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Monday, 18 August 2014

The Inside Line: Leyton Orient (19/08/2014)

With two wins from two, Bristol City have made their best start to a campaign in years and will be looking to make it three wins in a row at home to potential promotion rivals Leyton Orient on Tuesday night.

Stu Radnedge caught up with James Mealing, @TotalOrient, for this fabulously detailed match preview.

"It has been a strange summer to be an Orient fan. We were still recovering from the disappointment of the play-offs when the chairman of nearly twenty years Barry Hearn sold the club to wealthy Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti.

Since then there have been a couple of changes to the hierarchy at the club. Becchetti has appointed a new chief executive (though former CEO Matt Porter is still involved as a board member). The new Chairman has also brought in former QPR defender Mauro Milanese as sporting director. This move was greeted with suspicion by Orient fans and it raised questions concerning Russell Slade's future, but there has been very little (if any) evidence of a negative impact so far.

Naturally the takeover created an air of uncertainty over the close-season. The promise of money to spend on transfers is not something O's fans have been accustomed to, nor are we used to being bookies' favourite to sign international superstars like Emile Heskey.

As it turned out, Russell Slade was sensible, using his increased budget to recruit players with Championship (and some Premier League) experience on free transfers, rather than splashing out on transfer fees. Former Millwall defender Shane Lowry and Charlton's Bradley Pritchard were recruited, along with Darius Henderson and Jobi McAnuff, who captain Reading in the top-flight as recently as 2012/13. Slade has also given Jay Simpson (who was once a bright prospect at Arsenal) the chance to reignite his career in England following a spell in Thailand.

These new signings have added depth to our squad and we will now be able to call on more experienced players from the bench rather than the loanees and young pros that often made up the squad last season. Orient have also held on to the majority of the players that were regulars last term, with only Jamie Jones and Moses Odubajo departing. There is a feeling that Jones had never truly returned to form following a couple of serious injuries and we now have two good goalkeepers in Adam Legzdins and Gary Woods who will compete for the number one shirt. Odubajo's transfer to Brentford was a bigger blow as he has great potential and he was a key part of our team, but hopefully McAnuff will fill the void.

Expectations were always likely to be high at Brisbane Road following a great 2013/14 campaign, but the increased funds, stronger squad and the change in ownership means there is even greater pressure.

A play-off place is probably the minimum requirement, while some fans believe we should claim an automatic promotion spot with the squad we have at our disposal. Barry Hearn was patient with Russell Slade when things didn't go to plan, but it remains to be seen whether the new chairman will afford him as much time if we under-perform.

Dean Cox is the man that Bristol City will need to keep quite on Tuesday night. The winger has produced high quality performances on a consistent basis during his four seasons at Brisbane Road. His goals and assists record has also been outstanding. Last season he scored 17 goals and provided 13 assists in 56 games, and he has been involved in all-but-one of Orient's seven goals so far this term. Tying him down to a new contract was probably our best business of the summer.

Darius Henderson has had an immediate impact and he could prove to be the pick of the new arrivals. The target man scored on his debut on the opening day and he contributed another goal and an assist against Oldham on Saturday. The physical presence he offers is something we have lacked in the past and should also be a handful for the Robins' defence on current form.

Romain Vincelot is another important figure at the heart of our midfield. His energetic break-up play and tireless running means he is capable of having a real influence.

Sam Baldock is Bristol City's obvious threat given his goalscoring ability. I would have also mentioned Jay Emmanuel-Thomas before the start of the season, but he's hardly featured in the league so far. In terms of form, I have to include Aaron Wilbraham, three goals in his first two league appearances is impressive.

I also like Korey Smith and Luke Freeman. Smith pretty much controlled the game for Oldham at Brisbane Road back in March and he scored a great goal to equalise in the last minute. I've also been impressed by Freeman when he has played against Orient for Stevenage.

It's difficult to predict how Orient will perform on Tuesday night. We've had some good spells (namely the first half against Plymouth and the second half against Oldham) but we haven't yet found the same level of performance that we managed last term.

We are likely to lineup with a 4-4-2 that, at its best is fluid in attack, with Cox, Mooney and McAnuff or Simpson all interchanging.

The main concern is the defence. We have looked shaky at the back so far, particularly when the opposition have been on the counter-attack, and given the attacking prowess in the Bristol City squad, we could struggle to keep the Robins out.

However, six goals in our last two games suggests we have the potential to cause problems going forward. Cox and Henderson are in form and Mooney opened his goalscoring account for the season at the weekend. If we can add McAnuff to the equation too, we should be a threat. Our striking options all have different qualities which allow us to adopt a different approach if necessary.

I expected Bristol City to do well last season and I think a full season under Steve Cotterill will see them challenge for promotion this year.

I rarely make predictions and when I do I'm usually wrong. I expect a close, entertaining game, with a couple of goals at either end. I'll go with another 2-2 at Ashton Gate."

The Exiled Robin

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