Orient have had a troubled first season in the National League, failing to make a run at the play-offs and changing their manager mid-campaign. Justin Edinburgh appears to have stabilised the team, opting for a 4-4-2 in which his side look to push high into the opposing half to establish control of possession. This has brought more certainty to the side in recent weeks as under previous manager, Steve Davis, formations were often chopped and changed as he looked to get the best out of his players.
Until last Tuesday’s defeat at Hartlepool, Orient’s recent form has been very impressive. Before that match they were unbeaten in five, winning three, and one of the draws was away to champions-elect Macclesfield Town. They compiled ten goals in their three wins, and although they were all achieved against relegation candidates – Guiseley, Woking and Barrow – they clearly have a genuine threat going forwards. It should also be pointed out that they were unfortunate to lose 1-0 at Hartlepool, and had much more of the game than their hosts.
Edinburgh’s tactics have brought stability, and so have his team selections. He has picked a very settled side over their recent run of good form, with eight players starting all those games and only injuries to Dan Holman, Josh Coulson and Matt Harrold forcing him to change his side. However, he may be forced to make unwanted alterations against Wrexham as key men George Elokobi and James Brophy both came off with injuries at Hartlepool. Striker Josh Koroma was a doubt for Tuesday’s game, but was able to play the full 90 minutes.
Ex-Wrexham striker Dan Holman was hoping to be fit for Tuesday didn’t make it, but may be available against Wrexham. Also, club captain Charlie Lee is fit again after battling back from an ACL injury and it might be tempting to give him some time on the pitch in the final home game of the season.
Orient lined up in a 4-4-2 against Hartlepool with their two wide midfielders, the left-footed James Brophy and right-footed Jobi McAnuff, regularly switching flanks.
The duo are important to Orient’s build-up play. McAnuff will drift from his wide starting point, looking for space. He has a good range of passing and can play incisive balls which open up the opposition. He is also comfortable carrying the ball forwards and taking players on. Although he’s right-footed, when his starting position is on the right he’s willing to cut inside and shoot with his left.
McAnuff is willing to put in a good shift on the flank, and when Orient were under pressure would drop alongside his full back, allowing him to tuck n to make an extra man at the back. When McAnuff drifts inside from the left, he opens up space for the right back Sam Ling to come forwards – he is more progressive than Joe Widdowson, a muscular left back who is also able to fill in at centre back. Both full backs did a good job tucking inside to provide cover for their centre backs, especially Widdowson, who had to watch Conor Newton, who constantly made runs from the right flank to support his striker, with Brophy unable to track him. This opened up the possibility of Hartlepool creating an overload on the right by pushing their full back up, which they did not exploit.
On occasion, Orient would employ a quite ferocious press in the Hartlepool half, looking to force an error at the back. They would often commit five players to doing so, making it difficult to evade them, but by the same token, this could leave them open to the counter attack having stationed so many players in the attacking third.
Against Hartlepool, they seemed quite vulnerable to set pieces. The decisive goal was scored from a free kick, where Hartlepool isolated Marvin Ekpiteta against a centre back at the far post, and they conceded other chances from free kicks and corners into the box.
Josh Koroma is a threat in attack. The 19 year old youth academy graduate has flourished under Justin Edinburgh after struggling to previously break into the side, and has shown excellent recent form since being shifted to partner Macauley Bonne in attack. Previously he was playing on the wings.
His pace allows him to look to run in behind the central defenders, feeding off Bonne’s flicks.
When Orient lose the ball, and if they are not pressing in the opposing half, he wil drop off ad will look to cover the holding midfielder, forming a five in midfield.
Bonne is a mobile forward who is able to win the ball in the air. He’s quick and likes to run off the shoulder of the last defender, or can drift to the left and cut in onto his right foot to run at the defence on the angle. Orient like to move the ball on the floor, but with two quick players up front can also play longer balls for them to chase, turning the defence.
In four of their last five game David Mooney has come off the bench in the second half – he started the other game. He is more of a target man, looking to drop off and help balls on for his strike partner.
Orient’s other senior striker, Matt Harrold, is unavailable through injury, as are wide midfielder James Dayton and centre back Josh Coulson, who broke his toe against Barrow.
Orient have a wide range of good options from set pieces. McAnuff takes the corners from both sides and shares free kicks with James Brophy and Korona, all three of whom are capable of shooting when in range.
Koroma doesn’t talk as many free kicks as the others, but is impressively accurate. He favours striking the ball with the inside of his foot, but can hit it well from surprisingly far out.
Orient also use Sam Ling’s long throws when within range on the right flank, usually to try to pick out one of the centre backs, particularly Ekpiteta.