26 May 2014

Play-off final: Leyton Orient 2 Rotherham United 2, 25/5/14

And so it all came down to the last kick of a ball. A season in which Orient defied odds, broke records, exceeded expectations, battled adversity and made new friends all hinged on Chris Dagnall's final spot kick.

The lifetime Orient fan in me knew he'd miss. Typical Orient, right? Two-nil up at half-time and we fucked it up. Typical Orient.

But maybe not. There was something different about this season. I sensed it first when Kevin Lisbie scored the late, late winner against Port Vale in September to preserve the winning run at the start of the campaign. The way the players, the crowd celebrated... It mattered more than usual, somehow.

The feeling built throughout the season. Coming from behind to win impressively away at Peterborough and Swindon. Grinding out four wins in a row in a bitter January. Winning the play-off semi-final on an electric night at Brisbane Road.

We had momentum, desire, a tight unit of talented, gutsy players. So when Dagnall stepped up to take that final penalty, though the lifetime Orient fan in me knew he'd miss, the deeply proud Orient fan of this season actually thought he'd score...

Play the game, not the occasion

The day didn't start that well. They say "play the game, not the occasion" and Orient did just that. Unfortunately the game they were playing appeared to be called "Let's spoon the ball into touch".

Orient celebrate Odubajo's goal
They settled down soon enough, mind - helped by Moses Odubajo's stunning goal. The celebration that followed was a strange one, as the Os players seemed to simultaneously congratulate the winger while admonishing him for taking his shirt off, much like a reluctantly aroused mother-of-the-bride forced to watch the Chippendales at her daughter's hen party.

Dean Cox's goal meant we went into half-time 2-0 up, and while no one who's watched Orient for more than three seconds of their life thought it was game over, the evidence of this season suggested this wonderful team would be able to see out a victory.

Revelling in it

It had to be, didn't it? 
But then there was Alex Revell. It had to be. Two goals for the former Orient favourite illustrated that in Rotherham, Orient had met their match.

Because ask any Millers fan the reasons behind their team's success this season and they'll tell you about their players' never-say-die attitude, their team spirit... Sound familiar? Yes, unfortunately this group never gives up either. (Though the £30 million of investment over the last five years probably helped too. Sour grapes? Don't mind if I do...)

With the scores level it was Orient who looked like they were trying to win the game (and with our penalty record this season, they had no choice) and Rotherham who were trying not to lose.

Twelve yards of heartbreak

And so it was penalties. We're shit at penalties. Though to be fair James, Lundstrum and Clarke all dispatched theirs with confidence and class. Two of Rotherham's spot kicks were what I like to call "coward's penalties" (straight down the middle) and Jamie Jones gave us temporary hope that Orient would prevail with one stunning save.

But, of course, it was not to be. No blame can be attached to Baudry and Dagnall. We would not have even been in the play-off final were it not for those two fine players.

Not so typical

So it hurts. It hurts real bad. I do not think I will ever get over this. Ever.

But let's remember that Orient have no monopoly on footballing heartbreak. Anyone who supports a club other than the handful in the world who can afford to be repeatedly successful will tell you that.

Are Orient fans feeling any worse than Brentford fans did at the same point last year? Any worse than the Peterborough fans who saw their team get relegated last season with record points? Probably not.

The boys of 05/06
In fact, there's no such thing as "typical Orient" - not really. And what I loved about yesterday and what I love about Orient are the untypical things. John Mackie, captain of the promotion-winning side of 2005/06 (nothing "typical" about that game at Oxford), galvanising his former team mates via Twitter to come and support their 2013/14 counterparts at Wembley.

Mathieu Baudry, after missing a crucial penalty, joining fans at the pub after the game to apologise and commiserate with them.

The almost 100 per cent lack of post-match recriminations from fans on Twitter and instead a groundswell of pride, honour and love for a team - heroes to a man - that has provided us with so many moments to savour in this wonderful season.

Yeah, it's shit that we're in League One again next season. This squad might get broken up. The manager might leave. We may never got a shot at the Championship like this one again.

But, you know, I wouldn't swap one second of it. Not one second. Apart from the one where Dagnall missed I suppose...

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