A return to the Football League is now in sight for the O’s, writes Jim Nichols
When you become a Leyton Orient supporter you know it is never meant to be easy.
The last few weeks have tested the nerves of even the most calm O’s fans, as the 2018-19 National League season has drawn to a close.
After winning both legs of the FA Trophy semi-final in late March to seal a trip to Wembley, Orient found themselves clear at the top of the league with a couple of games in hand over an improving Salford City and a consistently solid Solihull Moors. But defeat at Bromley in a tetchy Tuesday night encounter in the first of those extra games opened the door to their rivals.
From then on Orient stayed ahead of the pack, but they did it the hard way. Cracks appeared in the previously watertight defence and during one week they thrillingly clawed back deficits against Halifax, Eastleigh and Sutton respectively to take a vitally important seven points.
The result at Sutton felt particularly huge, with a last-minute penalty gifted by the opposition keeper and slotted away nervelessly by top scorer Macauley Bonne in front of the Orient fans. Perhaps not the textbook way to do things, but this was title-winning form. A more routine win in front of the television cameras at home to Harrogate followed, but Salford sealed a late win to keep the pressure on Justin Edinburgh’s battling squad.
However, on Easter Monday, a large contingent from East London packed Solihull’s small ground for what they hoped would be their last away trip as a non-league club. The team’s fighting spirit was on show again as they ground out a goalless draw against their combative opponents.
The O’s are now so close to sealing their return to the Football League, two years to the day that their 112-year membership of it was ended in such sad and unnecessary circumstances. They still require a positive result at home to relegated Braintree on the final day of the league season this Saturday to seal promotion, but to have bounced back from the manner of that relegation two years ago is a spectacular achievement.
Praise goes to the owners Nigel Travis and Kent Teague, who not only stepped in to save the club when all seemed lost, but learned quickly from some early setbacks to build a squad and culture that has contributed massively to this season’s successes. A promotion and FA Trophy double would be just reward for their efforts and for the supporters’ loyalty.