Ahead of last Saturday’s trip to Holker Street to face Barrow in a largely unexpected top of the table clash, the general feeling amongst the Orient faithful seemed to be that this match was going to be the toughest the O’s had faced in the opening 10 games of the campaign. As I said in last week’s post, while I was hopeful of a win “a draw would in itself still be a creditable result,”. For the O’s to pull off such a statement-making win was more than we could have anticipated. Then again, there seems to be something very special bubbling along under the stewardship of gaffer Richie Wellens.
Unfortunately, as documented last week, I was otherwise engaged at the Super League Grand Final, so I wasn’t able to join the dedicated 258 that made the very long journey, despite Avanti’s shambolic reduced timetable, the overinflated ticket prices to get on the few trains running and the roadworks on the driving routes; so had to make do with watching the highlights and reading the match reports. From what I was able to gather it seemed like the hosts started with the greater impetus with a decent opportunity falling to right-back Warren only for Vigs to block at his near post. However, when Paul Smyth worked space for himself on the edge of the Barrow penalty area and fired low into the bottom left-hand corner in the 36th minute, Orient seemed to get a firm grip of the match.
In the second half there was a dipping volley from George Moncur that went just wide of the right-hand post, then a cross-come-shot from Paul Smyth that forced Farman the Barrow keeper to make a save. Farman was then alert to parry a header (yes a header!) from Paul Smyth from an Archie free kick as the O’s looked to wrap things up. With just quarter of an hour to go Idris El Mizouni secured all 3 points when he fired home from range.
The win and 3 points ensured that Orient have now officially made the best start to a League 2 season since the rejigging of the Football League structure in 2003/04. The 28 points we have secured in our opening 10 matches is 3 more than Lincoln City in 2018/19, Gillingham in 2012/13, Notts County in 2017/18 and Newport in 2020/21. Intriguingly, our goals scored per game average of 1.8 is lower than 3 of those teams’ starts, but our goals conceded average is almost half fewer than all 4. A stat that suggests that while we seem fairly robust defensively, there is room to find the back of the net in greater quantities, if we can start to do that we might well be unstoppable. (I did warn you about the optimism!).
Normally I tend to reserve any detailed judgement based on the league table until we have played at least a quarter to a third of our matches (so between 12-14 matches into the season) at the very least, but this year I can’t help myself. The O’s are collecting points at a staggering 2.8 per game, while some of those predictor tools you find online have us reaching crazy 100+ points totals, the League 2 record stands at 99 set by Northampton in 2015/16. To reach that we would need to pick up points at a rate of just under 2.4 per game in our remaining 36 games. It is of course way too early to even start to think about things like that, but it just felt like an effective way of encapsulating just how good our start to the season has been.
Next up of course is the visit of Newport County to E10, while the Exiles have usually featured towards the top end of the table and in the play-off mix in recent seasons, this time they find themselves in 18th place with 8 points from 2 wins and 2 draws. While this will obviously be a tougher test than the table perhaps suggests, it feels like another game in which we should be looking to do our job, collect all 3 points and continue our excellent start. After that we face potentially tricky games against teams currently in the top 10 in our next 3 league matches (Doncaster (10th), Northampton (2nd) and Carlisle (8th)), those will take us up to the third of the way mark which I referenced earlier. Where we stand on the evening of the 22nd of October after the trip to Carlisle should give us a clearer indication of how we are fixed for a real tilt at promotion.
On a different note, and as an indication of increasing Orient profile in the media thanks to our unbeaten start and position at the top of the table, we seem to be getting noticed way more than we were in the past. In the Times, (no less!), last Saturday there was a piece that my Dad (in no way an Orient fan!) sent to me, it was titled: “We can’t rely on legacy supporters” – Leyton Orient’s grand vision to widen their fanbase”, which focused on the housing development across Oliver Road and the Leyton Mills and New Spitalfields projects that will create a total of 5,700 new homes within half a mile of Brisbane Road.
The article considered the challenges of how lower league clubs can “appeal to a diverse, rapidly changing community around [them]? And what future is there for a club that fails to win — or retain — local support?” The integral suggestion was that with just 4% of season card holders living in Leyton (17% in the borough of Waltham Forest as a whole) that in order to achieve the board’s stated goal of becoming a sustainable Championship club, we need to find some way of attracting the local community and increasing the capacity of the ground (whether that be on the current site or elsewhere).
The article was interesting from the perspective of thinking about how the club might grow in the future, and we know that Nigel, Kent and the board have set out the clear target of reaching the Championship, and potentially staying there. However, it struck me as being something of a worry for the future. Yes we should think about how we want to develop and grow our fanbase, but right now for us fans what is happening on the pitch and where we might find ourselves at the end of the season is all that really matters. Early in the season as it may be, in the very short term that part of our future looks potentially very bright.
Up the O’s