Looking back at the 2010/2011 season, it was a good season to be an Orient fan, exceeding expectations just finishing outside the playoffs. It gave this season to have potential to be great and to build on the foundations of last year. Early signings were made of Jamie Cureton who had a prolific scoring record at most clubs he has been at, Scott Cuthbert, David Mooney, Leon McSweeney, Marc Laird and keeping hold of players such as Jamie Jones and Dean Cox was essential. However, the signing of David Mooney didn’t really do it for me as seeing him 2 years ago playing for Charlton always getting offside. We did lose key players in the summer and August who helped Orient to finish 7th. Scott McGleish was released, Andrew Whing left for family reasons and moved to Oxford and Alex Revell was signed by Rotherham on deadline in August.
Prospects were high, hoping we would have top half finish at least but we knew it would be difficult with the likes of: Charlton, Huddersfield, MK Dons, Preston and both Sheffield clubs. It would be a tough task to replicate the form of last year but I had faith that Russell Slade had the ability to get the best out of the team again.
The season started off with a trip to Walsall, who had two ex O’s in their ranks and more than likely one of them would score against like players normally do. Adam Chambers duly obliged with a 30 yard screamer to reduce Orient to a defeat in their opening game. In an interview afterwards, the team were encouraging him to shoot because he had never done while wearing an Orient shirt. Tranmere was the same sort of game to Walsall, another screamer from Buchann. After the first 3 matches, Orient had no points and hadn’t played well at all. Then one of the worst Orient trips I have been on; a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Brentford. The 4th time I had seen Orient lose by 5 goals in 2011 after Brighton, Arsenal and Yeovil had done it previously. After this game it was soon apparent this season was going to be harder than the last. The first highlight came away at Colchester, when a young George Porter came on with 15 minutes left. He made a huge difference using his raw pace and skill which has not been seen since Andros Townsend came on loan in 2009. After the first 10 games, Orient only had 3 points from 3 draws, we hadn’t won yet. I made my way to Gloucester to start University and had constant updates from my Dad; a long suffering season ticket of 45 years.
October was a very good month, unbeaten in 6 matches; winning 4 (Preston, Scunthorpe, Bury, Rochdale) and drawing 2 (Sheffield United and Yeovil). This change in fortune came with Kevin Lisbie coming in to form after signing in early September and David Mooney beginning to find form and score goals. We seemed to be moving on an upward curve but November has two incidents that left the side without a recognised right or left back. Elliot Omozusi was sent to jail for involvement in gang crime and Charlie Daniels moved to Bournemouth for £200,000 close to the loan window shutting. Losing both full backs very close to the window was bad but Slade moved quickly to replace them and add depth to the squad. Lee Cook came in for a month which was later extending by another one and Tony Craig from Millwall came to fill the left back berth.
Then came one of the most important times of the season, the Christmas and New Year period. Our form was up and down, losing to Gillingham in the F.A. Cup but then beating Exeter and Notts County straight afterwards. I spoke to my Dad and he said that Craig was playing well; a very good defender, but soon after he was recalled by Millwall which was bad luck. Lee Cook was beginning to have more of an influence on the games as he was gaining match fitness. The 4 games over the Christmas period were good results, beating both Notts County and Stevenage away and beating the league leaders Charlton at home but losing to MK Dons; 9 points out of 12.
January again saw more arrivals into the squad, Adam Chickson (MK Dons), Dean Leacock (Derby), Syam Ben Youseff (Free agent) all defenders. This was to help to bolster the backline but none of these players play at right back, no cover for the position has been brought in meaning a centre half has had to play out of position there. Again, Orient’s form was dodgy but standout performers of the season were beginning to come clear: Matt Spring, Kevin Lisbie and Scott Cuthbert. But a major blow in January came on deadline day, we lost our influential captain; Steven Dawson to Barnsley. Dawson was the engine room of the midfield which would mean it would be a tough replace him. There were signs that someone could be leaving before the deadline as Slade brought in Solomon Taiwo from Cardiff; a central midfielder but early signs from seeing him were that he wouldn’t be able to fill the void left.
February was a quite month for the O’s, bad weather hit the country again meaning only 3 games were possible: beating Bournemouth, drawing with Bury and losing Scunthorpe. Having a quite month would allow the new players in the squad to gel and try learn who the new players were. But the schedule in March was tough, 8 games would take its toll on the squad. Oh and another arrival at left back, Ryan Dickson came in from Southampton as Chick son was sent back to MK.
March would be an important month and decide the outcome of the season, Orient were in the bottom 6 and at risk of relegation. Four new loan signings were brought in: Calvin Andrew (Palace), Adam Reed (Sunderland), Jamal Campbell-Rice (Bristol City) and Paul Rachubka (Leeds) don’t get me started on the last signing. The month started off badly, drawing to Walsall then getting thumped by Wycombe 4-2; both of these teams were battling for points with us. Then 2 much needed wins came at home to fellow London club, Brentford and Oldham but these were sandwiched between defeats to MK Dons and Sheffield Wednesday; these were expected. Within a 2 week period in March we would have played: MK Dons, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton, Notts County and Huddersfield all of which who are in the top 8 looking for promotion. As expected no points came from any of those matches, and nor did the next matches away at Exeter and Sheffield United.
Orient fans were beginning to get worried about the dreaded word, relegation. With 3 games left we need 1 win and we would be safe. That should have come at home to Yeovil, 2-0 up with 8 minutes to go. Being an Orient you are always pessimistic and we were proved right ending the game at 2-2, leaving us still in the relegation battle. Survival was granted after a 2-1 defeat to Hartlepool, Wycombe were beating Notts County 3-2 with 1 minutes left of normal time. But somehow managed to concede 2 goals to end up losing the game 4-3 and meaning Orient have survived. As Orient were safe, a win on the last day of the season would go down nicely as home wins have been sparse and they obliged beating Rochdale 2-0.
A weird old season in the end, the expectations at the start were high but as soon as the season started we soon realized that the season would end differently than we expected. One important factor was the lack of any permanent full backs at the club, after Daniels and Omozusi left for different reasons, only loan signings were brought in. It takes time for players to settle in at the club, constant loan signings in one position cannot be good for the team. The goalkeeping situation was also terrible, losing your number 1 in the summer for the majority of the season was a major blow, but Orient have been dreadfully unlucky with the turnover of keepers this season. Butcher, Stech, Button, Alnwick, Jones, Rachubka are all of the keepers Orient have had this season and ridiculous amount. Rachubka found is feet towards the end of his loan spell as Jones became match fit, but this is the same keeper who conceded 3 dreadful goals for Leeds against Blackpool this season. He played so bad he got substituted, when has that ever happened?
Last season we had young up and coming players on loan: Harry Kane, Tommy Carroll and Paul Jose Mpoku who had something to prove, they wanted to play football. This season, these players were not available after doing well last season, so he had to look in and get experienced players in the squad. But Cureton flopped massively, whether he was given enough chances and a run of games to see if he could get back into form or not. Some of the loan signings have been dreadful: Taiwo from Cardiff didn’t too much at all, Andrew from Palace, he looked like they had told him to go out on loan but he didn’t care about where he was. Even when we have had young players Slade hasn’t played them, only allowing him 10-15 minutes at the end of the game which is not enough time to make a substantial impact on the game. We have lost influential players through the season which for a club of our size is difficult to recover from but Matt Spring has done a very good job in the centre of midfield. He has been given more freedom since the departure of Steven Dawson and seems to enjoy it
Orient need to rebuild in the summer covering both full back positions, even though Moses Odubajo debut was something special. Improve the midfield with a creative midfield and a box-to-box midfielder to replace Dawson. Get a proven goal scorer in like a poacher who will put the ball in the back of the net, the amount of chances that Orient miss are amazing. With a settled team I think we can finish in the top half and push towards the play-offs but without investment in the team it could be the same story as this season. It’s all part of being an Orient fan.