After a six-month break, Leyton Orient finally return to competitive football action, writes Jim Nichols
After a long wait of almost exactly six months since their last competitive fixture, Leyton Orient’s league season begins today with a trip to Oldham.
After the initial period of inaction, it was decided in June via a formal vote by the member clubs to end the 2019/20 League Two season early. Final positions were determined on a points-per-game basis, meaning Orient finished the season in 17th place. With the club neither in relegation trouble nor involved in the promotion shake-up, this was a satisfactory outcome and enabled planning for the 2020/21 season to begin.
Premier League games and Championship and lower league play-off ties were all played behind closed doors during June and July, so Orient will have been able to see what may be in store for the new season. As things stand, matches will take place in front of no supporters until at least October, with the potential for limited crowds from then, depending on updates to government Covid-19 guidance.
Despite this uncertainty the club has managed to sell more than 3,000 season cards, which is an exceptional effort, and credit goes both to those working behind the scenes for their regular and open communication about their plans, and the fans continuing the loyalty shown since relegation and the subsequent takeover in 2017.
Given the long delay, it is difficult to assess where the O’s stand on the pitch ahead of the new season in relation to other clubs. It was a disappointing season last time out but there were positive signs of progress in the weeks leading up to the shutdown. There is a sense of stability with the only signing to date being the permanent capture of midfielder Ouss Cisse, a player who was a key component of Orient’s upturn in fortunes following his arrival on loan in January.
One significant departure is central defender Marvin Ekpiteta, who turned down the offer of a new contract to sign for League One side Blackpool. Ekpiteta was an important player in Orient’s National League title-winning side of 2018/19 and will need to be replaced. The return to fitness of Jobi McAnuff and a new contract for academy graduate Ruel Sotiriou following a long wait could be important factors.
With 46 league games due to be completed in a shortened time frame, the full squad will need to be utilised, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see an addition or two once the action begins. The owners have talked about looking to make continuous progress and an improvement on last season will be the minimum expectation, with a top-half finish a realistic target.