I hate waste of effort, primarily if it’s mine. So I’m especially miffed to have to ditch a pre-written first paragraph which was something along the lines of: ‘as on Saturday we failed to secure the 12-goal winning margin to secure top spot, but we could rise above Norwich and Leeds depending on the extent of their defeats tomorrow night’. If that hints at a degree of complacency I’m not alone. We had the chance tonight to secure a run of three consecutive season doubles (would Tranmere on Saturday and a fourth have been a record?) and wasted it. Worst thing was there can be no real complaints. An Orient side put in its place at Brisbane Road back in August (when the sun shone) was not pressurised and did not tire in the same fashion as then. Instead they were better organised, especially with a well-worked offside trap which left Dickson in particular looking shoddy, and deserved their win.
The performance, like the team, was little different from Tuesday night against Hartlepool. An indifferent first half then saw us turn it on once and score. This time around we showed the same lack of intensity (which this time can’t be blamed on the exertions of a game the previous Saturday – perhaps rustiness now?) and the same paucity of chances created. One decent move put together, perhaps two. Just not enough. This time we didn’t score and, having gone behind, we didn’t pull it out of the bag. A good second half chance created by Sam – who was the main threat throughout the game – fell to Mooney, but he shot over. And when Wagstaff tried his luck from well outside the box the effort didn’t make it to the goal line, let alone (as on Tuesday) find its way unerringly to the corner of the net for the winner. It pretty much summed up the night.
Recounting the course of the game seems a little pointless. Orient created nothing significant in the first half but scored in the second as a mazy run forward – which may have included a hand-off on Bailey – saw the ball played wide right and the cross met at the far post by McGleish. They also hit the post. Most important, it was only when we went behind that the intensity level was raised and for a period of time we started forcing them into mistakes. That didn’t last, not least as the substitutions made by Parkinson, which at the time seemed reasonable, didn’t really work.
Semedo – who I thought had a much better game than against Hartlepool – was sacrificed when we went behind, with Wagstaff coming on to play wide left and Shelvey – who again looked out of sorts with that berth (or a free role, depending on your interpretation) – moving inside, where he was more instrumental. I think Parkinson was right to conclude that it was the midfield primarily that wasn’t functioning properly, but it was tough on Semedo. Wagstaff saw very little of the ball and had no impact. Then Mooney and Burton were replaced by Mckenzie and Dickson, offering both the chance they have been waiting for. Neither took it tonight. In particular Dickson – who looks as if he may have gained a few pounds in recent months and is suffering for it, as pace is the main weapon – looked out of sorts.
Basically tonight nothing worked and we didn’t get away with it. Some individuals played well. Richardson I thought was much sharper than with his immediate return, defended well and got forward to good effect. Sam was behind just about every threatening moment. Llera and Dailly were usually untroubled and Basey was exposed more often because of the lack of cover than anything he did wrong (bar one moment in the first half when he was beaten). Elsewhere we came up short. Burton seemed to be waiting for them to gift him the sort of chance they did earlier in the season, Mooney missed the best chance of the night, and together they really didn’t cause them problems. And the midfield collectively was guilty of not providing much service for them – or the two that replaced them – to feed off.
I really don’t know what to conclude tonight. Did the game underline deficiencies that have been apparent for a while – you have to go back to the first day of December (away at Brighton) to find a game we have won by more than one goal – or should we instead focus on what was after all our first league defeat in 12 games? In other words do we carry on as before or does Parkinson have to make changes? I don’t know, but he’s paid to make the decisions, but at the moment the lack of pace in the side (Sam excepted) is hurting. There isn’t cause to panic, or to start talking in terms of having to settle for the play-offs. It’s far too soon for that. At the same time in Bailey, Semedo, Racon, Shelvey, Sam, Wagstaff and Spring we should be able to select four (or five?) capable of dominating games in that area and creating much more than we did tonight. With McLeod, Fleetwood, Sodje(A) and Tuna now not featuring, can we get the right mix out of Burton, Mooney, McKenzie and Dickson?
Those are decisions for Saturday. For now it’s over to Leeds and Norwich to screw it up (please).
Elliot: 8/10. Another game where you could give him 10 (on the grounds he did nothing wrong).
Richardson: 8/10. I thought he had an excellent game, although their goal was nodded in from his area and he may be a little culpable.
Basey: 7/10. He was exposed, especially in the first half, but that was usually due to having no cover in front of him and finding himself outnumbered.
Llera: 7/10. Some wild distribution/clearances, but nothing fundamentally wrong in the defensive area. Just didn’t chip their defence and score an equaliser in the final minute when up front.
Dailly: 7/10. Here too, nothing really wrong. Our problems weren’t in defence.
Shelvey: 5/10. A poor performance when out wide was partially redeemed when moved inside. Didn’t seem sure before whether he was covering the wide position or floating and ended up doing neither.
Bailey: 6/10. May have been fouled in the build-up to their goal. Otherwise with Semedo failed to provide the platform going forward.
Semedo: 6/10. Better for me than against Hartlepool by being more involved. Doesn’t add going forward, but the greater question is not his ability to do a job but whether he and Bailey together are the best combination we have.
Sam: 8/10. Not everything worked, but was involved in just about all our best moments.
Mooney: 5/10. Disappointing game. Orient denied the space for him to drop deeper to any real effect and showed no sign of linking up with Burton.
Burton: 5/10. Equally poor game. The service to both forwards wasn’t great (apart from second-half crosses from Sam) but they just didn’t cause problems.
Subs: Wagstaff (5/10 – hero on Tuesday but just shut out of the game tonight); McKenzie (5/10 – wants to make a central spot his own, but no impact when he came on); Dickson (4/10 – very poor, notable only for being repeatedly caught offside).