Leyton Orient blog: The long winter and a new dawn
16:07 28 January 2016
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O’s supporter Sam Churchett gives his thoughts on events taking place at Brisbane Road
Sunday May 25 2014, the sun shines down on London as then 27-year-old Chris Dagnall steps forward and places the ball on the penalty spot. Seconds later, a deafening thud as Leyton Orient hearts collapse through the Wembley stands, drowned out only by jubilation from the Rotherham United contingent.
The O’s had enjoyed a season of broken records and success, which had come to an end. Weeks later, an Italian by the name of Francesco Becchetti took the helm and came with a promise of success in five years. The current boss, Russell Slade, puffed out his chest and went ‘shopping’ for the calibre of player he’d never previously had a chance to court.
However by January, the 2013/14 League One manager of the year was long gone and the autumn of Orient’s recent history had truly set in. Poor result after poor result continued to plague an unsettled club from top to bottom, as an unexpected cold front chilled fans to the bone.
The O’s were struggling to realise and accept its new identity since Barry Hearn’s departure. Even the most stubborn of believers struggled to find solace at the bottom of League One, as Becchetti’s fourth manager Fabio Liverani attempted to turn the season around.
Inescapable fear became a harsh and bitter reality. After ten years in League One, relegation was confirmed at Swindon Town. The winter had reached its coldest point. The dreams of a Championship place were frozen solid. The excitement of the previous season was lost.
Unlike teams who frequently flirt with promotion to the second tier of English football, Leyton Orient were not accustomed to such ambition and expectations. It made it that much harder to come to terms with their disappointment. Life in League Two began with a new look, recognisable and enthusiastic managerial team, in the form of Ian Hendon and Andy Hessenthaler.
With 15 points from their first five games they threatened to finally abate the cold and unveil a new era for every O’s fan to enjoy. But frozen dreams are not so easily thawed. Huge expectations weighed down on the new boss with only fleeting glimpses of excitement, delivered predominately by Jay Simpson.
The former West Ham coach’s apparent lack of ability to instil courage in his side, his failure to attract new recruits and his predictable post-match analysis cost him the fan’s trust and patience. The potential of his side was obvious, and yet Hendon could only guide Leyton Orient steadily down the table.
We started 2016 with a laboured draw at Stevenage and a woeful home loss to Exeter City. After 26 games in the division, the president called time on Hendon’s efforts to uncover a successful formula. Enter Kevin Nolan. Fresh faced to the manager’s scene with only coaching badges and his ideas to present as credentials.
However, it could prove to be just enough. What is undeniable is his playing ability, which would raise few eyebrows if still on show in the Premier League. He is also described by his peers as being the quintessential leader both on and off the pitch.
Could this latest gamble finally produce a manager and a captain who inspires passion, hunger and desire through his mentoring and during 90 minutes - the likes of which has been largely missing from an Orient setup in the last 18 months.
For the moment, the clouds appear to be parting as the potential of a new dawn presents itself and new hope peaks out from behind tired and weary east end eyes. O’s fans wait with baited breath to finally witness the end of what has felt like a long and dark winter.
Nolan has started his Orient journey with back-to-back league wins against Wycombe Wanderers and Newport County. Something the club hasn’t experienced since the run of five victories in August.
But whilst the Brisbane Road outfit have fallen behind in the automatic promotion race, every manager will admit that no division is won or lost in January. With 18 League Two matches remaining and 54 points up for grabs, the O’s are sat just eight points behind third-place Oxford United.
Suddenly, anything is possible again. Come May, the stands of Wembley will shake with play-off celebrations. This time around the Orient faithful could be watching at home with automatic promotion secured from the fourth tier of English football.
Brisbane Road fans are beginning to believe in that very possibility, even if they only dare say it aloud with a tentative whisper. Up the O’s.