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National League in focus: Leyton Orient

Heading into the final few months of the season, Leyton Orient lead the way at the top of the National League. We spoke to our Orient reporter George Sessions about what’s been making them tick this season.

 

What are your overall thoughts on Orient’s season so far, surely it couldn’t be going much better?

It’s been a massive success so far. Before the season I think everyone would have hoped to be in the title race, but the realistic aim was the play-offs. A lot of people were realistic, looking at the fact that only made a couple of signings in the summer and that the squad for most of last year wasn’t good enough, even though Justin Edinburgh did a really good job with it when he came in.

The whole squad deserves a lot of credit because they’ve had injuries and they’re still up there. To be in the top three all season and leading for over two months, Edinburgh has done an incredible job.

How has Justin Edinburgh been able to turn things around despite making only a few changes in personnel?

It just shows what a great manager he is. No disrespect to Steve Davis but this is largely the same squad he had just above the relegation zone.

What Edinburgh’s done really well is getting pretty much everyone in the squad playing better than they were and installing confidence in the likes of Josh Koroma, who had hardly kicked a ball under Davis.

Everyone could see he had the talent, it was just whether he was going to get the faith and trust put in him. That’s been one of Justin’s masterstrokes. You’ve also got to highlight goalkeeper Dean Brill as well. Orient had two young goalkeepers for the first half of last season, they both found it tough and Justin’s first move was to bring Dean in – his experience has been invaluable.

Marvin Ekpiteta has been a real star in defence since breaking into the first team, just how good has he been?

He was signed by Steve Forster, the chief scout, and director of football Martin Ling was heavily involved too – and they’ve unearthed an absolute gem.

In a strange way it was a bit of a blessing in disguise when George Elokobi got injured early in the season which allowed Ekpiteta his chance. I think anyone who saw him in pre-season knew he’d get into the team eventually this season. With it happening so early he’s been able to play a massive part in their season. He definitely has a bright future.

Leyton Orient centre-back Marvin Ekpiteta

The striker partnership of Josh Koroma and Macauley Bonne has really clicked too…

Probably the reason why it works is that both of them are very versatile. Bonne last season was generally, and I’m probably doing him a little bit of a disservice, just a poacher. What’s really been impressive about him, although he isn’t a target man, his overall hold-up play has improved hugely working under Justin.

Koroma is such a skilful player. He’s so good at getting himself half a yard against a defender. Bonne has scored a lot of goals but Koroma is the real x-factor player for Orient. Keeping hold of them in the January transfer is a massive statement of intent. A lot of clubs would have sold Koroma given the money involved.

 

Orient had a bit of a blip over Christmas at the same time as Salford, did they miss a chance to open up a gap at the top?

In black and white, it is a missed opportunity because Orient could have drawn at Dagenham and won at Dover, and then there’s a six-point gap. The bigger picture shows that they were missing Jobi McAnuff around that period, who has been colossal.

Craig Clay also picked up an injury around a similar time and he’s been so consistent this season. Those two were heavily missed. When you take a couple of players out of any team they’re going to struggle. At the start of January, Ekpiteta and Josh Coulson were injured too.

There’s no doubt the Christmas period did frustrate everyone but again it highlights the great job Edinburgh has done, in that people are talking about them being three points clear but still being a bit disappointed. He’s turned it around again now with back-to-back wins.

Macauley Bonne and Josh Koroma

Orient are in the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy too, could this hinder their title charge?

I said from the off that I didn’t want Orient to do well in the Trophy because the two semi-finals fall on Saturdays in March. You don’t want that when you’re going for the title.

From the minute Edinburgh was in the Trophy last season he wanted to win it and also this time. In a weird way, it could now benefit Orient. They’re going to get their injured players back over the next couple of weeks and all of a sudden the squad will look quite big. The Trophy could be a perfect opportunity to give everyone in the squad minutes and keep them happy going into the last six weeks of the season.

So will Orient win the title?

One thing I’ve learnt covering Orient is that they love to do the things the hard way!

Salford are an excellent team, they’re the best I’ve seen Orient play for a long time, and that’s going back to the League Two days.

They just don’t seem to be consistent enough though and the bottom line, when you win a title, you’re the most consistent team in the league. Orient have had that consistency, I think you have to back them to get over the line.

They travel to Hartlepool on Saturday, how do you see this one going?

This will be a tricky one. Hartlepool are a bit of a bogey team for Orient, who are still struggling with injuries and will be missing Koroma. I think it will be a draw, which wouldn’t be the worst result in the world and would mean they’re still top of the table at 5pm.

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