To call Orient’s 2021/22 season a rollercoaster might just about go somewhere near describing the ups and downs that we have all experienced over the course of the last 9 months or so.
From initial optimism at the arrival of an experienced manager with a proven track record of securing promotion, and some encouraging early season performances and promising results. There was then the frustration, as we progressed through autumn, of too many draws in games that we really could, and perhaps should, have taken all 3 points. Then a run of 10 matches without a single win with just 2 points gained, admittedly punctuated by a whole month in which we didn’t play a single league game, which saw us drop down the table like the proverbial stone, with genuine concerns about potential relegation in the dark days of late winter.
That woeful run of form of course resulted in Kenny Jacket’s dismissal and was then followed by the steadying of the ship first by Matt Harrold and Brian Saah and then through Richie’s appointment. Then finally, the breath of fresh air that winning matches and climbing the table brought over the spring, when all of a sudden everything around the club and within the fanbase started to feel a lot better.
The fact that the 13 matches under Richie’s management yielded a total of 23 points (40% of our season total in just over a quarter of our league matches), tells you all you need to know about how our new Head Coach managed to turn things around spectacularly in such a short space of time. In fact, if we were being uber-critical, it could almost be argued that we could have picked up even more points (Oldham away anyone?) under our new gaffer. In many ways the match away at Swindon on Easter Monday in which a robust performance full of the character and spirit that seemed to go missing earlier in the season, was followed by joyous celebrations that showed the connection between the coaching staff, players and fans that seemed to have got lost, if it was ever truly there at all, encapsulated just how far the transformation has come.
Beyond just securing our Football League safety and guiding us to a comfortable mid-table position Richie’s approach and engaging and charismatic character has not only got us thinking about what might have been, but also really looking forward to and dreaming of what might be achievable for us in the next campaign. If Jackett had us in and around the play-off conversation up until it all went wrong, given the evidence of the end of this season, surely we have to be amongst it next time around.
Speaking after the Tranmere game Richie said: “We want to start fast next year, we don’t want to be chasing,” a sentiment I am sure we can all very much agree with, it would also be very nice if our form didn’t fall off a cliff again after a decent start! Somehow the club feels different now though, of course as the chaps on the LO Down podcast said last week: this is Orient and the one thing you can guarantee is that it won’t be all plain sailing, but what we have seen over the last 10 weeks or so has been so encouraging.
In that interview Richie also said that: “We have a really good 14, 15 players for the level, we just need to get a few icing on the cake [players]…we just need to bring in 2 or 3 quality players to allow us to compete.” Leading us all to start focusing on the summer transfer market, specifically who we can keep and who we might bring in.
On the subject of recruitment and transfers of course, as most of us will have already seen, the club released their retained list at the beginning of this week which while it contained little by way of surprise it, along with some of the recent interviews, gives us the basis on which to speculate on how the squad might look going into the next season.
Unusually for this level we will actually be keeping the majority of this season’s squad going into the next campaign with 17 players under contract for next season, that becomes 18 when we factor in skipper Darren Pratley’s automatic extension based on the number of appearances made. Looking through that list of names (Leyton Orient – 2021/22 Retained List Released), it is difficult to pick out too many that the majority of fans wouldn’t want to keep. Although we do seem to be especially well-stocked, in terms of numbers at least, with central midfield players having: Craig Clay, Otis Khan, Hector Kyprianou, Zech Obiero, Jordan Brown, Ethan Coleman and Matt Young (assuming the club is taking up the further year option on him as the press release seems to indicate) in addition to the aforementioned Pratley on the books who have all played in the engine room over the course of this season. It is therefore easy to see why Callum Reilly (who?) and Antony Papadopoulos have been released. Might we see one or two more making way if former midfielder Richie wants to endeavour to raise the quality?
In terms of the loanees returning to their parent clubs, I am not sure any Orient fan is going to mourn the loss of: Frank Nouble, Dan Moss or George Ray, but Alex Mitchell most definitely became a fan favourite during his time at the club through both his performances and his character, we can only wish him well for the future and hope our paths cross again higher up the league.
For most of us, trying to sign Theo on a permanent basis, along with securing new deals for Ruel Sotiriou and Tom James (STOP PRESS: The rather excellent news came through this afternoon that Tom James has penned a new 2-year deal with the club, first one off the list!), are the number one priority on Martin Ling’s to-do list for the summer. If any of those don’t prove possible then we have to hope that suitable replacements have been identified and the club has a clear plan about what it needs to do.
Other than the issues identified and picking up on what Richie has been saying over recent weeks, it will be intriguing to find out who the “icing on the cake players” he and the club have in mind are. Might they be targets that have already been identified by the (in)famous transfer committee, or are they likely to be players that Richie and Paul Terry know and think will add to what we already have in terms of the system and style of football that they want us to play?
One rumour that seems to have gathered some form of credence over the last week or so has been the potential for a certain Macauley Bonne to return to the club on-loan. While I initially wrote this off as very much in the pie-in-the-sky/dreamland hope, when the missus asked Kent Teague about it outside the Supporters Club last Saturday, let’s just say that he didn’t rule it out completely!
Whatever the comings and goings over the summer what we do have is a talented, if slightly small in numbers, squad that showed promise but that also underachieved for large parts of last season. Let us not forget that a whole host of new players arrived at the club last summer, now with a year of development behind them, under a forward-thinking and clearly talented Head Coach, with a couple of shrewd additions we may well be where we all want to be in 12 months’ time.
Up the O’s