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Leyton Orient blog: Promotion push gathering momentum

PUBLISHED: 16:00 23 February 2016 | UPDATED: 16:33 23 February 2016

Jobi McAnuff celebrates a goal for Leyton Orient (pic: Simon O'Connor).

Jobi McAnuff celebrates a goal for Leyton Orient (pic: Simon O'Connor).

07958 573219 simon.oconnor@virgin.net

O’s supporter Sam Churchett gives his thoughts on events taking place at Brisbane Road

Leyton Orient player-manager Kevin Nolan smiles (pic: Simon O'Connor).Leyton Orient player-manager Kevin Nolan smiles (pic: Simon O'Connor).

One month on from Kevin Nolan’s appointment and Leyton Orient continue their battle to return to League One at the first attempt. While he has only improved the O’s league standing by a couple of positions, rising two positions to ninth, he has cemented their place in the chasing pack competing for a play-off spot.

That was something they were in danger of losing touch with before he took over. In the month prior to Ian Hendon lost his job, Orient were averaging a point a game, that now stands at two under Nolan. Whilst they haven’t been able to maintain a play-off place during that time, they are now the fourth most in-form side in the division.

In the same way the table flattered Orient whilst they were underperforming with Hendon, the table is now being equally deceitful with the club doing well. In truth, the O’s have reduced the gap between themselves and fourth place from nine points to just three, and third from 11 to six. However, teams such as Cambridge United, AFC Wimbledon and Carlisle United have also improved their own performances in recent weeks.

Leyton Orient defender Nicky Hunt moves the ball forward against Notts County (pic: Simon O'Connor).Leyton Orient defender Nicky Hunt moves the ball forward against Notts County (pic: Simon O'Connor).

The League Two promotion race is becoming even more congested as Plymouth Argyle, Bristol Rovers, Oxford United and Portsmouth all start to stutter. The key for Orient now is consistency. With four clean sheets and wins in his first six games, Nolan has managed the same number of victories as Hendon earned in his final 16 matches in charge at Brisbane Road.

This is largely owed to the new manager’s ability to spot his team’s weaknesses quickly and to make changes without hesitation. He focused his attention on improving the east Londoners defensive capabilities upon his arrival and set about bringing in replacements in the form of Shaun Brisley and Nicky Hunt.

The two new defenders brought over 500 games experience with them to E10. After the defeat to Cambridge and poor performances in recent games, Sean Clohessy and Connor Essam were dropped to the bench. And despite Northampton’s comfortable win, defensive errors are no longer an unavoidable concern for Orient.

Leyton Orient midfielder Jack Payne holds off Northampton Town's Ricky Holmes (pic: Simon O'Connor).Leyton Orient midfielder Jack Payne holds off Northampton Town's Ricky Holmes (pic: Simon O'Connor).

Nolan’s hard work in the transfer market has also afforded him the opportunity to name strong benches with genuine competition for places. Five new faces joined the O’s in spite of Hendon’s claim that recruits were not easily attracted to League Two clubs.

Now players such as Jack Payne, Bradley Pritchard and Ollie Palmer, who were once regulars in the first team, are providing back up rather than being unchallenged for a starting place. The likes of Blair Turgott and Scott Kashket, who had previously looked like our only viable options on the bench, despite unreliable performances, are now finding themselves frozen out on match days.

The squad is finally looking like one with the strength in depth to really challenge over the remainder of the season. However, a concern for the Orient faithful is the recent efforts of the ever present Jay Simpson.

Leyton Orient forward Jay Simpson celebrates his goal at Wycombe Wanderers, the first of Kevin Nolan's reign (pic: Simon O'Connor).Leyton Orient forward Jay Simpson celebrates his goal at Wycombe Wanderers, the first of Kevin Nolan's reign (pic: Simon O'Connor).

He made it clear in his interviews how much he was enjoying his football under Hendon and it may be that Nolan’s more favoured 4-4-1-1 formation is beginning to highlight some of Simpson’s weaknesses. Could it be that we are seeing the impact of Hendon’s sacking, or simply a dip in form?

Long before Nolan’s arrival, Simpson’s inconsistent first touch and inability to hold the ball up was overshadowed by Palmer’s physical endeavours and the number 27 scoring in pretty much every game. However, more recently he has provided just two goals in six matches, which is a slump by his standards, and unfortunately he hasn’t been able to make up for it by way of creativity or assists.

Whilst Orient are beginning to find goals through other means, the league’s leading goalscorer will surely need to find a path back to his unstoppable best if the O’s are to achieve their aims this season. One man who has been a joy to watch recently is midfielder Jobi McAnuff.

Leyton Orient player-manager Kevin Nolan takes on his Notts County rival Alan Smith (pic: Simon O'Connor).Leyton Orient player-manager Kevin Nolan takes on his Notts County rival Alan Smith (pic: Simon O'Connor).

Orient fans will be relieved to see the Jamaican international finally having the opportunity to show his class and long may it continue. He is often a catalyst, driving them forward, providing crosses into the box and also popping up with goals, attempts and assists.

The rest of the midfield is proving to be a headache for Nolan, though, who is still trying to find his most effective formation and combination of players. The O’s struggled to show any dominance in the middle of the park against a poor Notts County side with Alan Smith the most impressive player in midfield on the day.

It was a missed opportunity to make the win much more comfortable than it proved to be against a side struggling at home. That being said, Orient’s recent defensive upgrades showed their value and proved effective. Where Hendon’s side might have allowed the Magpies scoring opportunities, Nolan’s team stood firm.

Leyton Orient defender Shaun Brisley scores the only goal of the game against Notts County (pic: Simon O'Connor).Leyton Orient defender Shaun Brisley scores the only goal of the game against Notts County (pic: Simon O'Connor).

Most notably, Brisley provided a textbook performance to keep Jon Stead quiet for the entire game. Along side him, Mathieu Baudry is also beginning to produce steadier performances than earlier in the season.

Despite his initial concern over his fitness, Nolan has favoured himself and is becoming a regular in the starting line-up. However, the player-manager has struggled to find form and his performances are proving to be average at best with the former West Ham man even rating himself a five out of 10 against County.

Whilst there are glimpses of quality in his touch, his distribution and overall impact on the game hasn’t reached the levels Orient fans would’ve hoped for since he donned a red shirt. For now, we can only watch on and hope the gaffer finds form soon, and if he doesn’t, that his integrity as a manager will outweigh his passion as a player and he will be honest enough to drop to the bench.

Leyton Orient player-manager Kevin Nolan shows his frustrating on the touchline (pic: Simon O'Connor).Leyton Orient player-manager Kevin Nolan shows his frustrating on the touchline (pic: Simon O'Connor).

Next up for the O’s are bogey team Crawley Town who have won only once in their last six fixtures. The biggest challenge for the east Londoners will be overcoming their recent Jekyll and Hyde form, demonstrated in their fantastic away results being offset by a faltering home form.

The losses in their two recent home matches could arguably be due to Nolan’s tactics when hosting games. The same starting XI which held Portsmouth away, in one of the best performances of the season, was chosen to halt Northampton Town’s march toward the League Two title.

This resulted in Simpson looking isolated and ineffective, and whilst two outstanding goals from the Cobblers ultimately put the game beyond Orient’s reach, they were afforded opportunities to grow into the match away from home. Ultimately, the O’s made the mistake of showing the leaders too much respect, although it is tough to blame Nolan for sticking with a winning team after such an uplifting performance on the coast.

However, as fans are coming to expect, the Orient manager is not hiding from the challenge and has already stated that there will be a renewed focus on improving results at Brisbane Road. If the O’s can do so while maintaining their away success, there will be few sides able to stop them.

Individuals, team performances and squad depth aside, the most pleasing factor of recent results has been the team’s ability to grind out wins. The new approach on the training ground has given them an injection of confidence and resilience which has proven invaluable in picking up points.

The promotion squad of 2005/06 knew how to keep matches tight and hold on to slender leads with the majority of their victories coming by a single goal margin. This current Orient squad is now also starting to mimic this attribute.

Whilst it may prove to be too little too late for a top three finish, with games in hand for nearly all of their promotion rivals, the O’s have finally turned their campaign around and are starting to show they know what it takes to get back into League One.

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