Promotion Diaries – Leyton Orient

One of the oldest football clubs in London will be returning to the Football League, with Leyton Orient winning the Vanarama National League this season to earn automatic promotion (they will be joined by the winner of tomorrow’s promotion playoff match between Salford City and Fylde). The O’s have had a rough stretch of football over the past few seasons, but the stewardship of Nigel Travis as chairman has put the club back on the path to the top tiers of English football.

Here’s a quick look at how Leyton Orient ended up in this position:

What Went Right

The O’s opened the season with a 13-match unbeaten streak (8-5-0), which saw them outscore their opponents by 18 goals. They lost only three times before 2019 started, giving them an early lead over the rest of the league. They slowed off that pace a bit down the back stretch of the season, but nevertheless ended the season on a six-match unbeaten streak (3-3-0) that allowed them to end the season as champions.

They were paced on offense by forward Macauley Bonne, who followed up the 20 goals he scored last season with 23 this season, good for third in the league. He should be with the club at least through the season – especially with the promotion – though he is only signed through the end of next season.

What Went Wrong

It’s hard to identify any negatives about the season; the club was consistent throughout the season and never dipped out of playoff position. If there is one quibble to be had with the O’s season, I suppose it could be the caliber of club they lost to. Their seven losses on the season were to clubs that finished in 13th place on average. Though they didn’t lose to the four relegated squads – they compiled a 6-2-0 with a +15 goal differential in those matches – they did lose to the three clubs above them in the final table – Dagenham & Redbridge (18th), Maidenhead United (19th), and Boreham Wood (20th). Still, they ended the season with a league-leading +38 goal differential despite these middling results, and it didn’t prevent them from winning the title.

Recent English Football League History

This was Leyton Orient’s second consecutive season in the National League after a last place finish in League Two during the 2016-17 season. That season was disastrous on and off the pitch, with five different managers and a winding-up hearing due to unpaid taxes. They “earned” relegation to the National League in April, ending the club’s 112-year stay in the Football League. Nigel Travis stepped in and bought the club from oft-criticized and protested owner Franceso Becchetti, and the club’s fortunes started to reverse.

Last season, the club finished 13th in the National League, but managed to find a solid manager in Justin Edinburgh. The club clinched a return to League Two after a 0-0 draw with Braintree Town, ending their non-league journey after two seasons. They’ll also be playing in the final of the FA Trophy competition next weekend – against AFC Fylde, who could be joining them in League Two next season – so it was a successful season all around for the O’s.

Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?

Contract lengths tend to be shorter once you get out of the Football League, and the O’s are stocked full of players that will be at the end of their contract at the end of the season. Shockingly, at least to me, they only have one player on the club via loan – defender Jamie Turley from Notts County – and he only played 612 minutes for the club this season. Regardless, the promotion back to League Two might be incentive enough for some otherwise disinterested players of sticking around – if the feeling is mutual – but squad that opens next season could be markedly different than the one that closes this one.

Chances of a One-and-Done?

During the Premier League era (1992-onward), they’ve spent most of their time in League Two, with 13 seasons in the fourth tier of English football. They’ve spent another 12 seasons in League One, and are over 35 years removed from their last season in tier two. Not that I think they are on their way back to the Championship anytime soon, but it’s worth putting it in perspective. The O’s are probably best situated as a League Two team that has a good run every decade or so to get back to League Two, but they are likely a few years away from reaching the Championship if they ever do.

Until next time…

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