Signs of promise

Orient fans celebrated promotion at the end of last season
Orient fans celebrated promotion at the end of last season, but the club has been forced to adapt to life in the Football League without late manager Justin Edinburgh (credit James Cracknell)

Jim Nichols on a challenging start to the season for Leyton Orient

Leyton Orient only spent two years outside of the Football League. But after the euphoria of the hard-earned promotion in April came the tragic death in June of the mastermind of that successful National League campaign, Justin Edinburgh.

Despite the supporters’ familiarity with the division, it was therefore difficult to know what to expect this season. Given this set of circumstances, it was no surprise to see the club opt for stability where they were able to in preparing for the new season.

Assistant manager Ross Embleton has stepped up to the position of head coach on an interim basis, with a familiar coaching team supporting him. On the playing side, rather than sign a number of new players, last season’s squad have been given the chance to prove that they can make the step up.

Unsurprisingly, bigger clubs were showing interest in some of those players after their title-winning exploits, and Macauley Bonne and Josh Koroma were both snapped up by Championship clubs. Their combined contribution last season was 34 goals and that won’t be easy to replace.

Conor Wilkinson and Lee Angol are the two strikers signed to fill that gap. Both are young players that are unproven at this level but have enjoyed some success in non-league.

In addition, Orient signed central midfielder Josh Wright, who will be familiar to fans from his previous spell at the club in 2015, plus Louis Dennis to provide competition in the attacking positions.

After just a handful of games it is difficult to draw conclusions. The opening game versus Cheltenham was an emotional occasion with tributes being made to Justin. It was fitting that Wright scored the winning goal on his second debut for the club, being Edinburgh’s last signing and someone who was personally close to the former Orient manager.

Following this game came two unconvincing defeats at Macclesfield and Plymouth in league and cup respectively, followed by a goalless draw at home to Stevenage. At half-time in the following fixture at Mansfield, with Orient 2-0 down and staring another defeat in the face, it was looking like it would be a long season of struggle ahead.

Much of the blame for the lack of potency being shown in front of goal was being placed on the 5-3-2 formation that was being continued from the end of the previous campaign. Enter Embleton to shift it around at half time, and with Dennis a big influence, both Wilkinson and Angol were on the scoresheet as Orient turned the deficit into a thrilling 3-2 comeback win.

It’s only one game, but with all of the new men contributing, the future looks promising.