There was a telling moment during Arsene Wenger’s post-match press conference at Leyton Orient last week when a query from one of the broadsheet chaps created an awkward fog of confusion. It went something like this:
Hack: Were you aware of Tehoue before the game?
Hack: Had you heard of Jonathan Tehoue?
Hack: The guy who scored Orient’s equaliser.
Tehoue, the erratic Frenchmen who came on to score our equaliser in that titanic FA Cup tie is, as Arsene now knows all too well, a sort of lower-division Obafemi Martins. Having spent the past few months working out how not to get humiliated by Barcelona in the Champions League, Arsenal were a bit half-arsed with the homework for their clash with the mighty O’s a few days later. And I say ‘mighty O’s’ with not a hint of irony, after 20-odd years of saying it with great affectionate swathes of the stuff.
Why? Because Orient are currently the hardest team to beat in the country. Really. High-flying Championship/Champions League outfits Norwich, Swansea, and Arsenal? Not a problem. Droylsden? A bit of a problem, but we eventually gave them a record-breaking hiding too. We’re, like, awesome this season.
Apart from a 5-0 tonking at Brighton – the first game back after an unwanted freeze-related winter break - they’ve not lost for 20-odd games, and goals are flying in all over the shop
Orient’s recent surge of form is particularly pleasurable as no-one really saw it coming. I know a good few fans who threatened to rip up their season tickets when journeyman gaffer Russell Slade was appointed last April – current Premier League idiot savant Ian Holloway was an unsuccessful applicant a year earlier – and even those in favour assumed he was just there as a relegation survival specialist, after keeping Brighton up the previous season. Ten months on his name is now being sung lustily from the stands, which never happens at Orient, apart from within the traditional lament, “for fuck’s sake [insert name here], sort it out”
After a shaky start to the season – several months in the bottom six – Slade’s promising bunch of cast-offs and loanees have become a proper old-fashioned unit, brimming with the sort of unshakable self-belief unseen in these parts since, er, well, certainly before I started coming. Apart from a 5-0 tonking at Brighton – the first game back after an unwanted freeze-related winter break - they’ve not lost for 20-odd games, and goals are flying in all over the shop.
Arsene might have seen that cup comeback coming, as we made a few headlines with a similar Tehoue-inspired effort in an earlier round. I was stranded at a blizzard-hit airport in Eastern Europe when the gloom-deepening text came through that the O’s were a man and two goals down at home to Blue Square Bet Northern Division outfit Droylsden in our second round replay. Tehoue eventually scored a last-minute equaliser and ended up with a hat-trick as the game went nuts in extra time. Four players and the opposition manager were sent off, it finished 8-2 and was described by The Mirror as The Weirdest Match Ever.
After an unexpected win at Championship high-flyers Norwich our curious cup odyssey continued at Swansea in round four, screened live, entertainingly, on S4C’s excellent all-in-Welsh footy show Sgorio. Clinging on for a replay we broke away and won it via a truly spectacular goal, as tricky Belgian winger Paul-Jose Mpoku whipped in a cross which Swansea captain Alan Tate meant to hammer clear but somehow managed to slice backwards into his own net. I did wonder if Tate’s effort might have somehow popped into Laurent Koscielny’s head as he shaped to hoof that ball away in the final minutes of the League Cup Final. “Actually, maybe I’ll just dummy this one… maison de merde!”
When quasi-Welsh comedian Mark Watson then pulled the Arse from his ball-bag in the fifth round draw we worried that Orient might lose the plot in between, but the carefree thrashings and comebacks continued, notably a 2-1 down/3-2-up win at MK Dons a few days before the big game. Wenger watched a video of that one, apparently, the only match of ours he was planning to take in.
The Gunners, the Hammers and the various governing bodies would do well, then, to keep a wary eye on the O’s in the near future. We just don’t know when we’re beaten
Still, it looked like our big Sunday had gone sour when the boys conceded a soft Rosicky header in the second half and hardly touched the ball for the next 15 minutes. But on came our obscure Frenchman, who rattled the Arsenal defence by generally being big and quick, set up a few chances, then decided to cut out the middle man with two minutes to go, charged at their centre halves and thumped it through Almunia’s legs. Simple.
Arsenal have lost a cup final since then, while we endured a dramatic away-day at promotion-chasing Huddersfield, going two-nil down, getting a man sent off and losing our captain to a long-term injury. Final score? 2-2. We’re the new Invincibles.
Why are the O’s suddenly so full of spunk? Well, the Olympic Stadium business shouldn’t be discounted. The likelihood that West Ham will happily break Premier League rules by moving onto Orient’s patch, then undercut us with cheap ticket deals in a desperate attempt to fill a stadium that’s much too big for them has gotten everyone associated with The O’s pretty miffed, to say the least.
Brisbane Road has never been the noisiest place but you sense that the Saturday regulars who usually turn up for a quiet grumble are suddenly realising what they’ll lose if Boris and co apply their brainless rubber stamp, and are suddenly making their voices heard. ‘Stand Up For the O’s’ rang loud and proud around Brisbane Road last week.
Say what you like about the current state of the FA Cup but Tehoue’s goal could be a major milestone in Orient’s history, with chairman Barry Hearn breaking off from the post-match celebrations to point out that our share of the replay money could fund a top-notch legal defence against West Ham’s projected move, if required.
The Gunners, the Hammers and the various governing bodies would do well, then, to keep a wary eye on the O’s in the near future. We just don’t know when we’re beaten.
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