Battle is on for promotion

Leyton Orient lost 3-0 to fellow promotion hopefuls Salford City (credit Simon O'Connor)
Leyton Orient lost 3-0 to fellow promotion hopefuls Salford City in January, but continue to top the table (credit Simon O’Connor)

In his regular O’s column, Jim Nichols sees reasons to be positive after a tough run of games

What a difference a month makes. The impressive 3-1 home victory over Chesterfield on 22nd December meant Leyton Orient sat at the summit of the National League table on Christmas Day with a handsome four-point lead over their closest rivals.

However, the late capitulation on Boxing Day at Dagenham and Redbridge started a run of just four points from five games. This has comfortably been Orient’s worst run of the season and has resulted not only in that lead being extinguished, but also the teams below bunching up to form a hungry and growing pack of challengers for the title.

There have been two main reasons for the downturn in form. Firstly, injuries to key players have occurred in a short space of time. Looking at the line-up for that Chesterfield game, Coulson, Ekpiteta, Clay and McAnuff have all since been sidelined with medium-term injuries. That is a lot of experience to be without at a crucial period of the season and consistency of selection has been a key factor in the club’s fortunes to date.

The second reason has been the opponents. The O’s have had to visit Dagenham, Dover and Ebbsfleet sides when they were all having their best run of results of the season – the solitary point gained was therefore not a surprise. The same cannot be said of Salford City’s form, but the big-spending club showed enough quality at both ends of the pitch in their 3-0 win at Brisbane Road in early January to indicate that they surely remain Orient’s main rivals for promotion.

There are still reasons for cautious optimism, however. The injuries are now starting to clear, with Clay and McAnuff close to returns, while the club entered the transfer market to acquire Jordan Maguire-Drew and Jamie Turley. Both additions have proven recent quality at this level, and plug further gaps in the team. The forthcoming run of fixtures also looks relatively kind, so it is hoped this has merely been a blip rather than an irreversible decline.

That said, the O’s never do things smoothly and there are sure to be further twists and turns as the season winds towards its conclusion. The fans have continued to show their support in large numbers both home and away and the players and staff seem confident and up for the challenges ahead.

It promises to be exciting, not least because the chance remains of not one but two trips to Wembley in May, with an FA Trophy final appearance still a possibility along with the play-offs, but the club would trade both for the main goal of the title and a return to the Football League.