I don’t know how you strike the balance at this stage of the season. We won, it’s massive, I’m very happy. The manager and the players should be happy. We know what it means to the points calculations and to some extent the rest is just gossip. But if you assess the performance in terms of how we stacked up against a mid-table team, one that played decent enough stuff but was there for the taking, the assessment is qualified. We didn’t look like champions-in-waiting as we failed to control the game in midfield. It will matter not if we get the result we want at Oldham, but there are questions. We should have won easy, especially after the start we had; in the event we won.
The team saw Stephens come in for the suspended Russell and, with Jackson not featuring, Cook started on the left, with Wagstaff retained on the other flank. Kermorgant returned after illness to accompany Wright-Phillips up front, while Cort kept his place in central defence. That meant Hayes dropping back to the bench, to accompany N’Guessan, Pritchard, Taylor and Sullivan.
After the disappointment of being obliged to attack the Covered End in the first half, the opening exchanges were lively and promising. Orient seemed open and, while lively, encouragingly vulnerable. It was a matter of capitalising on it. We thought we had as Wright-Phillips took the ball around Rachubka but took an age to be taken down. You’ve seen them given, but I’d have to see it again to be sure the ref hadn’t gaffed in not giving the penalty. What the ref did after that was give us nothing, despite the buffeting that Kermorgant was getting, until finally he felt obliged to award a free kick. That was taken quickly to Wiggins and his squared ball was put away by Wagstaff.
With less than 10 minutes played, that should have been the launching-pad for a convincing win. It might have been if the ref had allowed a subsequent cross which went into the net off someone. Instead he gave a free kick for handball, but declined to book anyone for the supposed offense. Again, have to see the replays, but if one of our guys had used his hand surely you book him? If that one’s given, you feel we could have gone on and won comfortably as Orient would have folded. It wasn’t and instead they played their way back into the game and in the remainder of the first half we created nothing and they fashioned two opportunities. First, Hamer saved superbly from close range; second, a decent effort from outside the box produced a competent save.
At the break we had put the ball in the net twice and had a fair penalty appeal not given, but they had fashioned two opportunities to score but were denied by Hamer. Good, but not comfortable as we were quite simply not controlling central midfield, not dictating the pace of the game.
The game was nearly put to bed early in the second half, but this time it was Rachubka to the rescue for them, with a double save, the first of which was good and the second superb. After that, the game didn’t exactly drift but we found it hard to work out whether we were defending a one-goal lead or looking to extend it. Orient were being kept well in check, especially as their substitutions seemed to have a negative effect, but we weren’t looking like killing the game off as too often possession was given away.
As the clock ticked down N’Guessan came on for Wright-Phillips, and in a trice it was all over. Cook managed to turn away from a challenge and after advancing delivered an absolute peach of a cross. N’Guessan ran on to it and delivered the finish it merited. Cook was to leave the scene for Green, but that was effectively it as Orient didn’t look like breaking down a resolute defence and we were happy to play out time.
The pluses today were a more than competent defensive performance, individually and collectively, rounded off by the keeper making two saves when called on. Wagstaff and Cook did well enough and Kermorgant scrapped for everything. The downside was the inability of Hollands and Stephens to control/dictate a game that we should have had greater control of, which meant that the service to the front two wasn’t great. It shouldn’t matter, I hope it doesn’t matter, and perhaps I’m being too critical. I hope so.
Onwards to Oldham. I won’t be there as my partner Suzanne assumed that we’d be promoted already and arranged an Easter break to Prague which will also encompass the home game against Walsall. I’ll try to find a bar in town to watch it or sit it out, but always knew that Carlisle away was where it will happen. I’ll be there.
Hamer – 9/10. The guy had two serious efforts to save in the entire game and dealt with both of them. The first was outstanding and kept us ahead at a crucial time.
Solly – 8/10. Another excellent game, absolutely no problems.
Wiggins – 8/10. Did the defensive stuff as well as ever and popped up for the quick free kick for the first goal.
Morrison – 8/10. When the opposition has one opportunity inside the box all game it’s been a good defensive performance.
Cort – 8/10. As with Morrison, no mistakes. The guy has taken his chance when it came.
Wagstaff – 8/10. I thought it was one of his best games for us; there was no over-reaction to challenges, winging at the ref, and he pops up for a goal while being influential through the first half in particular.
Hollands – 6/10. Our problems today were in central midfield as we failed to control from there. No lack of effort, but this area didn’t function as it should have.
Stephens – 6/10. As with Hollands; he may have been more calpable but it’s a partnership there and it’s down to the two chosen to control the game.
Cook – 7/10. Decent enough game, was influential in the first half especially. Lost possession in bad positions a couple of times in the second half but then retained it and delivered the second goal on a plate.
Kermorgant – 7/10. Battled for everything and got nothing from the ref.
Wright-Phillips – 6/10. Faded after the early penalty possibility and struggled to be involved as not much came through from midfield. Can’t have any complaints about being taken off and watched his replacement bury the chance that came his way.
Subs – N’Guessan (8/10 – guy comes on and scores; what more can you ask for?); Green (6/10 – game effectively done before he appeared).