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Monday, 25 November 2013

The Inside Line: Leyton Orient (26/11/2013)

Tuesday night sees the visit of the surprise team of the season in League One – or perhaps any league, and any season – when ex-Yeovil manager Russell Slade brings Leyton Orient to Ashton Gate.

A mere 80-or-so places separate the two clubs if form in all of 2013 is taken into account across all four divisions, and whilst City have largely floundered, been relegated and struggled to adapt, the O’s have put a remarkable run together, coming close to ambushing the play off party last season, whilst being seemingly unstoppable this time around.

Their success has been put down to stability and consistency, something which as we’re finding out is easy to say when things are going well, less easy to stick to if they’re going wrong, but another tale to draw on for those who insist longevity and a settled management team are key to long-term success.

Stu Radnedge picks up the story with Matt Simpson, author of a book on Leyton Orient’s greatest players and the man who runs the O’s blog, View from the West Stand

There can't be any other first question than to ask about the O's league form. Sprinting to the top of the table since the season began. What's gone so well at Brisbane Road?
In all my dark, soul-destroying years of supporting Orient I've never seen a squad with such spirit, resilience and talent. In years past when we went 1-0 down I expected us to go on to lose 3-0. Then we'd actually lose 5-0. Now even if we do go behind I always think we’ll come back and win – as we did against MK Dons, Peterborough and Swindon. Our defence is solid; our midfield has grit and creativity; and we’ve got three strikers (Lisbie, Mooney and Batt) who are in incredible form and scoring regularly. Either that or evil alien dopplegangers have replaced the entire team.

Orient – perhaps surprisingly to many – finished seventh last season, so was there any disappointment that you didn't make the play-offs?
Not really – we had a typically appalling start to the season so even when we climbed the table post-Christmas the play-offs always felt a little out of reach.

With last season’s good finish in mind, are you surprised to have made such a great start?
Even the most delusionally positive fans couldn’t have imagined a start this great – especially given how atrociously we’ve started the last six seasons. But on the other hand this form is really a continuation of the latter half of last season. In fact, if you look at our record for 2013, we are statistically the best football team on the entire planet. Probably.

We're edging closer to the halfway stage in the season now, can you maintain this form and, if not, where do you now think you'll finish?
To be honest it’s going to be extremely tough for us to stay in the top two until the end of the season, given the size of our squad and our budgets compared to the teams around us. However, given the start, and our form, I would now be absolutely gutted if we didn’t at least make the play-offs.

With such a successful start comes attention. I read an article with your manager Russell Slade, who has attributed this season's performance to management and stability. Would you agree with this, and why?
Yes, I’d agree with anything Russell Slade says at the moment!. He has to take massive credit for getting us where we are. He’s brought in all but one of the current squad – without paying a single penny in transfer fees – and has got them working hard for each other. The stability is important too. Our first game of the season did not feature a single debutant – which is pretty unusual – and the first-choice XI has been consistent since about January.

You’ve been involved in a long-running battle over the use of the Olympic stadium.  Do you want to watch Orient in a stadium that’s 90% empty and would it really be good for the club and atmosphere?
No one wants to watch their football team in a half-empty stadium – which is something West Ham fans will have to get used to since they couldn’t even sell out Upton Park for their recent derby against Chelsea. But it’s going to be difficult for Orient to ever really progress in our current 9,000-seater stadium, especially when West Ham will be literally begging local school-children to come and watch them half a mile down the road. Imagine we’re in the Championship next season: it would be very difficult to stay there with such small potential gates. I’m not sure ground-sharing the Olympic Stadium is the answer, but West Ham being given taxpayers money to encroach on our potential future fan base is absolutely scandalous.

What do you think of your chances at Ashton Gate? Are you fearful of any players, tactics, etc?
I have to say our chances are good, I’m afraid – our confidence is sky high after the victory over Swindon on Saturday. In previous seasons we’d always follow an impressive victory over a top-half team with a loss against one in the bottom, but that doesn’t seem to have happened yet this campaign. We’ll need to keep an eye on Emmanuel-Thomas, of course, and it won’t be easy, but I think we’ll prevail. Just.  

What threat do City fans have to be aware of upon the O's visit to BS3?
Kevin Lisbie and David Mooney who, according to Iain Dowie, are “the Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke of League One”. Mooney in particular has scored some cracking goals in the last few games and Lisbie is a class act. Dean Cox is our most creative player and young Moses Odubajo on the right wing is fast and dangerous.

Watch out for central midfielder Romain Vincelot too – he’s easy to spot because his socks will be round his ankles. And the beard, I suppose.  

My thanks to Matt & Stu, a big test indeed for City where another defeat would undo all the good work put in over the past few weeks, so fingers crossed...

The Exiled Robin

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