I do my best as a fan not to make knee-jerk reactions based on successive defeats, preferring continuity, but there is clearly a problem when your team’s home possession stats match your manager’s win ratio at the club.
And so it was last night against a rejuvenated Colchester United on a foggy, dismal night at Brisbane Road. Buoyed by the sacking of John Ward, Colchester looked dynamic, passed the ball well, looked purposeful and have now gone several matches unbeaten. Orient on the other hand have now scored one goal in five games and are making a habit of losing matches 2-0 whether they play home or away. More worryingly still, Orient had 28% possession at home as Slade’s win ratio also languishes around the 30% mark, and don’t look as though they can create from open play or set pieces and even on the rare opportunity a decent ball did come in, put the ball woefully off target.
In August, my assessment of Orient’s chances this season predicted the club would finish 16th. 14 games in, it would have been nice to have been wrong about the challenges that the club was facing and yet since the start of the season we have seen Tranmere (who beat Orient 3-1 on the opening day) storm to the league summit and Stevenage (who also beat Orient at home) follow them. Even Crawley (1-0 winners against Orient so far this season) are also in the top six. Only Hartlepool have lost more games than Orient’s 8 defeats from 14 games. With managers like John Ward being sacked and other failing managers like Paul Jewell leaving Ipswich, and after the disaster of last season, many fans have now had enough and feel it’s time to change the manager.
So where has it all gone wrong a third of the way into the season?
Slade has continually adopted a 4-5-1 (or version thereof) formation with one striker forward away from home. The few times a less negative 4-4-2 with two wingers has been chosen, Orient have been successful, including a 1-0 win at Swindon. His insistence that “we play better with one wide man and more players across the middle” simply doesn’t work, but he refuses to change things. Even at home, players seem uncertain of their roles or positions in stark contrast to well organised teams like Stevenage and Colchester. The upshot is that Orient are set up to draw games away from home, only this never works as the team plays long periods without the ball, tires and ends up losing 2-0.
Worst of all, his post-match comments seem to deny all knowledge of dire performances. His most recent comment that “we stayed in the game” against Colchester with 28% possession is laughable. Similar excuses against Bournemouth, Oldham have been equally inexplicable. Even the famous “we can put it right on Tuesday/Saturday” is becoming very tiresome, very fast. Many suspect that Nugent is equally ineffective in a coaching capacity.
The performances share a striking similarity to last season and the momentum of defeats is dragging us down towards the bottom four. Once again, fans are asking “are there four worse teams than Orient?” Maybe, as the quality in League One this year is pretty dire.
Players are not performing
In August I singled out Moses Odubajo as the bright spark to get things going. After ignoring him for long periods, Slade finally realised that he could change games, only sadly he is the only creative spark and is now over-relied upon.
Ironically, the defence does not look as poor as last season. Nathan Clark looks competent enough (slip at Bournemouth excluded), but the lack of quality from the full backs does not give us any decent width or support to wingers, which leaves Cox, Cook and Odubajo clearly exposed. This also partially explains why, wonder-strike at Walsall excluded, Dean Cox has had a poor season so far. The midfield lacks leadership and is clueless without Griffith playing, with Jimmy Smith another notable underperformer (again) this season. However, it is upfront where there are no options. With Lisbie injured, other striker options are hopeless. Just like Cureton last year, Symes looks lost and unsettled and offers nothing to the team, Brunt is ineffective and Mooney is not getting game time but cannot score when he does. Even Scott Wagstaff, on loan from Charlton, looks demotivated despite his efforts.
Olympic Stadium Shambles
I have been asked more times about this than anything else. It’s a distraction. The fans don’t want the stadium and are sicker of Barry Hearn’s U-turns, changes in stance on the issue than anything else. There is a clear concern that he has the intention of selling Brisbane Road after offloading us as a tenant somewhere else. While there is still validity in the argument that West Ham close to Orient would have a detrimental effect in terms of youth development or free tickets, the persistence with the issue has raised more than a little scepticism among fans. It is also a massive distraction from the football issues.
Time to Go, Russell!
Overall an apathetic malaise is shrouding the side. It has continued from last season and shows that we are not going to progress with the status quo. Attendances are falling due to poor results and negative, dire football, which coupled with the highest matchday prices in league one and group denial from senior figures over team performances, is at odds with fans opinion and they are showing it with their feet by not attending matches.
It’s with regret, and based not just on this season, but also an abysmal last season, that it’s clearly time for a change of manager if we don’t want to get sucked into the bottom four this season.
Written by Andy Brown, We Are Going Up’s Leyton Orient Blogger