Despite the fanfare and hype about this top of the table clash, the performance from the home side was no different to most of the matches this season.
Wolves were set to face two different sorts of pressures over the hectic Christmas schedule. Against Crewe they were expected to win, the pressure was on the home side to put the Alex to the sword, which they did. On Sunday the pressure was different, a win against the swashbuckling London club would send a message to the rest of the league that Wolves really were the real deal and it would ensure Wolves would finish 2013 on top of a league.
The team sheets read for strange viewing, Griffiths and Doyle were once again omitted from the first eleven. However, the mercurial Malian, Bakary Sako, was reinstated on the left hand side as Wolves remained in a 4-2-3-1 formation. A dead leg and a confident performance meant Ethan Ebanks-Landell started in the right back position ahead of Scott Golbourne.
Jake Cassidy was given another chance to prove he could be one of Wolves’ first choice striker, up top on his own with Sako wide left, Henry wide right and Michael Jacobs was chosen as the ‘number 10’ behind the under pressure Welshman. Macdonald and Price played the controllers in midfield.
The top of the table side made just two changes from their last game, a 2-1 win over Gillingham in which Orient scored in the ninetieth minute to rescue all three points, Cuthbert and Batt were replaced by James and Simpson. Despite the injury to Shaun Batt, Orient still displayed the firepower they possess, players like Odubajo, Lisbie and Cox were still going to be huge threats to Wolves’ backline.
The first forty five minutes were a hectic affair. Wolves, as usual, were dominating possession and creating chances. Their endeavour and bravado were rewarded five minutes in when Kevin Macdonald slid the ball out right to Ethan Ebanks-Landell who lashed home a shot that flew past Larkins in the Orient goal. The afternoons crisp and wintry feel was cut into two when Landell’s shot flew into the net, the atmosphere in the Molineux went off the chart as the 28,000 fans stood and applauded the burling full backs magnificent strike.
The game restarted and Wolves’ game plan was exceeding their wildest expectations, going at Leyton Orient and attacking them with purpose, pace and power worked. Those three things twinned with the atmosphere emitting from the south bank was enough to intimidate the O’s into conceding the first goal of what could have been a cagey, scrappy affair.
The pattern for the first half was set, Wolves were dominating in all areas of the pitch but were failing to convert any of their chances. These missed opportunities were sprinkled with Orient half chances. Orient seemed to be cutting inside and delivering rather tame, easy to deal with, crosses, something that the centre half pairing of Batth and Stearman could deal with all day long.
Lisbie then soon broke against the supposed Orient game plan, he went outside on his right foot, past Ricketts and whipped in a low, fast ball that Ikeme only just caught, it was a fantastic cross in, the type of cross that strikers dream about.
Wolves the displayed their abilities on the counter attack, Kevin Macdonald picked out an onrushing Bakary Sako with a delicate through ball down the left hand side. Sako then completed the one-two as his cut back found Macdonald whose shot was deflected out for another corner.
Wolves continued to rattle Orient in the opening exchanges, the O’s still unable to get to grips with Wolves quick transitional play. Another lung busting run saw Landell pick out Sako who should have done much better with the shot. Michael Jacobs then found himself in a great position to double the lead, his direct and purposeful run into the Orient penalty area came to nothing after Jacobs dawdled and should have released his shot earlier.
Despite Orients high position, this was one arguably one of the best forty five minutes of football we were witnessing from Kenny Jackett’s side. Wolves were dominant in every area of the pitch, Price looked like a rejuvenated player with Macdonald beside him. Landell was showing everyone why he is a genuine contender for that right back spot, it’s heartening to see that Wolves have so much strength in depth, something Orient, Preston and Brentford simply don’t have. Both of our first team right backs (Doherty and Golbourne) were out yet in come Landell and the home crowd forget all about the more experienced pair of full backs.
Jacobs was having his best game for Wolves, he looked a lot more purposeful and effective in the centre of the pitch, he didn’t have to cut inside and beat as many players on the turn. Playing in the middle meant he could really go through the gears and have more efforts on target. He displayed an excellent display of speed and poise to shoot from outside the box, unfortunately, his shot selection was poor and it hit the Orient reserve ‘keeper, who parried it away, Cassidy then had a great chance to tap in from the rebound but shanked his shot wide.
Leyton Orient were awarded a free kick in an awkward area, it was bang on eighteen yards out, almost impossible to get it up and over the wall. Instead, power was the option, fortunately the wall of Wolves stood tall and strong and the free kick was deflected and cleared, not before a nervy goal mouth scramble.
Worry and doubt were cast in the minds of the Wolves fans though when Jack Price went down injured, he managed to hobble off and back on for the rest of the game but it was clear he wasn’t the same controlling midfielder he was before the unfortunate injury.
With half time approaching Wolves were turning the screw, looking for that second goal that would have surely finished Orient off and opened the flood gates to more and more goals from the home side. Henry swung another delightful ball in, if Cassidy was just an inch taller, it would have been two-nil.
Annoyingly, half time was called by the referee, in an ideal world, Wolves would have kept on playing, that second goal just eluded them in another wise perfect first half. Wolves had dominated in every department (even the bad ones, with ten fouls to their name!) more chances, more corners and more possession. This wasn’t reflected in the overall score line though as Orient stood firm against the onslaught of Wolves attack.
Kenny Jackett was forced into taking off Jack Price after he was unable to continue after the injury he sustained in the first half. A body blow for Wolves as one of our most technically gifted midfielders was taken off, he and Macdonald were beginning to forge a real partnership in the middle of the park. Both have differing attributes, Macdonald’s ball retention, ability to dictate the tempo of the game and look up enough to spot a pass is astounding. Whereas his counterpart, Price, has a terrier like attitude when attacking the ball, he always wants it, whatever position he is. Always looking for the ball receiving it from a team mate and giving it back, he then moves into space and asking for the ball back again, so simple but almost unseen by Wolves fans who’ve been crying out for a number of years for a ball playing midfielder. It’s so refreshing to see a player that young have that much confidence.
Whilst the teams changed physical ends of the field, the way the game was going was certainly still in Wolves’ favour. Jacobs hitting just wide after another purposeful run through the centre. Minutes later, Wolves were on the break, Sako hit a cross field pass to Macdonald who was really beginning to shift into top gear, he was one-on-one with Larkins but his poor shot selection meant it was an easy save for the under fire ‘keeper.
Orient had a rare venture into the Wolves half Odubajo’s deep cross was impossible for the pint sized Dean Cox to reach. It was just a little wake up call for the home side that their opponents were top of the league for a reason, despite them being under the cosh for so long.
This wakeup call was ignored and the away side soon levelled.
Orient took their free kick quickly, the ball was channelled down the right hand side, Odubajo’s cross wasn’t cleared and Baudry was there at the back post to tap in and cause the travelling fans to rejoice. Completely against the run of play, Orient had somehow managed to equalise.
If the Wolves goal was a shock to Orient, the away sides goal was an absolutely body blow to the Old Gold.
With the game in a deadlock both Slade and Jackett changed it up. For the away side, off went Simpson, on came Lasimant in a like-for-like change. Jackett switched the system from a five man midfield to a four man midfield with Cassidy and Griffiths, on for James Henry up top to try and grab a winner with half around twenty minutes to go.
Cassidy almost had his own ‘hand of god’ moment when Ethan Ebanks-Landell’s in swinging cross flew just beyond the head of Cassidy who, in a last gasp attempt to break his scoring drought, stuck out his left hand, only for the referee to book him for a clear, and comical, hand ball. Up the other end the substitute, Lasimant, almost made the perfect impact after being played in by the influential Kevin Lisbie, thankfully the substitute shot wide and Wolves lived to fight another day (fifteen minutes)
With time almost up it was Wolves who were on the attack, wave after wave of skirmishes on the Orient goal. Interspersed with frustrating battles for possession, the Wolves midfield clearly missing the tenacity and composure of midfielder, Jack Price, as much as Dave Edwards puts a hundred percent into his work, he hasn’t got the technical ability to be a calming presence in the middle of the pitch. Heads were in hands time and again as Wolves failed to get the ball on the floor and play their way to victory, like everyone in the ground knew they could.
Despite the introduction of Kevin Doyle for Jake Cassidy, Wolves were unable to find a winner and the game ended in a frustrating, for the home side at least, draw. The cheers from the away support indicated their expectations and desires were fulfilled, whilst the dampened applause from the home fans told you that this was most definitely two points dropped.