Well, the groundstaff performed heroics to get the game on, in spite of the monsoon like conditions in Walsall today and the fans also did, with well over 500 more turning up for the Family Fun Day despite the weather. Trouble was, it was the Manager and players who failed to perform on the day.
Jimmy Mullen decided to go with the team that had started against Southend the previous week, leaving the returning Ricketts on the bench and Demontagnac up front, but, with the benefit of hindsight, it proved to be a mistake. Orient had come to do a job on us today and played with five strung across the middle and an uncompromising defence, which we never showed enough guile and subtlety to break down.
Sure we had players capable of taking the direct route to goal, but, whereas last week the Southend defence parted like the waters of the Red Sea every time we ran at it, this time, for all Jabo Iberhe’s industry, we were just running into dead ends.
Marco Reich’s limitations as a left winger were shown up again, as the opposition dealt with his need to have to check back onto his right foot every time he wanted to cross far better that the previous visitors to the Banks’s, while Troy Deeney, although having a decent game, showed he just isn’t a wide player, being unable to get past his full back. The lack of creativity coming from the wings was again compounded by a lack of creativity from central midfield, where the idea of having two holding players resulted in no chances being made from there.
All that might not have mattered so much, if not for the fact that the midfielders were also not tracking back particularly well, resulting in either the centre backs or, notably, Boertien having to cover. The result? Yes, both Orient wingers, Mulligan especially, had the run of the park.
The first half ended up a sterile affair, with neither side fashioning much, although the danger signs at the back were there for the Saddlers, as the wingers were finding too much room. Gerrard and Roberts were dealing with the aerial threat, but as soon as the ball was played along the ground we were in trouble, particulary, on one occasion, Adam Boyd outpaced Roberts, before checking back inside the defender, doing him like the proverbial kipper, only to shoot tamely directly at Ince.
The second half started taking on the shape of the pear after two minutes, when Hughes limped off. He’d obviously been told to try and run a knock off, only it didn’t work and he was replaced by Bradley.
After fifteen minutes, Mullen took the obvious step of bringing on Ricketts for Deeney, with Reich going to the right wing and Demontagnac to the left. Unfortunately, after a short while he switched them back for some reason, at which point the threat from the flanks dried up again.
The game was heading at this point for a 0 – 0 draw, when Mullen took his final incomprehensible decision. Roberts was replaced by Smith. I don’t know if Sicknote was injured, but the moment he left the pitch, the defence fell apart. Orient took the lead when Smith dallied on the ball instead of clearing it out for a corner or throw in and the ball was pulled back for the lesser of the Terry brothers to fire home.
At that point, the whole team fell apart. Heads went down and all semblance of organisation seemed to disappear. Finally, the entire defence was pulled over to our right, for some reason, leaving Boertien in the centre and Mulligan unmarked on the right, When the ball got to him, he ran at Boertien, only to be tripped for the inevitable penalty.
Anthony Gerrard had a header go narrowly wide (which he should have done better with), but I can remeber their keeper only having to make one real save, from a Reich free kick in the first half.
This was as depressing as the weather. Punchless, gutless and pointless.