Date: 20 November 2010
It was October 2002 when Connell suffered such a serious injury at Brisbane Road that, effectively, we never saw him at full strength again. Depending upon the outcome of injuries sustained on today’s slippery pitch (it had rained throughout the previous night), this match could prove to be the turning point of our season - for the worse. Before today’s match we sat proudly in third place in League One. Now we potentially face another league match on Tuesday with several key players missing including - most worryingly - our only goalie of any value.
In the pub before the game, statistics were being bandied about; particularly the fact that we hadn’t won a league fixture at Brisbane Road since 1948 apparently. (This is of course largely irrelevant given that we did win a cup fixture 3-1 here in August 2004.) We made our way towards the ground, at one point being ticked off by police for heading towards the pedestrian crossing to get over the main road when we could have crossed elsewhere. (What on earth’s going on when police are trying to steer people away from pedestrian crossings?) And then into the ground itself. Views from the old main stand, now partly allotted to visitors, are generally good - apart from the odd (relatively narrow) pillar. Despite the notices telling people to sit in their ‘correct’ (i.e. ticketed) seats, everyone seemed to manage to find places alongside their mates without any great difficulty. But the worst thing about this stand is the congestion underneath at half time; with six ‘queues’ (to and from the gents’, the ladies’ and the tea bar) all mixed in together, Orient’s stadium is if anything even worse designed than Brentford’s!
We began with a not-fully-fit Cooper in for an inexplicably missing Garry; and Arter playing wide right (a position I’d not seen him play before) for Feeney - who was on the bench. None of Symes, Taylor nor Stockley was present, so the subs included three full-backs! Jalal had a good game; nothing to over-tax him but very competent when called upon. Neither Cooper nor Arter was up to speed, but Arter coordinated well with Smith and moved inside as necessary. Robinson had a cracking game in central midfield and on another day would have been Man of the Match with a performance like this. And Bignall, much improved on the previous week, achieved a full ninety minutes - though he didn’t have much choice about this when injuries accounted for two out of three substitutions.
We came out of the starting blocks in a very lively manner and within a couple of minutes Pugh had scored one of the best goals ever. Receiving the ball from McQuoid on Bournemouth’s left he ran at our defence and slammed the ball home from distance rather than opting to pass. We were 1-0 up already! The first half proceeded with Pugh and McQuoid getting several further chances at goal, as well as Arter who - although his thunderous shot was miles off target in the end - can be forgiven for having a go. Towards the end of the half Cooper, who’d been struggling anyway, went down and couldn’t get up again. Bartley took his place. On paper this could in fact be an improvement, but unfortunately Bartley wasn’t fully fit either - as would become apparent later on. So: half time, Bournemouth one goal up but could have been more, we’re comfortably controlling the game, and everyone’s looking forward to the second half.
This began with an early McQuoid shot, and soon after this another Pugh goal. Arter having beaten several defenders to put in the perfect pass, Pugh was able to simply ‘stroke’ the ball home. Cue wild excitement (and unjustified optimism) amongst visiting fans. We continued to dominate and although we’d earlier had one corner-kick that we’d attempted to take ‘short’, and effectively wasted, later we were awarded no fewer than five corners in a row! For one of them we attempted the traditional ‘step over’ routine, and it very nearly came off: McQuoid’s shot was on target but kicked off the line by the Orient keeper for another corner. Orient never looked threatening because they never got anywhere near our goal - always being forced to shoot tamely and from distance. But all this would change when Jalal sustained an injury (serious enough to necessitate about five minutes’ treatment on the pitch, and a stretcher off) and one Jon Stewart came on for his debut, about ten minutes before the end.
Orient fans were already leaving, but their moment was still to come. Our defence stood still (especially the exhausted Bartley), and Stewart arrived late, when the Orient substitute slammed the ball home for what we hoped at the time would be a ‘consolation’ goal for Orient. But now we looked very vulnerable, and Bartley was passing everything back to Stewart despite the latter looking very uncomfortable indeed. With Eddie having already decided to bring on Feeney for Arter in the seventy-fifth minute, nothing more could be done now except to whistle furiously and hope the added time would soon pass. But - chiefly because of Jalal’s on-pitch treatment - the added time came to six minutes; and after two of those minutes the same Orient sub couldn’t believe his luck when Bartley slipped up, leaving him one on one against our keeper (if you can even call him a keeper) to score the easiest goal he’ll ever score. And to be honest if the game had gone on much longer Orient would have scored again, so we were lucky to get even one point in the end. To add injury to insult, while all this was happening, goal scoring hero Pugh had slipped up (just off the pitch) and would also need a stretcher! So 2-0 had become 2-2, almost entirely down to Jalal’s injury, and unless a few players make miraculous recoveries we’re going to be humiliated at home to Yeovil in three days’ time.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Smith (7), Cooper (6), Pearce (7), Wiggins (7);
Arter (6), Hollands (7), Robinson (8), Pugh (9);