The final whistle at Valley Parade on Monday brought to an end the 2022/23 season, a campaign that will live long in the memories of the Orient faithful. Before we get into reminiscing about the season we have just had, I have to say that I am a huge fan of Valley Parade and Bradford as an awayday venue, it is a proper old school football ground with very passionate but friendly fans. The fact that Bradford choose the game closest to the anniversary to remember the 56 fans who tragically lost their lives in the fire at the stadium 38 years ago, made for an emotional start to the game and the crowd of in excess of 22,500 including 1,902 travelling O’s fans made for an incredible atmosphere. I sincerely hope that the Bantams manage to negotiate their way through the play-offs and end up joining us in League One next season.
Back to all things Orient, and what a season it has been, aside from the odd wobble and below par display, the quality of the football has been very entertaining and a level above most, probably all, of the other sides in the division. A final record of 26 wins, 13 draws and just 7 defeats at a rate of just under 2 points per game speaks for itself and is a shining reflection of just how Richie and the coaching staff have transformed our club in such a short space of time.
As I have mentioned on numerous occasions throughout the course of the season, I did have a nagging concern that we weren’t scoring enough goals, especially considering our leading scorer Paul Smyth ended the season with a grand total of 10, but we ended up in a tie for 6th place for goals scored with Bradford, Swindon and Stevenage.
Without wanting put any kind of dampener on our brilliant season, I do wonder if we might look to add a more clinical goal scorer over the summer. My overly romantic/ emotional/ (possibly even deluded!) thought a couple of weeks back centred on a certain former Orient striker whose contract comes to an end with his current League 1 club at the end of June, who may be looking for a restart to his career having appeared in just 14 League games and scored just twice with his current club. Pie in the sky? Quite possibly! However, the harsh reality is against better quality opposition we will need to carry more of a threat.
Even if we didn’t quite score as many goals as our dominance undoubtedly merited, there can be no argument whatsoever with the quality of some of those that we did. Right from Tom James’ “wrong-footed” strike against Grimsby on the opening day, through all of Paul Smyth’s magic and Theo Archibald’s much-needed wonder strike against Doncaster that sparked a flock of parakeets to invade Brisbane Road, and on to the end of the season there have been some absolute belters. I can’t be the only one who has flitted between each one of the eight nominees for our goal of the season competition in trying to decide which is my favourite, even now I am not sure I could pick just the one.
Of course any successful team has to be built up on solid foundations at the back, perhaps even more so in our case given that we weren’t rattling them in at the other end. Vigs breaking the club’s record for clean sheets and just 34 goals conceded all season, the least in the entire EFL, shows just how important “The Great Wall of Leyton” (courtesy of the official club Twitter page!) was throughout the entire campaign.
Linking it all together was the midfield engine room made up of the highly impressive loanee Idris El Mizouni, a rejuvenated skipper Darren Pratley, and a fabulous addition to the squad both in terms of adding much-needed creativity and his effervescent personality, in George Moncur. They allowed us to play the football that Richie demands and that we have all enjoyed watching. The difference between our free-flowing style under Richie to the dreary aimless long-ball game that preceded it has been like night and day and has proven in the main so difficult to contend with for those trying to stop us. Much bigger challenges and tests lie ahead in the third tier next time out, but the step up in class may actually suit our style of play more.
Looking ahead to the future in a video released earlier this week, Chairman Nigel Travis suggested that the Board are already working on a new three year plan with the aim of consolidating our position as a League 1 club. The key tenets of the new strategy centre on resolving the capacity restrictions at Brisbane Road, developing the infrastructure of the club and a new much more suitable training ground. Noble ambitions indeed, although given what has been achieved over their first six years at the helm I personally have every faith that we will achieve that. It certainly feels like a very exciting time to be an Orient fan.
Before signing off for this season, I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who has read, liked, and commented on these musings, it really means a lot and I (and Mrs Orient Nerd of course!) are looking forward to doing it all again in 2023/24.
See/ speak to you all next season, and of course…Up the League Champion O’s!
PS: Watch this space for an exciting new project currently in development over the summer…