It’s frustrating to say it again, but that’s one we should have won. From the bits I could see at least.
Visiting Leyton Orient is a swine. It’s simple enough to get to, but if you’re not perching on the spiky remnants of a seat, you’re left using the reaction of a drunk madman or silent killer in goalkeeper socks to gauge everything that happens. All because you can guarantee there will be a stanchion directly between you and anything interesting that happens on the pitch.
To exasperate the problem yesterday I found myself at the back of the stand with the world’s tallest child tip-toeing in front of me. Don’t ask me anything about what happened in the central portion of the pitch, ’cause I don’t know naffink. I’ll let the spawn of Robert Wadlow fill you in on that.
OK, I exaggerate a smidge. With a certain amount of go-go Gadget head extension I was able to enjoy Jack Finch’s performance of impressive maturity, and Jim O’Brien covering an inordinate amount of the pitch for someone who has been asked to play on the right wing. But as a venue Leyton Orient once again proved an all too literal pain in my neck.
For a performance which included two avoidable goals conceded, I actually don’t have too many complaints about the overall display.
Clearly there’s a growing frustration about both our keeping options being unable to repel efforts that are aimed directly towards their palms, but run through the outfield players and there was plenty of effort and quality from each on Saturday.
Unfortunately, our lunatic captain was unable to show any himself as he lasted closed to 10 seconds and one aerial challenge. I’ve yet to see a replay of the incident, but can’t help but suspect over-exuberance on Reda Johnson’s part. I don’t want to restrict his performance or rein in his dominance, but we need him on the pitch not sat in the dressing room nursing a gash the size of Ryan Haynes’ quiff. A marauding headbutt into the back of the 6’4″ Orient striker in the first minute wasn’t the wisest move by the increasingly absent central defender. But I wouldn’t want to commit to that assessment, it’s just a hunch.
The first half was all about our own striking beasts. Madine was an immediate threat, placing the Orient defence under constant aerial duress. He also fell on his arse more times than is usual, but let’s blame the unnecessarily saturated pitch and the fact that he’s a little off peak match fitness.
Nouble started like the force we all need him to become. Extremely comfortable when placing his foot on the ball, assessing the scene, and swatting away opponents, he’s equally effective dropping his shoulder and steaming towards the penalty area.
While by no means a long-ball performance, the high option was a frequently used outlet. Fleck in particular eyed up plenty of angled balls in behind for Madine, with one crossfield pass dropping into the path of the big striker. His first touch felt reasonable, but the recovery by the defender was better and Madine was thwarted a split-second before being able to connect.
It was Nouble who created the other key moment of attacking intent in the first half, blitzing his way down the left-hand side and into the area. In the defender’s desperation, there was a forceful nudge to Nouble’s lower-body which took him out. From the collective but mixed vantage point of the City fans, it was a clear penalty. The ball was not taken, and the only barrier between Nouble and an attempt on goal was bumbling intervention of the defender.
The sense of injustice seemed to enthuse the players, and Madine was to become a debut provider soon after. Pouncing on a Coventry-esque slip in the Orient defence, a rare sense of ruthlessness came over us as O’Brien recognised the possibilities and stormed into a central position. He was found in simple fashion by Madine and slotted the ball home, making it two in two for the dynamic midfield worker.
After an even start, it concluded as a strong first period for City, with very little to suggest a comeback was an option for the home side who were displaying the same lack of confidence that’s cursed us over recent weeks.
Unfortunately the first half dominance was soon to evaporate as Orient snatched an early equaliser in a frustrating manner. With the height we now possess, being outjumped at a corner isn’t an option. We have to deal with those. It’s also not greedy to demand some shot-stopping ability from either of our keepers. Any effort which is vaguely challenging seems to be evading them this season. We don’t have many strong footballing traditions at Coventry City, but hero goalkeepers is one of them. Both are young and still learning and that’s fine – but at some point we have to be realistic and make a decision about how much learning we can justify in our first team.
The goal raised the crowd and tipped the balance of the game towards a more even affair. The players who’d had strong opening halves became less effective for us. Nouble was particularly inactive as the ball into his feet became less and less frequent.
Of all the annoyances, the second goal tops the list. The time, space, and lack of reaction by our players to a very clear threat on the left hand side was woeful. It’s hard to define definitive fault as there are always domino effects on the pitch. Was Willis dropping in to cover? Did O’Brien fall asleep? Should one of the other players recognised the threat and took control? You can’t really tell which came first, but it was an appalling loss of concentration and organisation all-round which gifted Leyton Orient an unopposed opportunity to play a pinpoint ball onto Simpson’s free head in the box.
The overall display and team shape was a solid one, but these moments cost us the victory, and continue to do so. Conceding two goals a game is an almost certain recipe for lowliness in football and we need to remedy this achilles heal of ours.
But we can’t allow the frustration of these lapses to completely dilute the positives. There were yet more strong signs that many of the players are starting to believe in themselves again. Adam Barton wasn’t as consistent in possession as he has been, but his performance evolved into an unusually gritty one in the final 15 minutes. His long legs reached for everything, and there were signs of determination which many of us thought were impossible for him to display.
Jack Finch is a great athlete who remained lively for as long as he was on the pitch. What’s unusual for a teenager is the comfort he shows on the ball, and confidence to drop his shoulder and allow the play to open up for him. For someone so young, I have no concerns about him entering our first team any more. He’s shown enough.
New boy Aaron Martin re-entered the side and had a tough, but competent day. Ryan Haynes continues his impressive growth on our left-hand side.
The most consistent display however came from Jim O’Brien who gave another pioneering performance on our right-hand side, not only proving his capabilities in that area of the pitch, but also allowing his attacking instincts to take over and have a true impact in the final third.
It was O’Brien who kept his nerve in the final minute to draw us level and give the travelling fans a hard-fought point to celebrate. That’s the message we have to embrace from this game. While me must continue to demand victory as much as possible, in a match that could have easily gone against us, we once again showed vital fight and quality under pressure to snatch the equaliser.
A draw wasn’t the result I wanted, but it was certainly the least that we deserved.