Happy New Season!
How’s your summer been? A nice break and a chance to recharge the batteries ahead of the new season? Or long and drawn out missing the regular routine and the ups and downs of following our beloved O’s? Mind you given that we played our first pre-season friendly at Haringey on the 1st of July, and the sheer number of pre-season games the O’s have been involved in, those of the latter perspective weren’t without some form of Orient action for too long.
It does however feel like quite a while since I last sat down to write any Orient musings. In fact having just checked it has been a full 11 weeks, and it is fair to say that something has happened over the course of those two and a half months or so that has diluted some of the optimism that the majority of the Orient faithful were feeling at the end of last season.
Back in that last post we reflected on the way that our new gaffer had rejuvenated the atmosphere around the whole club over the course of just 13 league matches at the helm, and suggested that despite losing 2 out of our last 3 games both at home, it felt like there were definite grounds for optimism going forward. Yet somehow over the course of what we have had of the summer so far (30th of July kick-off? Really?!?!) the feelgood factor has been diluted somewhat.
In the early weeks of the close season we got an initial flow of good news with: Tom James, Ruel Sotiriou and Adam Thompson all penning new deals; Archie signing on a permanent basis as soon as the club were able to officially do so; and then two new arrivals in the form of George Moncur and Anthony Georgiou both of whom have experience at a higher level, with Moncur having played in the Championship with Barnsley, Luton Town and Hull City. Although all of those positive announcements were tempered to an extent by the departures of Hector and Otis Khan (a particular sore point with the missus as she was a big fan and is utterly convinced he will score on his return to Brisbane Road tomorrow afternoon!).
While it is a fairly easy argument to make that the two new midfielders represent an upgrade on what we had last season, even with the additions of 20-year-old forward Charlie Kelman on a season-long loan from QPR and this week’s signing of a Richie Wellens go-to player in the form of former Oldham and Swindon right-back Rob Hunt, the squad still feels light. Even at this early stage it looks like Aaron Drinan will miss the opening weeks of the season thanks to injury, and the need to carefully manage the returns of Tom James, Paul Smyth and Harry Smith (although hopefully all 3 could be available for some minutes tomorrow), has further reduced our squad depth.
While there is no point bringing in low quality players just to make up the numbers (think Frank Nouble, Dan Moss and George Ray from last January!), there does have to be some pragmatic realism in recognising that every team, especially at League 2 level, will inevitably have to deal with injuries and suspensions over the course of a long hard season. We can only hope that with the transfer window remaining open right through until the 1st of September, there may be further additions to come to bolster the squad, even if in an ideal world it would have been preferential for any incoming players to have had the benefit of pre-season with us rather than where they were previously. (For a more detailed look at the squad depth, or lack thereof, pick yourself up a copy of the Orientear before tomorrow’s game, with no apologies whatsoever for the shameless plug!).
After the final game of last season against Tranmere, Richie spoke about the desire to start fast this time around and to not end up chasing the leading pack. The Board have also been very clear that a top seven finish and qualification for the play-offs is the minimum expectation. If you bear in mind that by the time we reach transfer deadline day we will have played six league matches, that might be easier said than done.
Looking at those first six matches, and I admit I might be being overly pessimistic here (yep Gaz you are now a fully indoctrinated Orient fan!), but I am struggling to be confident of how many points we might reap from the 18 on offer.
- Grimsby (H): Newly promoted from the National League so we should be looking to start the campaign with a solid 3 points, yet we need to beware of the bounce that The Mariners will be feeling on their return to the EFL and their “big day out” on the opening day.
- Crawley (A): The game of two halves victory in the last away game of 2021/22 was really good fun, but with recent new ownership and a new manager are we confident of repeating our victory?
- Mansfield (H): A team whose spoiling tactics (most un-Clough-like!) secured a goalless draw at Brisbane Road in September last year, but the side blossomed as the season progressed ultimately losing the Play-Off Final to Port Vale.
- Swindon (A): How can anyone forget our 4-1 drubbing of the promotion-fancied side in December or the win with 10 men at the County Ground on Easter Monday? Are we confident of repeating those feats?
- Colchester (A): Do we ever win here? Well in actual fact the last time we did so was in November 2016, time to put things straight? We can only live in hope!
- Hartlepool (H): Stunning 5-0 win at home last October when #Jacketball was a thing. Will no doubt be a tougher ask this time out after a year of acclimatisation back in the EFL for the Monkey-Hangers.
Following hot on the heels of those half dozen games is Tranmere at home and then a trip to newly relegated AFC Wimbledon, neither of which I would have massive confidence in us winning given the respective levels of the opposition.
It is always easy to have over-inflated hope or unwarranted dread at the start of a new campaign, by the time we reach the middle of September we should have a much clearer indication of our prospects for the season, let us hope we are in the early mix at the top of the table rather than mired in the doldrums. Until then all we can do is to enjoy being back into the swing of the regular Orient-following routine and strap in for what we hope is going to be another hell of a ride.
Up the O’s