Saturday 21st October 2017, 1500 KO
Leyton Orient FC vs Macclesfield Town FC
The Build Up
Leyton Orient have certainly known better times. A club that just a few short years ago were on the cusp of promotion to the Championship, and have seen some great players grace their pitch, now find themselves in the Vanarama National League. Having made the news again in the week when the media realised that last time Real Madrid played Tottenham Harry Kane was playing for the O’s (their apostrophe, not mine), I decided to make the trip out to East London this weekend.
A club brutally mismanaged by the abysmal Francesco Becchetti, the proud East Londoners came within days of ceasing to exist last season, until saved by Nigel Travis, a long standing Orient fan. A tumultuous year ended with relegation, and after a drop into the National League. After seeing a new injection of cash over the summer, Leyton Orient must have hoped that their stay in nonleague would be a quick one – and a number of bookies seemed to support that view.
However, as today’s visitors to Brisbane Road will attest, this is a difficult league to climb out of. After dropping into the Vanarama in 2012, this year could be Macclesfield Town’s best chance of promotion yet. An ultimately disappointing appearance in the FA Trophy Final last season showed the promise in John Askey’s side, and they’re currently sitting top of the league. With no one having scored more than five (new signing Scott Wilson), and indeed the Silkmen only notching 17 in 15 matches as a team, their early season success is built on an unerring ability to grind out low scoring victories, including a current run of four wins on the bounce. Looking to unsettle their defensive shape today will be the forward line of Macauley Bonne and David Mooney. Orient have scored their fair share, but only two sides – Torquay United and Solihull Moors – have conceded more.
Despite the biting wind, the Central Line was as unfeasibly hot as ever as I made my way out to London’s East End. Lulled into a false sense of security by the tube, I was then buffeted by the gales all the way along the high street. A stop at the Royal Café, on the corner of Sidmouth Road, provided a fortifying fry up and Diet Coke, without which, I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have made it through the next two hours exposed to the elements.
Brisbane Road, formerly known as Osborne Road, currently known as the Matchroom Stadium, is a pleasantly juxtaposed ground. Being a traditional football stadium, but surrounded by the modern flats emblematic of the East End’s gentrification, it’s easy to look at the ground as a piece of living history in the rapidly changing face of London. The other thing which is noticeable is that this is not a ground designed to host nonleague football. With an (oddly specific) 9,271 capacity, a pristine and well-stocked club shop and a match day set up akin to a League One club, Leyton Orient appear ready in all respects to return to the professional leagues – they just need the performances on the pitch to match up.
I took my place behind the goal at the South Stand end before kick off, planning to read my £3 programme. These intentions were rapidly shelved when the weather made it quite clear that said programme would be finishing up a mile away in Stratford if I had the cheek to try and read it outdoors. I heeded the warning, but sadly, parts of the Matchroom Stadium didn’t. With fifteen minutes to go until kick off, a ball boy drew my attention to the roof of North Stand. There, between two worryingly vibrating floodlights, it was apparent that the advertising hoardings were being peeled off by the wind. After postponement was considered, the game was merely delayed by around twenty minutes, during which time, two intrepid individuals secured themselves to the roof and removed the offending advertising boards, to many cheers from the home end.
This incident did cause the North Stand to be closed for safety reasons though, so the 4,562 fans in attendance packed into the remaining three stands, and – bidden by an enthusiastic Wyvern mascot – we got underway, albeit slightly later than planned.
After ten minutes, I could not fathom how Macclesfield were top, and Leyton Orient were 17th. Steve Davis (not that one) had sent his team out to dominate, and that is exactly what they were doing. Down the right hand side, Jake Caprice and Romauld Boco were causing the Silkmen defenders significant issues. Caprice in particular must have skinned left back David Fitzpatrick a good four or five times (including a dirty looking nutmeg) inside quarter of an hour.
Unfortunately, the first truly notable incident in the match involved a knock to the head for Macclesfield’s former Bournemouth ‘keeper, Shwan Jalal. When Macauley Bonne chased down what looked like a dead end ball, Jalal came out to smother the danger. He made it to the ball first, but the inevitable collision that followed saw Bonne’s knee accidentally clash with Jalal’s head. Jalal seemed keen to play on, but, for once, medical sense came out on top, and he was subbed off. You really don’t see this often enough, so it should be highlighted when a player’s welfare is put first, and they’re subbed despite wishing to stay on.
Within five minutes, Orient had created two decent chances in quick succession. Both came from good work between Boco and Caprice down the right hand side, but neither Mooney – skipper in Charlie Lee’s injury-enforced absence – nor Bonne could convert when the ball came their way. At this point, Boco was looking like the key man in the clash – the Benin international a class above in possession.
After half an hour, Mooney again had a half-chance with his head, but clear cut opportunities were few and far between. Despite all their hassling, harrying and competent hold up play, Bonne and Mooney were simply too far apart when they got the ball to really cause Macclesfield’s defence any serious problems.
In fact, it was the 42nd minute before either goalkeeper was forced to make a proper save, and completely against the run of play, it was Orient’s Charlie Grainger who leapt into action. Unfortunately for him, and the O’s, he was unable to repeat this three minutes later. With only their second foray forward, Macclesfield took a long throw in. When this was flicked on, it arrived at the head of a completely unmarked Scott Wilson. The summer arrival from Eastleigh knocked a header pretty much straight down the middle of the goal, but Grainger was off balance and could merely dangle a hand in the general direction of the ball as it went in.
Four minutes later, when the half time whistle went, I realised why that observations after ten minutes had been misguided. Despite being under the cosh for around 42 of the 49 minutes played, Macclesfield had never really looked in danger, but were ahead. On the contrary, despite having the vast majority of the ball, and getting into some promising positions with it, Orient really hadn’t created anything of note.
When the referee got proceedings back underway, there was a nice moment on 55 minutes, when the home fans gathered in applause for Chingford John. A lifelong Orient fan, he recently passed away and the club and fans touchingly marked his passing with this tribute.
During the second half, the match continued according to the same script. Once again, it took quarter of an hour for anything particularly interesting to happen on the pitch. A cross whipped in from the right was met by the head of Zimbabwe U23 international Bonne. Substitute ‘keeper – and owner of possibly the most appropriately Northern name I’ve heard – Sam Ramsbottom tipped the ball upwards, but then couldn’t claim the follow up under pressure from Bonne. As the ball dropped out, Bonne’s strike partner Mooney attempted a particularly un-athletic bicycle kick, but it was difficult to wrap the foot around, and Ramsbottom claimed easily.
I actually have very few notes for the last thirty minutes, but there were a couple of moments that stood out. At one point, around five feet from the linesman, when denied a throw in, a Macclesfield player whose name shall be withheld, proceeded to shout that he was a “cheating c**t” and a “cheating bastard”. If I could hear it, so could the array of primary school aged children sat directly behind me. Personally, I don’t have a problem with swearing of any description, but the lack of respect to the officials is an offence deemed worthy of a red card in the rules – if it’s not enforced at this level, how can referees enforce it in youth and amateur football?
For the last twenty minutes, it became almost a game of attack versus defence, but even so, Leyton Orient were restricted to a few half chance headers, and hopeful strikes from the edge of the area. Bonne became visibly more frustrated and started to drop deeper to get the ball, but that only served to pull him further from the area where he could potentially affect the match. The introduction of teenager Ruel Sotiriou brought a bit more pace and spark to the Orient attack, but still no breakthrough could be found.
As the fans started to leave, Orient continued to huff and puff, but could not find the breakthrough. Referee Christopher O’Donnell blew his whistle, and put an end to the match. If he hadn’t, we may still be watching now. And it’d still be 0-1.
The Wash Up
A disappointing result for Leyton Orient, though matches against the sides at the very top are not the most important ones for them to be winning at the moment. They will certainly be more disappointed by the recent points dropped against AFC Fylde, Tranmere Rovers and Barrow. A few years ago Jose Mourinho coined the phrase sterile domination, and that is exactly what those in attendance at Brisbane Road witnessed today.
Orient had so much of the ball, and Mark Ellis, Dan Happe, Myles Judd and Mark Ellis’s face mask were barely troubled at all at the back. However, despite the industry of Caprice, Boco and Bonne offensively, they were simply unable to create. In midfield Craig Clay and James Dayton regularly wanted too much time on the ball. Both are tidy, clever players, but they simply weren’t afforded the space they required by the Silkmen’s midfield.
Captain Danny Whitaker, presumably Jonjo Shelvey’s father, was a tyro. Belying his 36 years to hare around the midfield closing down everyone and everything, but simultaneously maintaining the organisation of the defensive unit. Macclesfield are exactly what I expected of them when I looked at the league table – a thoroughly solid unit, but capable of taking the chance when it comes.
Scott Wilson is a willing runner and took probably the only real chance he had. John Askey also managed his substitutions well, bringing on the pacy duo of Tyrone Marsh and Koby Arthur for the last ten. This additional harrying and chasing when the Orient defenders had the ball made it difficult for them to plan attacks, and forced them into more of a long-ball game. This played into the hands of Macclesfield’s gigantic centre backs, who repelled whatever was thrown of them.
My Man of the Match, though, goes to Sam Ramsbottom. He may sound like he should be a walk on part in Emmerdale, but during a debut performance, on a gusty, swirling, afternoon, the young man from the Wirral made a couple of vital saves, and acted as an additional defender at times, coming out to sweep up where danger may have otherwise been present.
I can’t help but feel that Macclesfield will have to show the ability to play more expansive football at some point if they want to stay on top, and that may be reflected by the odds of 25/1 you can still get on them from some bookies. However, not only do they stay top tonight, but they extend the lead to three points.
Orient, on the other hand, have dropped to 18th, and will need to find a way to carve open well organised teams if they’re to get out of this league. It is obvious that Davis wants his team to play good football, but they will need other strings to their bow against a lot of the sides they face this season.