29 March 2011

The 10 reasons behind Orient's season to rememeber

Although the last couple of games have represented something of a setback, the fact that Orient are still in with a fighting chance of a play-off place going into April means this season has been the most successful since promotion in 2005/06. Here's why...

1. Physical presence
In football, size isn’t everything - otherwise Loick Pires would be playing for Barcelona. However, when 4ft 2in midfielder Dean Cox scored against Orient with a header - yes, a header - when playing for Brighton in 2007 it became clear that after a decade or so of fielding teams that could be out-muscled by the under-11s from the local comprehensive, it was probably time to add a bit of height and weight to the side. This season, then, we’ve got the likes of Chorley, Revell, Spring and Tehoue to compensate for Orient’s traditionally miniscule offering.

2. Tactical flexibility
Martin Ling, to be fair, had a couple of different formations up his sleeve. One was 4-4-2 with Sean Thornton played out of position, the other was 4-4-2 with Sean Thornton on the bench. Russell Slade, however, has switched from 4-4-2 to 5-4-1 to a midfield diamond as situations dictated, even mid-game. Losing to Droylsden in the FA Cup and down to 10 men, he threw caution to the wind and started the second half with three strikers - and then look what happened.

Paul Terry
3. A goal-scoring midfield
Orient has a proud recent history of non-scoring midfielders: Andy Harris, Billy Beall, David Hunt, Scott Canham… Paul Terry, meanwhile, had more chance of scoring at Faces Nightclub, Gants Hill, than he did of netting a goal - and with a face like that, that’s really saying something. This season, though, Cox, Smith, Dawson and Spring already have 22 between them, with many more likely to follow.

4. Loanees
The ability to play the loan market is a key requirement of lower league managers, and by and large Orient have been pretty hopeless at it. Bringing in Sam Parkin in 2008, for example, was like going to Sainsburys to buy a sirloin steak but coming back with a bag of mouldy Brussels sprouts. This season the loanees - in particular M’Poku, Whing, Kane and Carroll - have played a key part in the success of the side.

5. A bench
Part of Martin Ling must have died inside every time he turned round to his bench to see who he could bring on to change things, only to be faced with Derek Duncan, Loick Pires or Donny Barnard grinning at him inanely. It was worse for Geraint Williams - he only had James Scowcroft. These days, with the option of cameos from Tehoue, M’Poku, Kane and Chambers, we’ve never had it so good. Ryan Jarvis is on the bench too, mind, but someone needs to hand out the water bottles.

6. The goalkeeper
When it comes to the men between the sticks, Orient’s heritage is about as distinguished as Kerry Katona at a royal wedding. Historically it’s been a problem position - until this season, that is, when the young Jamie Jones has been a marvel on the goal line. We’ll struggle to hold on to him for too much longer, so enjoy it while it lasts.

7. A meritocracy
In previous regimes, some favoured players - let’s call them Adam Chambers, for the sake of argument - commanded a starting place in the side whether unfit, injured, out of form or missing a limb. As good a player as Chambers is, Slade’s decision to give an extended run to Jimmy Smith has paid dividends, and the manager's meritocratic approach to team selection as a whole has ensure that it’s always the 11 players in form taking to the pitch every week.

8. Tiny Cox
While it’s perhaps unfair to single out one player in a season of great team performances, an exception has to be made for the man who is indistinguishable from his own Subbuteo replica. With eight goals and 20 assists so far, Cox is the player Shane Tudor would like to have been, with a talent that JJ Melligan could only dream about in wild fantasies, probably also featuring unicorns and free Irish whiskey.

9. The big striker
Martin Ling used to spend most of the closed season threatening to bring in a ‘big striker’ while surreptitiously making bids for Julian Joachim, Luke Rogers and Verne Troyer. Russell Slade, meanwhile, brought in Alex Revell with the minimum of fuss, and the former Southend man’s presence - not to mention his goal scoring - has been vital to the team this season.

10. Kevin Nugent
While Russell Slade gets all the plaudits and his own South Stand chant, let’s not forget the contribution of Kevin Nugent. Not many other coaches in football could so artfully stand on the touchline with a hangdog expression for 70 minutes before spurring into action to inform the substitutes who they should be marking at corners. Kev is Orient through and through - apart from his many years at Plymouth, Bristol City, Cardiff and Swansea - and long may he continue. 

This feature originally appeared in the Leyton Orientear
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