Following a run of one win in ten and an FA Cup exit at the hands of non-league Chesterfield, what seemed like an assured start to life back in League One for Leyton Orient has taken a turn for the worse.
Even the most optimistic of O’s supporters would have been satisfied occupying 16th place and sitting six points above the drop zone at this stage of the season.
However, the recent run of results combined with some lacklustre performances have raised cause for concern in E10, with some beginning to look over their shoulder at the League One trap door.
The season ending injury to marquee summer signing Jordan Graham has had an undoubted impact on Orient’s attack. With Graham on one flank complimented by Theo Archibald on the other, Richie Wellens’ side looked a constant threat earlier in the campaign.
Orient are yet to win a league game since Graham’s injury in October and the lack of a like-for-like squad replacement is causing a clear drop in attacking output.
The O’s have looked one dimensional and pedestrian in recent weeks, particularly against Bristol Rovers and Chesterfield where they managed just four shots on target across the two games.
Expectations will now weigh heavier at the feet of summer signing Dan Agyei, who himself has just returned from a long-term injury.
The former Crewe man is a more direct threat than Graham but will need time to get up to speed after missing out on pre-season and stepping up a level after starring in League Two last time out.
Against Chesterfield, Orient fielded a starting line-up with an average age of just over 23 years old and this current dip in form can’t be easy for a side that lacks League One experience.
Previously Wellens has praised the youthful nature of his squad, expressing his willingness to be patient with them as he enjoys moulding and working with them.
That tone changed following the cup exit though, the Orient boss describing the side’s performance as a “disgrace” before going on to say “we need more experience in the side.”
The Chesterfield defeat was especially damaging as the O’s were desperate for a cup run because, despite performing wonders domestically, owners Nigel Travis and Kent Teague haven’t experienced cup success since rescuing the club back in 2017.
The O’s have reached the FA Cup Third Round just once under Travis and Teague, while the club haven’t faced a Premier League side in any competition since 2015 when they defeated Aston Villa in the League Cup at Villa Park.
Prior to last weekend’s game, Wellens spoke of how he didn’t give the cup enough respect last year, instead choosing to prioritise the title charge as a much-rotated side crashed out to Crewe.
With promotion not a realistic possibility, this season seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a real go in the cup.
It’s clear this renewed interest in cup progression was as much to do with finances as anything else with Wellens wanting to add more seasoned pros to his squad, while the O’s are also crying out for some additional threat from out wide.
A decent cup run could have boosted the coffers enough to make that a possibility but having been beaten by Chesterfield and maxing out the budget during the summer window, Wellens’ will now need to wheel and deal to the best of his abilities to bring in the desired quality.
Things could also get worse before they get better with some tough fixtures on the horizon as the O’s face promotion chasing Derby County and Bolton Wanderers in the next three games.
Of course, the ultimate aim for this season has always been survival and stabilisation and providing they can bring in one or two next month, this sticky patch should subside and Orient should have enough to prevent an instant return to League Two.