Brendan Hobbs reflects on a first home defeat in 28 matches, as Leyton Orient beat Swindon 1-0 at the County Ground.
I don’t know why but there seems to be an awful lot of teams around these days that I really dislike, some for obvious reasons like Rovers and Oxford and some for reasons I cannot honestly remember – like Birmingham City. I also greatly dislike Leyton Orient, but at least the reason for this is perfectly clear.
When I was a mere lad I came within three stickers of completing my entire Panini 1981 sticker album, a feat that I never ultimately achieved, or ever came close to again. Two of the missing stickers were the team badge and team photo of Division Two side Orient (they were inbetween Leytons at the time).
Ever since then I’ve always despised the team from East London, so obviously I was pumped up for this encounter, unfortunately I was to leave a very disappointed man.
Paolo shuffled his deck and made five changes from the side that started the JPT game in midweek, with James Collins preferred up top and Navarro, Miller and Ritchie drafted into midfield. Surprisingly, following Di Canio’s comments midweek, Flint also made a return to the side.
From the off, something didn’t seem quite right, instead of the quick passing and clever movement we’ve grown accustom to, we watched McCormack, Flint and Devera sail a series of long balls over the heads of the static Collins and Williams. Town looked disjointed and directionless as they struggled to get any kind of cohesion going forward.
Meanwhile Orient started showing real attacking menace, after a penalty box scramble Bessone made a good goal line clearance as the away side pressed – forcing a series of corners.
Finally Swindon found their groove, leaving the home fans thinking that perhaps the first twenty minutes was just a temporary aberration, as a quick interchange of passes freed Andy Williams who advanced into the box. After a couple of touches he swept over a cross to the awaiting De Vita, who met it sweetly but the goal bound effort was expertly blocked by Leon McSweeney.
Town fans soon realised however that it was Swindon’s improved attacking prowess that was the temporary aberration as the O’s continued to press, with Dean Cox screwing a good chance so wide it went out for a throw. Their best chance of the half however fell to striker Michael Symes who had the goal at his mercy from a great delivery by Lee Cook but somehow he failed to find the target.
Town quickly went down the other end with pace and drive but Ritchie’s shot was well blocked by the opposition defence.
Leyton weren’t finished though, with the experienced Kevin Lisbie causing havoc in the Town defence and he was guilty of missing another golden opportunity, deciding to head tamely wide instead of finding the back of the net.
Despite their teams dominant performance, the 300 odd Orient fans didn’t seem capable of making any noise, which sent shivers down my spine – the last set of fans who steadfastly refused to sing in the first half were Crawley and we all know what happened there.
There was enough time left in the first half for James Collins to comically trip himself up on his own pass, which acted as a microcosm for the entire first half performance, nothing seemed to be going right for anyone.
When the Swindon players emerged for the second half, the starting line up was intact. I looked carefully to see if any of them were brushing the shards of shattered crockery from their tops and shorts, but they seemed all relatively clean of any smashed tea cup detritus.
With a seemingly new found vigour immediately Town were on the attack and won a free kick just outside of the box. A gaggle of players stood over the ball and we were treated to the clever routine which paid dividends against Brighton, but this time Ritchie’s final ball just eluded the onrushing attackers.
Swindon continued to press with Ritchie going close with a couple of efforts, but after a strong start to the half we couldn’t quite grasp the game by the throat – instead we were left pawing ineffectively at its groin like a particularly needy cat.
The introduction of Ferry briefly raised the flat atmosphere (still no sign of the drum in the away end) but there was a sense of inevitability when Orient took the lead.
De Vita and Bessone both failed to close down McSweeney as he was given time and space to fire in a low cross which evaded both Flint and Devera allowing the arriving Lee Cook to stroke the ball beyond Foderingham at his near post.
Di Canio brought on Adam Rooney for Collins and the switch almost paid off immediately as he nutmegged his marker and advanced on the ‘keeper, but instead of marking his home debut with a goal he miss-kicked his effort wide albeit under great pressure from Nathan Clarke.
The game eventually descended into a frustrating farce, with unreadable substitution boards and lots of shouting and complaining from the Town faithful.
The final chance saw Ritchie advance down the right and instead of picking out Raffa De Vita who was grazing in acres of space with a clear run on goal, he went for the spectacular but unfortunately the spectacular was comfortably blocked.
Meanwhile, sixty odd miles away sat on the Northampton Town bench, Andy King’s ears must have been burning as Aden Flint was sent up front, it was all very ‘Antoine Van Der Linden’ and equally as ineffective. After a few desperate lumps forward the game was over and Towns proud home record finally came to an end.
Orient were very worthy winners, the effectiveness of their attacking play was clear to see, the two wide players pushed high up the pitch and tucked in just behind the front two, providing a constant outlet. The experienced Martin Rowlands showed how simple the game can be with constant measured passing and quick recycling of the ball. Special mention must go to Anthony Griffith who acted the perfect midfield enforcer. He was strong in the tackle, constantly hassled and ultimately destroyed our ineffective midfield partnership of Miller and Navarro.
Lisbie did what neither of our forwards could manage and held the ball up well, allowing the wingers to get into position and exploit space.
After the final whistle the reaction of the fans was mixed, some of the comments I heard whilst exiting the stand were interesting, they ranged from the inaccurate “Well that’s us in a relegation dogfight”, to the ridiculous “Di Canio’s got to go” to the relatively amusing “And I thought the blind football was on last night”.
I’m certainly not worried by the result, unlike the majority of fans who took the time to text into BBC Wilts declaring footballing Armageddon. We’d gone a fantastic 375 days unbeaten at home and maybe we’ve been spoilt – but fans should remember that this is probably the first loss of many at home this season.
I’m pleased that if we had to lose, we lost to a team that played the game right and won on merit. It’s annoying it was against Leyton Orient, but perhaps their good performance has somehow helped heal the vicious scar inflicted on me back in 1981. Or maybe I’ve finally realised that it’s really not healthy for a 39 year old man to have such a vendetta based purely on the random production and packaging of football stickers.
(For those desperate to know, the other sticker I was missing was the team photo of Clydebank so how I laughed when they went under in 2002.)