Regular readers of Chris Powell’s Flat Cap will know my admiration for former Addick Bradley Pritchard is bordering on obsessive. So obsessive, in fact, that giving up my Saturday to watch the diminutive Zimbabwean represent his new club, Leyton Orient, at Northampton Town in a pre-season friendly seemed genuinely appealing.
The expectation was that I would sit through 90 dull minutes of uncompetitive action, get some enjoyment out of the 45 minutes Pritchard would probably play for and then hang back after the game to introduce myself the great man. Well, that is if asking for my Charlton shirt to be autographed and for a photo with him counts as introducing myself.
Instead, I was given quite the treat. Not only was the game played at a relatively high-tempo for a pre-season encounter, with a similar tempo at which one-liners were delivered by the Orient fans I sat amongst, the man I had come to see won the game for his new employers.
Receiving a cut back inside Northampton’s box from Dean Cox, Pritchard took a touch, moved the ball onto his weaker left foot and curled a ball beyond the despairing dive of Cobblers ‘keeper Matt Duke. I may not have followed through with the idea of invading the pitch if Pritchard scored, but I celebrated and enjoyed the strike enough to make up for that. The excited, seemingly never-ending smile of a young child on Christmas Day was replicated across my face. Or maybe just a similar smile to the one that always occupies the goalscorer.
And the Nicest Bloke in Football TM lived up to his tag when I had the pleasure of meeting him after the game. There was genuine excitement from him when I showed him my Charlton shirt that I wanted signed. “Ah wicked!” was his first comment, before questioning why I hadn’t got rid of the top with his name and number on already.
His smile was bigger than mine throughout our brief encounter, widening more when I informed him how much of a legend he is in my eyes before I departed. Meeting Pritchard and witnessing his superb goal meant the journey was certainly not a wasted one.
The exceptional finish was a bonus in a positive performance from the midfielder. In the first half , playing wide right, he was simply okay. You could certainly tell this was a more confident and comfortable Pritchard than the one that had struggled at various points throughout last season in a Charlton shirt, but he wasn’t quite perfect. A few misplaced passes and the occasional poor touch were displayed alongside some calm passes and touches, and a couple of nice crosses.
But, in truth, few of Pritchard’s teammates were perfect in a nothing more than okay opening 45 minutes. Both teams showed they had pace in abundance, whilst Orient were passing the ball around nicely, but neither could take that tempo and turn it into something more penetrating in the final third. Even John-Joe O’Toole’s physicality couldn’t cause anything more than a genuinely funny moment after an Orient fan cried out ‘he’s leaning back all the time, ref’ followed by the match official replying ‘that’s what I thought as well’.
In the second, however, Orient and Pritchard stepped it up a gear. They looked to take the game to Northampton, and the Zimbabwean got better and better as the game went on. By the time he had blasted over an opening with the final kick of the game, Pritchard had impressed enough both out wide and in the centre, where he did an excellent job in off loading the ball to start attacks, to hopefully leave those Orient fans who saw his performance feeling positive about the job he’ll for them this season.
Below are some photos from the game.