for the day… DO RELY AND DEPEND ON OTHERS.

22 April 2012

Leyton Orient 2 Yeovil Town 2, 21/4/12

A game in which... Orient did the footballing equivalent of spending 84 minutes tentatively and inexpertly building a makeshift sandcastle, only to see it kicked down by two mild-mannered eight-year-old girls. Or, to dispense with the metaphors and give a more technical appraisal of the game: Orient are shit.

For while, relatively speaking, the home side put in a reasonable performance in the first 45 minutes, one of Russell Slade's now legendary half-time team talks sent the Os back out on the pitch with all the fire in their bellies of someone who's just eaten a bowl of tofu-flavoured blancmange. Even then, Orient were just eight minutes from virtual League One safety, but given the confidence with which they're playing at the moment, the capitulation was all too predictable.

Moment of magic... Jamie Jones's athletic first-half save, pushing a rifling shot from Andy Williams against the bar. We can only dream what may have been had the Scouser been between the sticks all season. We might have only lost 4-0 to Brentford, for example.

Moment of madness... Yeovil's 92nd-minute equaliser, in which yet again Orient failed to defend a relatively innocuous set piece. I'm not saying the current team are bottlers, but there are 11 vacancies at the local Coca-Cola factory which they'd be well-qualified for.

Knight in shining armour... It says a lot about our season that one of our most valuable players has been a striker who's only scored 12 goals, but God knows we'd be down and out without Kevin Lisbie. Today the former Charlton man put in another battling, classy performance - and linked up well with Jamal Campbell-Ryce - but nonetheless he must feel at times like a lead singer who takes to the stage only to find his band has forgotten how to play all the songs. (Or never knew them in the first place.)

Pantomime horse... He's been out for six weeks and has actually been one of the better performers this season, but Leon McSweeney had a shocker - especially in the first half. Particularly bizarre was his decision to compensate for his woeful passing by electing to repeatedly shoot from 45 yards.

In the dug out... There's been much post-match talk about the wisdom of Russell substituting (injured) Adam Reed and Jamal Campbell-Ryce for Jimmy Smith and Calvin Andrew in the 90th minute, though to be honest wasting a bit of time to bring on an experienced midfielder and someone whose height might help in defending corners wasn't the most insane decision the manager's ever made. That was signing Andrew in the first place. More of an issue was the ongoing spectacle of just how negatively Slade presumably asked Orient to play in the second half.

A word on the opposition... Credit to the Yeovil fans for keeping up their bizarre pagan cowbell chant throughout the entirety of the first half - bombed out of their minds on cider, no doubt. And while their team can't be described as the classiest to play at Brisbane Road this season, they certainly aren't the worst. That honour goes to Orient.

Meanwhile on Twitter... An extraordinary spat between Dean Cox and ex-O Gabriel Zakuani, who tweeted "If Orient went down it would probably hurt me more than any player that's currently there." "No it wouldn't," Tiny fired back. "Disrespectful saying that... your spose to be an experienced pro, you should know better. You have been and gone your a Peterborough player concentrate on that." Go Coxy! If only we could translate all the energy the players put into tweeting how up for it they are into actual performances we might just scrape out of this mess.

Lesson for the day... Which this week comes from Russell Slade himself, who said post-match: "We're in a better position than what we were before today's game." Which is an interesting way of interpreting the fact that Chesterfield and Exeter both gained two points on us. Essentially, we're in deep trouble. Where the hell is Accrington Stanley anyway?

09 April 2012

Where did it all go wrong for Orient?

About a year ago I wrote a blog looking at the 10 reasons behind Orient's incredible 2010/11 season. It would be an understatement of the highest magnitude - like suggesting Olly Murs is 'a bit shit' or Stacey Solomon 'somewhat irritating' - to say that things haven't gone quite so well this campaign. Here's some ideas as to why...

Inside Russell Slade's mind
1. The Barnsley offer
We don’t know what goes on inside Russell Slade’s mind (but I’m guessing something like ‘EUREKA! The missing piece to the jigsaw is… JAMIE SMITH! Now, let’s get this Ginsters pasty out the microwave and watch some serious Cash In The Attic’). And because we don’t know what’s going on in his mind we don’t know how much he was affected by Barry Hearn’s refusal to let him countenance an offer from Championship side Barnsley in the summer. But I would say this: at the start of the season Slade appeared to be a shadow of his former touchline self - quiet, subdued and giving the impression he’d rather be somewhere else. Either that or he was contemplating the full horror of his decision to sign Marc Laird.

David Mooney
2. Injuries, wantaways and prison spells
OK, I’M JOKING ABOUT MARC LAIRD! In fact I’d say Slade’s summer activity actually made a lot of sense. McGleish out, Cureton in was a good move on paper; Cuthbert and McSweeney could provide good competition for places in the starting XI; and even Laird and David Mooney should have been adequate cover – albeit only in the sense that you might keep a rusty old tricycle in your garage just in case your car breaks down. But since then Slade hasn’t exactly had the rub of the green. Injuries affect every club, but this season has been a particularly cruel one for Orient – with an added prison sentence for the first-choice right back thrown into the mix. On top of that there were two key players who clearly wanted to move on (Daniels and Dawson) and, given their contract situation, there wasn’t much we could do about it…

3. Inadequate replacements!
… So, yes, if we can hardly blame Slade for the departures of both our captain and left back; the criminal activities of Elliot Omozusi; and the unfortunate transmogrification of Jamie Cureton from human to donkey, it’s surely true that the manager has FAILED TO REPLACE ANY OF THEM. Was it right, for example, to go through most of the season without a recognised right back and a combination of loanee left backs? Would Jonathan Demme have baulked at the salary demands of Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster and instead shot Silence Of The Lambs with Ashton Kutcher and Reece Witherspoon? And as for the central midfield slot, Slade has gone about replacing Dawson with all the finesse of a recently-divorced 50-something scouring the internet for Russian and Thai brides.

Don't lend Russell one of these
4. Erratic approach to loan market
Paul-Jose M’Poku. Harry Kane. Andrew Whing. Tom Carroll. Yes, Slade played the loan market brilliantly last season, bringing in players to complement the team, add another dimension to the play, rest tired legs and provide competition for places. This season’s problem isn’t so much that the loanees/short-term signings aren’t any good – Calvin Andrew aside, obviously – but that Slade doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing with any of them. Why bring in recognised right back Syam Ben Youssef then not play him when there’s no other right back at the club? Solomon Taiwo – in the team, out the team, fuck it, let’s try Adam Reed instead. Jamie Smith? What the hell? The moral of which is: never lend Russell Slade a tenner, as he’ll likely return it to you as a combination of loose change, assorted buttons, hastily-scribbled IOUs, magic beans and broken promises.

5. Overly cautionary tactics
Now, contrary to the view of many fans (including myself), playing George Porter more wasn’t the answer to all of Orient’s problems. (Note how ineffective he was against Charlton and Huddersfield… And for a much more incisive analysis read this piece by my fellow blogger Bill Badger.) However, it is pretty soul-destroying for fans to see things such as:
a) Orient lining up 4-5-1 at home with just David Mooney up top
b) Orient refusing to leave even one player up the pitch when defending corners at Brisbane Road
c) Russell Slade, in post-match interviews, talking of how, at Brisbane Road, it was ‘important to stay in it’

What happened to the blustering, never-say-die attitude we saw in Slade’s second game at the club in 2010, when we took the game to promotion-hunting Norwich and beat them to help us stay in League One? We lined up 4-4-2 against Arsenal at the Emirates last season for christ’s sake! It’s felt lately like we’ve gone into games with all the attacking intent of a cowardly Spanish bull who knows it’s going to fall at the hands of a matador, but hopes at least to run him around arena a couple of times first before succumbing to the inevitable.

6. Did I say ‘tactics’?
Of course, suggesting that Slade’s tactics were ‘overly cautionary’ presupposes that tactics existed in the first place. I’m being flippant:  there must be some sort of plan in the manager’s head before and during matches, but of late it’s been difficult to discern. A telling moment came in our recent game against Huddersfield when Kevin Lisbie came on for Marc Laird and two minutes later Matt Spring and Jimmy Smith were still asking Slade what formation they were supposed to be playing. Last season Dean Cox scored 12 goals and made a staggering 22 assists from left wing. This campaign he’s frequently been asked to play in an apparently free role in the middle of the pitch (usually mid-game) where he’s much less effective. Fair play to Slade, if things aren’t working he’s justified in trying to change things round, but this season you get the impression that if he were captain of a sinking ocean liner he’d be ordering the crew to repaint the fittings in the cabins, see if that helped.

7. Monkey tennis!
Slade’s approach to team selection in the latter half of the season has become reminiscent of that famous Alan Partridge scene in which the presenter suggests increasingly desperate and outlandish ideas for a TV show in the hope that one of them will stick (‘Youth hostelling with Chris Eubank?’ ‘Monkey tennis?’ etc). No right back? Try Terrell Forbes. Not working? Chuck him at left back then. Need a striker late in the game? Give defender Syam Ben Youssef a run out. Laird in, Laird out, you do the hokey-cokey and you turn around. That’s what it’s all about.

8. Those Churchillian team talks
As opposed to last season, Slade seems to have lost the ability to motivate the team – as the lack of second-half goals at Brisbane Road (four all season; none since 10 December) demonstrates. The way we’ve recently folded against the likes of Wycombe, Notts County and, today, Exeter hardly suggests the manager is sending out the team with fire in its belly. It’s as if he’s been building up the players’ confidence by sending them on a motivational course run by Tim Henman, Nick Clegg and the lion from the Wizard of Oz.

Still, there's always hope. Perhaps Wycombe won't pick up any more points and we'll stay up by default...

06 April 2012

Leyton Orient 0 Notts County 3, 6/4/12

A game in which… Orient didn’t so much as shoot themselves in the foot, but blasted off their whole legs with a bazooka. Make no mistake, for the first 65 minutes this was a much improved performance in which the Os not only retained possession but also – unlike the games against Charlton and Huddersfield – created numerous chances. The fact that they couldn't convert any of them or avoid conceding three goals at the other end, however, means that we are utterly doomed.

Moment of magic… The sweeping counter-attack early in the second half that teed up Jimmy Smith on the edge of the area. That he put his shot wide demonstrated that there was more chance of Jonathan Tehoue ordering ‘Just the salad for me, thanks’ at the Pizza Hut all-you-can-eat buffet than Orient actually getting the ball in the back of the net.

Orient's defence
Moment of madness… That horrifying, heart-in-mouth moment when Jamie Jones collected a cross, only to collide with Terrell Forbes – presumably confused as to where he was supposed to be standing having played in 11 different positions over the last six games – and spill the ball. Don’t get me wrong, it was a joy to have Jones back – a typically athletic leap to deny Lee Hughes in the second half reminded us what a talent he is – but it’s a shame he’s playing behind a defence who are about to be served a lawsuit by the Swiss Cheese Marketing Board for blatant copyright infringement.

Knight in shining armour… Today’s man of the match was David Mooney. WARNING! WARNING! FATAL ERROR IN THE INTERNET. EVACUATE THE VICINITY IMMEDIATELY. No, seriously, the former pub team ringer, sorry, Colchester player, got involved, laid the ball off well and set up a number of chances, almost as if he was an actual footballer.

Pantomime horse… Fair play to Jimmy Smith, he never lacks in effort and actually did get himself involved a bit more than usual today. But in squandering so many gilt-edged chances, the shaven-haired lothario’s performance was the footballing equivalent of a night out at Loughton's Nubar in which numerous hot women offer him sexual favours, only to be disappointed when he accidentally throws up on each of them.

In the dug out… Today Russell reverted to the 4-4-2-ish sort of formation that worked so well last year and, were it not for the abysmal finishing, might have actually paid off. But the manager’s constant tinkering – today Dean Leacock had a crack at right back – and apparent inability to recognise what his best team is meant that once again the Os were ripped apart like a papier-mache clown thrown to the lions.

A word on the opposition… A pretty easy day out for the Notts County players. All they had to do was to sit back, watch Orient miss chance after chance and then wait until the home defence gave them the ball and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you score into this empty net?’ They’ll probably have easier victories, but only if they challenge a group of claustrophobics to a game of hide-and-seek.

Lesson for the day… If, as a fan, you want to continue to follow Orient’s push for League One survival, your money is probably better spent going to Wycombe games and heartily cheering on their opponents.

03 April 2012

Leyton Orient 1 Huddersfield Town 3, 3/4/12

A game in which... Orient conceded three goals so soft that if you bagged them up you could flog 'em as a new brand of ultra-fluffy cotton wool. That aside, as in Saturday's game against Charlton, the Os did enjoy some spells of possession, but once again the inability to turn this into anything like a meaningful attack means that Russell Slade's side literally have no hope of winning matches at the moment. Indeed, the manager seems to be so lacking in ideas that if Lionel Messi were to turn up and offer his services, Slade would simply shrug his shoulders and mutter, 'Hey, maybe you can repaint the changing rooms?'

Moment of magic... Just the one, Matt Spring's goal. Orient have a long-standing tradition of endangering low-flying pigeons with their goal attempts from balls that break loose on the edge of the box (Andy Harris, I'm looking at you) but tonight the former Charlton man expertly brought the ball down and fired it into the net.

Paul Rachubka
Moment of madness... Pretend goalkeeper Paul Rachubka was back to his old tricks tonight, in particular for Huddersfield's second goal. Though he might have expected the professional footballers in front of him to adequately defend an innocuous throw-in, that's no excuse to let the ball squirm under him as if he was trying to use two lumps of butter to apprehend an eel.

Knight in shining armour... Ryan Dickson, whose battling display could herald an innovative new era of tactics at Brisbane Road where left-footed players play on the left-hand side of the pitch.

Pantomime horse... Not that he was particularly worse than anyone else, but the ongoing ineffectiveness of Marc Laird is symbolic of the malaise in Russell Slade's team. The manager has thrown numerous players into central midfield this season - Taiwo, Reed, Clarke, Leacock, for example - without much success and the lack of a player to get on the ball and drive forward (like, say, Stephen Dawson) is surely a big reason behind Orient's inability to create anything in the final third of the pitch this season.

In the dug out... Perhaps the most telling point of the evening was a full two minutes after Kevin Lisbie had come on for Marc Laird, when Matt Spring and Jimmy Smith were still asking Russell Slade what revised formation they were supposed be playing. The answer, of course, was the classic '4-no-width-Coxy-runs-anywhere-but-lump-it-to-Moons-and-hope-for-the-best' formation that's served the Os so well this season.

Huddersfield's team spirit
A word on the opposition... Huddersfield spent much of the match bickering between themselves like a bunch of teenage girls who'd all accidentally turned up to the school disco wearing the same Top Shop dress. Not that this stopped them easing to victory over Orient - as they did last season - with the help of prize weapon Jordan Rhodes.

Meanwhile on Twitter... Orient's resident women's rights campaigner and ardent feminist George Porter was up to his old tricks this week, tweeting: 'The awkward moment when a girl dosent pick the iron in monopoly! ha' to his followers. Next week: George shows his support for animal welfare by decapitating his cat.

Lesson for the day... THERE ARE NO MORE LESSONS! Really, with the squad we've now got at our disposal our options to change anything are gone it's hard to see where the next point is going to come from. It almost makes you wish Jonathan Tehoue could come back. Almost.

02 April 2012

Charlton Athletic 2 Leyton Orient 0, 31/3/12

A game in which... the Orient team had presumably forgotten to put their clocks forward the weekend before, since when Charlton kicked the game off at 3pm, the Os were still ambling round the pitch in a gentle warm-up. Russell Slade's team did finally wake up 15 minutes in and had a few sporadic spells of possession throughout the game, but possession doesn't win football matches, otherwise Barcelona would be the best team in the world. Oh, hang on...

Moment of magic... He leapt like a salmon, he was fearless in the face of danger... No, not a new comic book superhero who tries to save the world by fumbling round objects and tripping over his shoelaces, but loanee goalkeeper non-extraordinaire Paul Rachubka. The former Man Utd man (yes, you did read that correctly) pulled off a remarkable double save in the second half to keep the score at 1-0, before ruining all his good work by failing to come out to meet the cross that led to Charlton's winner.

Moment of madness... The moment when George Porter was caught napping as Charlton took the quick free kick that led to their first goal. No doubt it's tiring work driving round Essex wolf-whistling at girls all day, but the young winger really needs to pay more attention during matches.

Knight in shining armour... It was an afternoon of performances as flaccid as a Brisbane Road burger (where the imminent danger of gastroenteritis is much more threatening than the Os' attacks.) I suppose Matt Spring played ok though.

Pantomime horse... Ok, so Terrell Forbes isn't a natural left back, but that shouldn't really excuse another performance that wasn't so much a car crash, more a motorway pile-up.

In the dug out... Russell Slade's decision to go into the game with Terrell Forbes and David Mooney lined up on the left was like a gladiator going in to battle with one arm tied behind his back and a massive fluorescent arrow painted down one side of his body with the words 'STAB ME HERE' emblazoned on it. Worse still, once Syam Ben Youssef came on in place of the injured Scott Cuthbert, it turned out he was a perfectly adequate full back, begging the question as to why, in an injury crisis, he hadn't actually been on the pitch before.

A word on the opposition... Let's not forget Charlton are top of the league and, as opposed to our last meeting with them, actually had 11 players on the pitch for the majority of the game. That is, we were hardly going to win anyway. What is worrying is Orient's consistent inability to turn possession into any meaningful attacks.

Meanwhile on Twitter... This week key members of Orient's glorious promotion squad of 2005/06 such as, erm, Derek Duncan and Aiden Palmer have been talking up a John Mackie-organised reunion on 12 May. "John Mackie #ledge apart from that time he tried to fight efe! Lmao" tweeted Duncan. "hahah Mackie hated Efe with a passion!" replied Palmer. And while the thought of the uncompromising Mackie squaring up to Echanomi conjures up an image of an ageing hippopotamus trying to attack a whippet, I wish them all the best on their night out...

Lesson for the day... Despite the impressive win against Oldham, we're not out of the relegation mire just yet. And with Jordan Rhodes versus Paul Rachubka on Tuesday night - which may resemble using an anti-aircraft missile to wipe out a small, frightened gerbil - there's more trouble ahead...
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