Well, what to make of that one? Before the game we’d have taken a win of any kind; before the game I just wanted to see a decent game of football. At the break neither seemed in prospect. After a bright start, we’d fallen off the pace, conceded a goal (and might have gone two down), looked tired, dispirited and out of sorts. Like many other teams visiting The Valley this season, Orient will have gone off at half-time thinking that they’d not had an easier time of it defensively and that the game was theirs for the taking. I don’t think there was one single factor that turned things around. Attacking the Covered End gave us some impetus, as the effort level just had to be raised, we got an equaliser when we needed one, and then the referee made his best call of the game to (correctly) deny them going in front again. Two minutes later we’d been gifted the lead – and as gifts go this one was a beauty – and we made the game safe with a third, scored memorably by Semedo. Victory, glorious victory.
The team was pretty much as before, with Benson rather than Nouble getting the nod to start alongside Wright-Phillips to replace the injured Anyinsah. That meant pretty much the same team that has played two games a week through March without a win. It also meant Eccleston, Nouble and Reid – three players presumably itching for a start and with fresh legs - on the bench. And through the first half we seemed to suffer for it. We had our fair share of the play, but I can’t remember a meaningful attempt on goal (I do remember their goalkeeper chesting down an effort and wondering if that counted). Again, the start was bright, but all the limitations of the set-up of the team seemed to be on display. Racon operating wide-left, trying his best to be effective in a position which doesn’t suit him; Benson, the man brought in to score the goals for us this season, having to operate more as a target man; Wagstaff buzzing on the right to no great effect; and in central midfield Parrett looking like a duck out of water in a league he’s not accustomed to.
Orient sat back, got men behind the ball, and waited for their moment. It came when we lost possession badly in the middle (Semedo I think) and were stretched. The ball went wide right and when played in their guy hit a miserable shot but one which was deflected in by former Addick McGleish. There were cries for offside, but without the benefit of replay it looked as though we had a couple back on the line playing him on.
The goal further deflated us and the effort levels dropped. Players with the ball – often Racon - found themselves isolated as the support wasn’t there and with everything one-paced Orient looked comfortable. Our only note of encouragement was that they insisted on trying to faff around with it at the back, sometimes outrageously. They got away with it, in the first half. Orient felt under no pressure to chase the game and just before the break another break down the right saw the ball delivered in for a shot which went over the bar. If they’d scored then the boos at half-time would have been resounding and the game possibly over.
There was no immediate change early in the second half – ie it wasn’t evident that Powell had given the team the roasting that they deserved for the lacklustre effort – but spirits were to be raised by a moment which changed the game (well, to be fair there were further twists and turns). Racon picked up the ball wide left and drifted inside. An exchange of passes saw him venture further and then deliver a reverse ball in which Wright-Phillips met on the volley. The keeper made the save, but with all their defenders static and seemingly indifferent the rebound fell to Benson who scored.
The crowd were lifted and suddenly the game was about Orient’s defensive frailties when put under pressure. Benson ghosted in to connect with a cross only for their keeper to stick out a hand and somehow deflect it wide; and he followed this up by turning a smart drive over the bar. For some reason the game was now entertaining and open, especially as Orient brought on a big guy up front and almost immediately Llera’s calm assurance went out of the window. We wondered if they had seen off our purple patch with the two saves and then the game turned again. Their ball in and I thought Llera was set to head it clear, only for him to fail to do so. The ref got that one spot on as the shove on him had cleared the way for the ball to be headed into the net. Relief all round was to turn to celebration and laughter as their keeper did something which really should appear on ‘what happened next a few times’. I can’t say I saw it that well because as he had the ball I looked the other way. Next thing I know the ball is at Wright-Phillips’ feet. Seems he threw it straight at SWP and paid the price as after some hesitation Wright-Phillips slotted it past him.
I’d forgotten what it was like to be ahead at home, but it felt good. And although Orient’s substitute was causing us problems at the other end we were to score again. A corner was taken short and Semedo gambled on going to the far post. When the cross came in he was unmarked and duly scored, which sparked not just the normal celebrations but seemed to be too much for Jose, to finally score at The Valley.
With Stewart having come on for Parrett, Wright-Phillips limping off to be replaced by Eccleston (please let it not be serious), and Benson departing for Nouble, there was no need for Doherty to make the last-minute appearance. Orient did hit the bar twice in the final moments, but we weren’t going to concede two and it didn’t really seem to matter. Elliot, who seemed to have crocked himself just before half-time, was able to do the necessary after the final whistle and life seemed good on the stroll back from the ground.
As turgid as the first half was, the second half was great fun. It was a contest, we saw goals (proper goals, ie not those scored by the opposition), and we had the truly edifying sight of their keeper – who was turning time-wasting into an art form – getting his just deserts. Just how one of their forwards’ awful tackle went unpunished is a mystery, but I’ll forgive the ref a good deal for getting that call on their headed ‘goal’ right.
I can’t remember the last time we went 11 without a win. But it’s over now and Sir Chris is on course for April manager of the month. Surely there will have to be fresh legs for Tuesday as we nearly paid for this today; and we shouldn’t gloss over a truly poor first-half display. If Orient had shown more ambition they could have finished us off. But I don’t care. The history books will record a win, with both our two main strikers scoring, and Jose netting at The Valley. Having not won the Euromillions lottery (yet again), I’ll settle for that.
Elliot: 7/10. Thought he was going to have to be substituted at half-time, but carried on. No great saves but nothing wrong either (except a strange back pass incident which might have been costly).
Solly: 7/10. Looked more of a winger than Wagstaff for much of the game. Decent performance.
Bessone: 6/10. Cultured and effective defensively but can’t remember him getting forward. Might still be feeling his way back.
Llera: 6/10. Found life much more troublesome when their substitute came on; suddenly he was second to balls in the air.
Dailly: 8/10. Superb reading of the game, especially when we came under pressure. Held the line, instrumental in Orient having few scoring chances until the final moments.
Racon: 8/10. My joint man-of-the-match as he always tried to make things happen, even in the first half, and was key to our equaliser, which turned the game. Made a goal out of nothing. What do we do with him? Wide left is clearly not what he wants.
Semedo: 8/10. Got to make him the other MoM for his reaction to the goal. Was probably culpable for their goal, but what can you say about someone so overcome by scoring?
Parrett: 6/10. Strange. Clearly a gifted player but as against Southampton I felt much of the play passed him by and he struggled to make an impact. Tough ask for a young player finding his way to come into this division and in our situation.
Wagstaff: 6/10. More influential in the second half but along with many others was poor in the first.
Benson: 6/10. I’m still inclined to see him as a poacher rather than the best foil for SWP, but stuck at it, scored one, and could easily have had a second.
Wright-Phillips: 7/10. Mostly contained, but you just can’t argue with the goalscoring record, even if this one was a gift. Hope the knock isn’t serious.
Subs: Stewart (7/10 – looks a better bet than McCormack); Eccleston (not enough time for a rating, same with Nouble).