Leyton Orient are edging closer to a return to the Football League, writes Jim Nichols
A sense of doom was beginning to envelop the club at the end of February as O’s fans watched the club’s title-winning aspirations slowly slipping away after a prolonged period of inconsistent form.
The feeling was that another play-off campaign was looking inevitable, and everybody that was around in 1999, 2001, and 2014, knew that history dictates they end in agonising heartbreak. A decent cup run in the FA Trophy was providing scant consolation, with promotion back into the league this year feeling vital having moved into such a strong position with this talented group of players.
In March, however, fortunes changed. Six straight wins in all competitions, including four in the National League, have seen Orient return to the top of the table and into a position of strength ahead of the season’s climax. It represents the club’s best run of results since the start of that failed play-off campaign in 2013-14. While it has not been a spectacular turnaround, with every one of those victories being achieved by just the single goal, a sense of control and composure in games has returned where it was previously lacking.
The catalyst for this good form has been a switch to a 3-5-2 formation by O’s manager Justin Edinburgh. The reason, presumably, being to play to the strengths of the personnel available to him at the time, with four quality centre backs for this level to choose from and a couple of wide players being unavailable. With the goals generally drying up since the early part of the season, it is those centre backs who have made the difference at both ends of the pitch.
Young Dan Happe, who has been outstanding since returning to the side and earned a call-up to the England semi-professional football team in the process, got the late winner at Brackley in the FA Trophy. Josh Coulson is clearly an influential player in the dressing room and his two first-half headers won Orient the game at Aldershot. Crucially, Marvin Ekpiteta’s strike in the tense, televised game against Wrexham saw Orient leapfrog their rivals in the race for the title.
That Wrexham victory has set Orient on their way, but the games will come thick and fast in the final month of the season and there are some tricky-looking fixtures among them. Orient lost on their last visit to each of their remaining away opponents and so will be grateful for the recent return from injury of James Dayton and Josh Koroma to boost the squad ahead of this busy run-in.