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...
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