When Kenny Jackett was appointed Leyton Orient manager last summer it seemed like the perfect fit.
The O’s had stabilised in League Two following a turbulent couple of years and were looking to push on.
Meanwhile, after failing in his goal to return Portsmouth to the Championship, Jackett was keen to prove himself by returning to a part of London where he had previously experienced success with Millwall.
At first things seemed to be going to plan and, although inconsistent and their away form patchy, on their day Jackett’s Orient comfortably looked one of the best teams in the division.
Following a 4-1 December demolition of Swindon Town at Brisbane Road, Orient had the league’s second-best goal difference and sat seventh in the table – just four points off the automatic promotion places.
Little did the Brisbane Road faithful know then but Harry Smith’s strike which completed the scoring that night would be the final home goal scored by an O’s player under Jackett.
Things began to unravel during the following match at home to Crawley Town as five minutes after going behind, influential right-back Tom James hobbled off with what turned out to be a serious hamstring injury.
James and fellow wing-back Theo Archibald had been key to Jackett’s 3-4-1-2 system but without a recognised right-back on the bench the former Wolves manager turned to centre-back Dan Happe as the Welshman’s replacement.
Lining up in a 4-3-3 system with the entirety of the back four made up of centre backs, the O’s attack looked blunt and failed to register a shot on target as they limped to a 2-1 defeat against Crawley – the solitary goal coming courtesy of an own goal from goalkeeper Glen Morris.
To make matters worse, a Covid outbreak just before Christmas saw the O’s play out a 1-0 defeat away at Tranmere Rovers with a threadbare squad of 15.
The club then entered an unintentional winter break that saw them wait over a month for their next league encounter as opposition coronavirus cases wreaked havoc with the fixture calendar.
On their return, the O’s understandably looked rusty during a goalless stalemate with Port Vale but with the expectation they would kick on from there and rediscover their form from earlier in the season.
However, that dour draw was as good as it got, as Orient managed just one goal and one point from their next seven fixtures.
Throughout that run you could see confidence visibly drain from a side who had looked so sure of themselves just a matter of weeks before.
Chances that were previously being buried ended up skewing wide of the target, while calm, composed balls from the back became hurried aimless punts up the field, and whenever a minor setback occurred you struggled to see how the side would recover.
The writing looked on the wall, but the O’s hierarchy gave Jackett every chance to turn it around, even as their stated aim of the Play-Off places slid out of view.
Perhaps this was due to the show of faith they had taken in recruiting the 60-year-old, pushing the boat out to get their man and allowing him to build a squad in his own image.
Even until a few weeks ago, Jackett had the final say on transfer dealings, allowing promising midfielder Dan Kemp to leave for MK Dons on Deadline Day without signing a natural replacement.
However, another limp display in defeat to Bristol Rovers on Tuesday night made Jackett’s position untenable as Orient slipped to 18th and a perilous five points above the relegation zone.
The question everyone associated with the club is now asking is ‘Where do we go from here?’
Jackett was the proven experienced manager that a significant portion of the fanbase had been demanding for some time and he has left the club in a worse place than when he joined without anyone really being able to explain how.
Do the board now turn to an exciting young coach in the mould of Rob Edwards or James Rowberry who have experienced success at Forest Green Rovers and Newport County this season?
But with relegation an immediate threat, do they have the time to conduct a thorough search in these circumstances, meaning could a battle-hardened firefighter to stave off the threat of the drop actually be the answer?
It is an unenviable position as attention urgently turns to Saturday’s home game against fellow strugglers Carlisle United.
Former players Matt Harrold and Brian Saah will take charge of that fixture which could be the most significant at Brisbane Road since the National League title winning season. A loss for the O’s and what once seemed unthinkable will become a stark reality…