It’s no secret that Orient did everything possible in their attempts to get relegated last season, relying on Notts County to win a dramatic game at Wycombe 4-3 that ensured our survival for another season, and sealed Wycombe’s drop into League Two.
However, it’s that time of year to stop looking back and look forward to the new season instead. Pre-season is well underway with only two games remaining against Luton and Maidstone as I write this. The squad is more or less complete, with only the odd loan addition left to complete the squad
So how are things shaping up at Orient in the close season, who are the players to watch and what is the outlook for the season?
Russell Slade entered the off-season clinging onto his job for dear life following last season’s collapse and narrow escape. Fans feelings are mixed with many thinking he deserves loyalty after a 7th place finish in the 2010/2011 season and great FA Cup run, while others feel his tactical ineptitude and poor signings mean he should have gone, as he presided over Orient’s worst start to a league campaign in history (not winning until our 11th game of the season) and we narrowly avoided relegation.
The bottom line on the manager
Slade is now in unknown territory with the Orient faithful; no club has really held on to him in a management capacity for 3 seasons or more before (he’s either quit or been released), so it really is a make-or-break season for Slade and nobody knows what to expect.
Clubs in league one face a salary cap at 55% of turnover in the 2012/13 season which has seen more goings than comings at Orient and an estimated £400,000 slashed from the annual wage bill. As a result the playing staff have seen massive turnover with even established players like Matt Spring leaving, as well as young prospects like winger George Porter who left for Burnley. Many fans wanted Jamal Camplbell-Ryce to stay, but he instead left for Notts County along with Dean Leacock.
New signings have been less ‘star-studded’ than the previous season, and the wage bill has clearly been reduced with 8 players out, although it is also likely that Ben Chorley will also be leaving before the season begins.
Maybe the most worrying factor is the fact that top scorer from last season with 12 goals, Kevin Lisbie hasn’t been offered a new contract with only a year to go. While he is getting older, he is still the most purposeful player in the Orient frontline. Ryan Brunt, on a 6 month loan from Stoke looks strong and has promise, but still looks raw and Symes has failed to impress. Only David Mooney has looked purposeful in pre-season with Mooney, but overall the team is struggling to score goals. Midfield needs work, with Smith, Cox and new signing Griffith failing to inspire confidence, although Moses Odubajo has carried on where he left off last season, looking relaxed and capable in pre-season.
The bottom line on the players
Defence looks the most settled, with Clarke and Cuthbert looking imperious in central defence, while it’s hard to call the full backs. (other than to say that I hope Slade now realises that speedy young winger Moses Odubajo cannot play as a right wing back as he just cannot defend!)
Overall the fitness looks good, but tactics, sharpness, crossing and passing still need a lot of work in the final two pre-season games.
Despite Russell Slade’s eternal optimism that the team is bonding and it’s all about fitness levels and not results (I agree to an extent), the performances have been pretty poor in pre-season. Besides a crazy first game at Sutton, which the Os won 5-3, subsequent performances against Blue Square Premier opponents have been poor, with 1-0 defeats at Ebbsfleet and Dartford.
Against well organised teams, Orient have failed to create clear openings and have also been prone to defensive lapses as well. A behind-closed-doors 2-0 win against Wolves can’t hide the fact that this is still very much a work-in-progress and probably still will be for the first ten matches of the season.
Orient Players to watch this season
There are several players to watch for the Orient this year…
1. Young winger, Moses Odubajo, a product of Orient’s youth system scored a 35 yard screamer in the last day win against Rochdale. Fast, confident and with plenty of tricks he will cause teams problems as he likes to get the ball and run at players from the right wing.
2. Experienced Nathan Clarke could form a superb partnership with Scott Cuthbert in central defence.
3. Kevin Lisbie could score 20 goals with a full pre-season under his belt this time around.
4. Left winger Dean Cox was disappointing last season but in form he can change games at League 1 level (provided Russell Slade stops playing him in central midfield).
Hopes for the season ahead
The last two seasons under Russell Slade have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, so O’s fans would happily settle for mid-table and be delirious if we could sneak into the top half. Much will depend on how well the players gel. With such a high turnover, there are challenges, although these signings have the potential to form a better team compared to the high profile individuals from last season (such as Jamie Cureton). Greater harmony in the camp will benefit Orient this year, with several protagonists leaving the club.
Some thoughts on League One this year…
This year is one of the hardest to predict so far, with uncertainty over whether Portsmouth will even start the season with their horrendous financial problems. The wage cap will widen the divide between the larger and smaller clubs, so expect to see Sheffield United win the league, with Preston also a major contender this year. Notts County, MK Dons, Swindon and Carlisle will also be in the mix for the top 6. At the bottom expect to see Walsall, Yeovil, one or two of the promoted clubs and possibly Orient fight it out of the bottom four.
Enjoy the season!
Written by Andy Brown, We Are Going Up’s Leyton Orient Blogger