The 2021/22 campaign marked the first time Leyton Orient had failed to improve on their league position from the previous one since owners Nigel Travis and Kent Teague took charge of the club.
Heading into their fourth season back in the EFL, the O’s will be looking to end this spell of stagnation and kick on to achieve at least a League Two Play-Off place this term.
And following last season’s false dawn under yesterday’s man Kenny Jackett, the club and the fan base have been reinvigorated heading into this season courtesy of the positive energy brought by new boss Richie Wellens.
Arriving in March, Wellens guided the O’s away from the threat of relegation with a string of eye-catching displays, leaving many hopeful that a promotion push could be on the cards this time around.
Orient have also done some good business over the summer, not only tying down a number of impressive performers such as Tom James, Ruel Sotiriou and Adam Thompson to new deals but signing winger Theo Archibald permanently from Lincoln City following an exceptional loan spell last year.
Hector Kyprianou has been the only one of last season’s key men to depart E10 so far, although few can argue with a deal that saw the O’s receive a substantial fee from Peterborough, replacing him with a player that possesses proven quality at a higher level in Hull’s George Moncur.
Despite this positivity, pre-season has been disjointed and underwhelming – losing 2-0 to seventh tier Potters Bar with a fairly strong side being a particular low in the seven game pre-season schedule.
Looking deeper into this, it’s clear where the problems lie. Orient conceded 15 goals over the course of those seven fixtures – 11 of which came in the second-half once Wellens’ strongest side had been rotated and altered beyond recognition.
The side’s lack of depth is a real concern heading into the new campaign which has been exacerbated by the number of injuries picked up in pre-season.
For the majority of their friendlies the O’s have been playing without a recognised centre forward due to injuries to Aaron Drinan and Harry Smith.
Speaking after last weekend’s draw with Dagenham & Redbridge, Wellens said Smith would be ‘touch and go’ for the season opener against Grimsby, while Drinan will be sidelined for another two-three weeks.
Despite Paul Smyth deputising admirably, without a focal point up front Orient have looked blunt in attack.
Wellens will undoubtedly want to see the Northern Irish livewire dropping into the space behind a more physical frontman once the season gets underway and, with that in mind, the loan signing of QPR’s Charlie Kelman should ease these concerns slightly.
Nevertheless, the core of a very capable squad is unquestionably there. In Lawrence Vigouroux the O’s have a goalkeeper among the very best at this level whose pinpoint distribution sets him apart.
Welshman Tom James was arguably Orient’s best player last season until injury before Christmas halted his campaign: his creativity from right-back should complement the steady solidity of Connor Wood on the opposite side.
At centre-back Omar Beckles remains a consistent performer and the leader of the backline with the likes of Dan Happe, Adam Thompson and Shad Ogie vying to partner the Grenadian in the heart of defence.
One position the O’s are clearly lacking is a number 6 who can dictate play from deep; a midfield of Craig Clay, Darren Pratley and marquee signing George Moncur should suffice for now though, with youngsters Jordan Brown and Ethan Coleman providing ample back-up.
Wellens is expected to deploy a 4-2-3-1 system and the three attacking midfield roles behind the striker is where his side are strongest. Provided they stay fit, an interchangeable trio of Theo Archibald, Paul Smyth and Ruel Sotiriou will cause havoc for opposition defences throughout the campaign.
Following a lengthy trial period, Cypriot international Anthony Georgiou has arrived to provide competition for places to those three while Orient fans should keep an eye out for 18-year-old Zech Obiero, a player many at the club have high hopes for.
Fresh from signing a new deal, Drinan seems the natural fit to lead the line in Wellens’ high energy pressing system, though target man Harry Smith will be sure to have something to say about that as the season wears on.
League Two promises to be an ultra competitive division this season. Scanning the league there is a dearth of the sort of poorly run sides that have been relegated to non-league in recent years while the same can also be said at the other end of the table with a real shortage of stand-out contenders either.
Four sides will have to rise from the pack to claim promotion and Orient will be hoping that in Wellens, someone who lifted the League Two title just three seasons ago, they have the right man in charge to make that dream a reality.
LFS Verdict: 5th
Leyton Orient pre-season image appears courtesy of the club.