Leyton Orient are six games into their first season back at Football League level and their results so far can only be described as a mix bag. There have been highs in the form of the poignant opening day victory against Cheltenham and the remarkable turnaround at Mansfield and there have also been been lows with the 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Macclesfield chief among them. Although, it’s also fair to suggest that perhaps the performances put in by Ross Embleton’s side warrant better than the eight points they’ve amassed so far.
Many felt that Orient were extremely unfortunate to come away from their two home games against Stevenage and Crawley last month with just a point and the underlying data only serves to back up the general feeling that surrounds the side this season. The O’s currently rank fourth in the League Two expected goals table, with the data model suggesting that Orient have come out on top in four of the six league games they’ve played.
In terms of style of play, it seems that Embleton is favouring a more possession-based style than his predecessor. Compared to last season the O’s seem more patient and content with keeping hold of the ball until an opening arrives, which certainly has its merits but can sometimes lead to his team being accused of overplaying.
His choice of formation has also been a sticking point for many when it comes to judging Embleton in his fledging managerial career. Orient opened this season how they finished the last, deploying the 5-2-1-2 system that steered the club to the National League title in the backend of the last campaign.
However, that formation never seemed a completely natural fit for a squad that lacked natural wing-backs. Sam Ling, Joe Widdowson, Myles Judd and Jamie Turley are all more than competent defensive full-backs, but they can at times be found wanting in their lack of quality going forward and although, Ling in particular had seemed to improve that side of his game over the off-season, it became clear that Embleton needed to change things by the time his side were two goals down away at Mansfield mid-way through the fourth league fixture of the season.
The payoff for the O’s gaffer’s switch to a back four was instant. Three second half goals ensured a famous victory for Orient at Field Mill, which made the decision to start with a four man defence at home to Crawley the following Saturday a no brainer for the former Swindon coach.
When at times in previous matches Embleton had been accused of being too defensive, against Crawley it was the opposite he was being accused of, as his gung-ho approach drew criticism for leaving the Orient backline exposed.
Embleton lined his side up in a positive 4-2-3-1 formation with winger James Brophy at left back and Louis Dennis, Jordan Maguire-Drew and Lee Angol in behind lone target-man Conor Wilkinson. Thanks to the injury suffered by regular left back Joe Widdowson in the game against Mansfield, the O’s manager could argue that he had no option but to play the adventurous Brophy in his place. But the balance of the side looked off in this one, as despite dominating the majority of the game, Orient fell on the wrong side of a 3-2 scoreline, giving up three sloppy goals in the process.
Following this game it was crucial that Embleton found the right balance between attack and defence in future line-ups and this was something he arguably achieved away at Salford last Saturday. With Brophy starting further up the field and Dan Happe coming in at left back, there seemed to be more of an equilibrium to Orient’s play which saw them come away from Greater Manchester with a respectable point.
Succeeding Justin Edinburgh in such tragic circumstances was never going to be an easy job for Embleton and the upcoming tricky run of fixtures against 5th place Swindon, 1st place Exeter and 3rd place Crewe will prove a stern test of his credentials. But there are signs over the last few weeks that he’s beginning to implement his own principles, rather than just replicating the Edinburgh playbook, something that you feel will be necessary if he’s going to remove the interim title from his current job role.