It’s difficult to know exactly how Orient will set themselves up for tomorrow’s match, as manager Steve Davis used three radically different formations in the first half of Tuesday’s game against Gateshead in an attempt to find the shape which will turn his side’s fortunes around.
The statistics show why Davis is looking to reshuffle his options. Nineteenth is not the league position Orient expected to be in at this point of the season, with just four points separating them from the relegation spots. Furthermore, only bottom club Solihull Moors have conceded more goals, and The Os haven’t enjoyed a win in their last nine games.
Generally, Orient have lined up with an orthodox 4-4-2 this season. In this formation, they lean heavily on the best known name in an experienced squad: Jobi McAnuff, who captained Reading in the Premier League. In a 4-4-2, he lives up to his billing as a threatening presence on the left flank, cutting in onto his favoured right foot to create.
It should also be pointed out that he doesn’t look to live off his reputation, but puts a good shift in up and down the flank. He diligently doubles up with his full back when Orient don’t have the ball in a 4-4-2, and drops back into a 4-5-1 shape, condensing space between midfield and defence.
However, on Tuesday he was used as a central midfielder as Orient initially lined up in a 3-4-3, which allowed them to leave a third player higher up the pitch, ready to break away, but also left them more exposed on the flanks.
Stripped of the discipline of McAnuff on the left, it was possible for Gateshead to overload on the right, passing their way round the exposed Myles Judd and drawing the left-sided centre back Joe Widdowson out from the middle.
On the other hand, Orient had wide players in more advanced positions, able to offer the option of swift counter attacks. This made them a potentially dangerous proposition on the break, although this surely wasn’t Davis’s primary intention in a home match they would look to impose themselves upon.
This, and their openness on the left flank, meant Davis took the bold step of changing his shape within a quarter of an hour of the start of the match. It was a particularly drastic move because it involved a root and branch alteration of the side, quite beyond the change of formation, with a number of players moving into radically different positions. Widdowson reverted to his more familiar position as left back, Judd switched from a left wing back to right back, Caprice shifted from wing back to wide striker and Bonne changed flanks. Craig Clay dropped into the anchor role, which suits him well as he is strong and able to distribute the ball accurately.
McAnuff remained in a central position, and this allowed him to take advantage of his composure on the ball. When Gateshead had got into their deep defensive block, McAnuff’s willingness to wait for the right moment before releasing a pass gave more scope for attacking players to make runs to create space, as is seen in the clip below where Mooney drops off to receive the ball from Clay, allowing Macauley Bonne, the wide striker, to run into the space he has created.
McAnuff also, naturally, was able to break forwards into shooting positions around the edge of the box from his central position.
The change of shape, however, did not address Orient’s vulnerability down the flanks, and Gateshead continued to get into crossing positions with relative ease.
As a result, in the 41st minute Davis changed his formation once more, switching back to the 4-4-2 which he has favoured for much of the season so far, with Brophie coming out into a wide left position in midfield and Judd dropping back on the other flank.
Up front Macauley Bonne is the main goal threat. He’s quick and likes to live on the shoulder of the last defender, or drift to the left and cut in onto his right foot to run at the defence on the angle. Orient are happy to play longer balls for Bonne to chase, turning the defence, but are more inclined to pass their way through the thirds, and have interesting options to use up front, alongside Bonne, when they do so. Mooney is more of a target man, looking to drop off and help balls on to Bonne, while Matthew Harrold, who is able to handle himself physically, also likes to drop into the hole and slide passes down the channels for Bonne to run onto.
However, as I mentioned earlier, Bonne was used as a wide striker for the opening 40 minutes of Tuesday’s game, although that didn’t really allow him to get into threatening central positions.
Jake Caprice is a very quick, very progressive right back who looks to get forward when possible. His straight line speed is impressive, although he can run into trouble when he hits the ball in front of him to chase.
Wrexham have recent experience of how dangerous he can be as he was an important figure in Woking’s 2-0 victory over us last season. Playing as a wing back, he delivered a very high volume of crosses into Wrexham’s penalty area, admittedly aided by Gary Mills’ surprising decision to leave Jordan Evans high up the pitch, leaving Sean Newton exposed to Caprice’s runs.
When playing in a 4-4-2, his forward runs are helped by the movement of James Dayton, who likes to tuck inside, creating a lane for Caprice to burst into.