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Perrett's Verdict: Leyton Orient 3 Cherries 1
WHILE the glass half empty brigade are already preparing to drown their sorrows, the glass half full crew still have the champagne on ice.
With the countdown to the end of another eventful season now under way, the ups and downs of following Cherries have been perfectly encapsulated in the space of 18 days.
Victory at Crewe last month, albeit a somewhat fortuitous one, was Cherries’ fifth on the bounce and propelled them to the League One summit for the first time since 1997.
Optimism among supporters was as high as the team’s lofty league position, while the trials and tribulations of the first two months of the campaign were but a distant memory.
Having plumbed the depths and become entrenched in the bottom four, Cherries’ rise under returning hero Eddie Howe had been nothing short of a footballing miracle.
They looked invincible and destined to continue to sweep all before them. The ribbons would be red and black, the title was in the bag and the rest were playing for runners-up spot.
The fairy godmother had finally waved her wand and, following a 23-year wait, Cherries were all set for a return to the second flight and the Championship was calling.
However, while supporters all hoped to live happily ever after, they had not bargained on the wicked witch making a dramatic entrance and the plot taking a nasty turn for the worse.
Four successive defeats, culminating in a dispiriting loss against mid-table Leyton Orient on Saturday, have seen the pessimists surface like vultures picking a dead carcass.
And following the manner of the performance at Brisbane Road, the merchants of doom had every right to voice their concerns with Cherries’ latest showing a cause for alarm.
Such was the paucity of Cherries’ defending that some supporters must have thought they had lost their way and ended up in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds rather than E10.
Perspective, however, should not be lost. And while four defeats on the spin have done little for Cherries’ promotion aspirations, without the 15 wins and five draws in their previous 21 league games, any talk of going up would have been fanciful.
Rewind to October and Cherries were in dreadful form when Howe arrived. They could conceivably have lost their first four games under him – at home to Orient and Tranmere and away to Notts County and Carlisle – and not too many supporters would have batted an eye lid.
Had Cherries then claimed 50 points from their next 21 games and rapidly climbed the table to seventh – the position they occupy today – the club’s followers would have been hailing a remarkable revival.
As Cherries have seen to their cost over the past four weeks, things can change very quickly, especially at the top of a congested League One, the most fiercely-contested division for promotion places in Europe.
At the start of February, Cherries were seven points adrift of the summit. Just 12 days and three games later, they were a point clear at the top. Now seventh, Howe’s men are again seven points behind leaders Doncaster, their next opponents.
On paper, their run-in looks reasonable. Seven of their final 10 games are against teams current ly in the bottom 10, with two of the other three against promotion rivals Doncaster and Tranmere Rovers.
Irrespective of the opposition, however, boss Howe will be fully aware a vast improvement in performance from the one witnessed at Orient will be crucial.
After the teams had taken to the pitch with the theme tune to It’s A Knockout ringing round Brisbane Road, Orient striker Charlie MacDonald floored Cherries with goals either side of half-time.
The 32-year-old profited on a mix-up between defender Dan Seaborne and goalkeeper Shwan Jalal to open the scoring with a tap-in midway through the first half.
Then, after Eunan O’Kane had inadvertently flicked a hopeful through ball into his path, MacDonald gleefully accepted another present to make it 2-0 just three minutes into the second half.
In between the goals, Cherries had two penalty claims turned down, one after Seaborne had rattled the crossbar with a header, while Lewis Grabban blazed a gilt-edged chance high over the crossbar following a well-worked corner.
Substitute Brett Pitman almost single-handedly attempted to turn the game on its head and halved the arrears just minutes after forcing Orient goalkeeper Jamie Jones to pull off a top-drawer fingertip save from his header.
Pitman applied a sublime finish to a hanging cross from O’Kane, his crisp left-foot volley giving Jones no chance after 66 minutes. It ended a 342-minute goal drought for Cherries, although it has still been almost eight hours since another player scored for them with Pitman bagging both at Crewe.
Any hope of a comeback was dashed when the Cherries defence parted like the Red Sea to allow Kevin Lisbie to convert a cross from the impressive Moses Odubajo 11 minutes from time.
Cherries: Jalal 3.5, Francis 4.5, Cook 4, Seaborne 3.5, Ritchie 7, Fogden 5 (Pitman, 55), O’Kane 5, Hughes 6.5, McQuoid 5, Pugh 5 (Fraser, 85), Grabban 3.5 (Tubbs, 74).
Unused subs: Partington, S MacDonald, Fletcher, Allsop (g/k).
Orient: Jones, Cuthbert, Baudry, Clarke, McSweeney, Odubajo, Vincelot, James (Smith, 78), Cox, C MacDonald (Obafemi, 89), Mooney (Lisbie, 70).
Unused subs: Griffith, Rowlands, Omozusi, Grainger, (g/k).
Booked: Vincelot, C MacDonald.
Attendance: 5,136 (including 1,407 visiting supporters).
Referee: James Linington (Newport, Isle of Wight).
Echo star man – Brett Pitman
Introduced as a 55th-minute substitute for Wes Fogden, the Jerseyman took it upon himself to single-handedly attempt to change the game for Cherries.
He showed more attacking threat in his first 11 minutes on the pitch than the rest of the team had managed between them before his arrival.
Only an excellent save from Jamie Jones prevented Pitman from scoring with virtually his first touch, his fine header clawed away by the Orient goalkeeper.
Pitman then beat Jones all ends up when he despatched a stunning volley past him after being picked out by Eunan O’Kane’s cross.
Matt Ritchie, again deputising at left-back, was one of Cherries’ few shining lights, while Richard Hughes was easily the pick of a poor midfield quintet.