In the end, when the news broke that Orient had “parted company with Manager Kenny Jackett with immediate effect” the only real surprise for supporters was that the board and Director of Football had finally acted, as the recent noises coming out of the club suggested that they were prepared to back Jackett in the hope that things would come good again.
Maybe they finally reached the same realisation that a large portion of the fanbase had some time ago: that it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, and that slowly but surely we were drifting towards a genuine battle for survival in the Football League? As hard as it is to admit to ourselves, a team that is sitting just 5 points above the relegation places, that has managed to score just 1 goal in its last 9 matches and hasn’t won in its last 10 games is in real danger. Admittedly we have games in hand over most of those below us, but anyone who has watched us recently would struggle to identify where the next goal, let alone points are going to come from.
Defeat by Bristol Rovers was sickening not solely because it was at the hands of a team managed by Joey Barton, but because it was so far away from that sunny afternoon at the Memorial Stadium back in September when we put Rovers to the sword with all 3 of Harry Smith, Theo Archibald and Aaron Drinan getting themselves on the scoresheet. So where did it all go wrong?
That win in Bristol was our only away league win under Jackett and in many ways signalled the end of our positive start to the campaign. Immediately after that match we were winless in the next 6 and have picked up just 17 points since.
Thinking back to his appointment in the summer, it is fair to say that there was genuine optimism amongst the Orient faithful. Most fans seemed to think that a manager with experience and a good track record of securing promotions in the lower leagues was exactly what we needed to push us towards promotion contention, if not this season, then almost certainly the next. Instead, we find ourselves in a worse position than when Ross Embleton lost his job almost exactly a year ago (we had 6 more points and were in 14th place having played the same number of games).
We didn’t think it at the time, but the mass transformation of the squad over the summer, that saw very few players remaining from the season before, let alone the National League title-winning squad, may have posed a bigger issue than we perhaps realised. While we were reassured that those coming in were all of at least League One pedigree, it was always going to be the case that they would take time to gel as a squad, and for Jackett to settle on his best side and the right system to bring the best out of those selected. That seemed to happen when we opted for a three at the back system at Newport, a game we could and probably should have won.
While there were some encouraging performances in the earlier part of the season, there were also a hell of a lot of frustrating draws, at home but especially away, and for me there was the nagging feeling that perhaps we should have been expecting more from such a vaunted collection of players. As I suggested last week (Orient Nerd Weekly Ramblings- When will this misery end? Orient crash to their third consecutive home defeat and stretch their winless run to 9 games.), that cruel defeat at Port Vale at the start of October seemed to knock the confidence of the side and they really haven’t looked the same since.
As we moved into winter: the injuries to Tom James and Craig Clay which robbed us of probably our two best performers of the season, the Covid outbreak that depleted the squad to its bare bones ahead of the trip to Tranmere, and the postponements over the festive period and beyond have certainly not helped our cause; but we really should have mustered more than 2 points and 2 goals (one of them an own goal of course) in the last 10 matches.
Equally, an experienced manager as Jackett no doubt is should have been more adaptable and have better ideas to shake things up and spark a performance out of his side. Not least how to get a better supply to the 2 forwards who managed 21 league goals between them up to the beginning of December but neither of whom have scored since! Instead, we were always told how frustrated he was and how hopeful he remained that we might start to put things right. It just never looked like happening and the results if anything were getting worse.
Many O’s fans have suggested that the January transfer window was poor and that the players we brought in may not have been those that Jackett felt he wanted, and we needed, despite the assurances to the contrary coming out of the club. Obviously, we will never be privy to what goes on behind the closed doors of the (in)famous transfer committee but I for one am struggling to identify the strategy in our recent recruitment, whoever it is that is calling the shots.
Jackett’s departure leaves us, not for the first time in the last few seasons, in something of a state of limbo. Listening to the owners, their ambitions are clear: promotion to League 1, growing the fanbase and building the club as a true community club. Targets that are difficult for any fan to disagree with, where it is going wrong is that we are not getting results on the pitch to drive that momentum and growth. The latest plans of buying higher quality players led by an experienced manager lie in tatters after just 7 wins in 30 league games. So where do we go from here?
We will forever be thankful to Nigel, Kent and Martin Ling for both saving the club and overseeing our return to the Football League but, Justin aside of course, their track record in terms of recruiting head coaches/ managers is far from glittering. Steve Davis seemed out of his depth, the Carl Fletcher debacle seemed to be a realisation within a matter of weeks that we had gone for the wrong man, the moving of the strategic goalposts on Ross after the January transfer window and ultimately sacking him seemed cruel, while jettisoning an ambitious young coach in Jobi ultimately moved us further away from the promotion-winning team, while the experienced manager option has again not proven the correct move.
If the bookies are to be believed, at the time of writing at least, Darren Ferguson seems to be emerging as the favourite to be the next in the dugout at Brisbane Road with another number or names doing the rounds, including former captain and interim manager Jobi McAnuff, my own personal choice as I think he should have been kept at the club after the summer at least in a coaching role to maintain that link to the Justin days. The fact that there doesn’t seem to be much certainty in which way to move coming out of the club doesn’t exactly scream that they know who they want and are going out to get him.
For now though we simply have to get behind Matt Harrold and Brian Saah and hope they can give the underperforming players the jolt into life we so desperately need starting with tomorrow’s game against second from bottom Carlisle, another team that sacked their manager this week but who have moved to replace him straight away. Another insipid performance and home defeat simply don’t bear thinking about.
Up the O’s!