Leyton Orient manager Justin Edinburgh believes his side can emulate the likes of Lincoln City and Tranmere Rovers when they return to the EFL next season.
The former Newport County and Gillingham boss was speaking after his O’s team were denied a memorable double by AFC Fylde in the Buildbase FA Trophy final yesterday. Despite the 1-0 loss at Wembley, Orient sealed the big prize by winning the National League this season, and were backed by around 24,000 supporters amongst the 42,962 at Wembley for Non-League Finals Day.
Former Tottenham Hotspur defender Edinburgh is backing his players to hit the ground running back in League Two in August.
“Well we don’t want to go there and make the numbers up. I think we need to take momentum forward.
“I think we’re equipped for that off the pitch. I think that’s showed in our attendance numbers and how the club’s run, with the new ownership.
“I think everything’s in place to go and emulate the two teams coming here for (the) League Two (play-off final, later this month), Newport and Tranmere. I think the one that we all look at is Luton, going into the Championship, so we want to go and be competitive.
“We know that it’s going to be tough, we know that it’s a step up, but I believe that the squad are capable of doing it. We’ve got the right blend, I think, in terms of some really good young players that will learn a lot from this season, and today’s disappointments, and some really good senior players.”
The return to League football after two years is vital for the East Londoners, though that did not eliminate the disappointment of defeat to Dave Challinor’s Fylde. The National League’s Player of the Year again this season, Danny Rowe stepped up to deliver the match-winning free-kick for the Coasters, but Edinburgh took heart from Orient’s efforts.
“I think when you arrive here, your focus is solely on one thing, and that’s to make sure you leave here winners. It’s not a nice feeling.
“Perhaps on reflection it was a slow start, but certainly we deserved a little bit more than we got for our second-half performance. Congratulations to Fylde, they were worthy winners, and we wish them all the best for next season.
“We’ve hit the woodwork a few times. I think the one where I stood there and thought it’s perhaps not going to be our day is when unfortunately Matt Harrold cleared Jordan Maguire-Drew’s effort off the line!
“On reflection of it, I’m proud of the football club, I’m proud of my players, they’ve been incredible all season, and the fans again today; the numbers that we’ve been backed by is quite incredible.
“We accomplished the goal to get back into the Football League, obviously this was the next, to try and complete the double, but it hasn’t worked that way. The players are hurting but they have to take a lot of credit for the season they’ve had.”
For Fylde, it was a second game at the national stadium in eight days, following their 3-0 loss to Salford City in the National League play-off final. Orient, however, had not played since 27th April, against relegated Braintree Town in the league.
Edinburgh agreed that the extended lay-off may have worked against his side, to an extent.
“No doubt first half; I thought we were ring-rusty, we didn’t find our legs, we were very leggy. Credit to Fylde, because I came last week (when they played Salford City) and it looked a nervy performance, but they got that out of their system and credit to them to show the character they did to come here today and win it.
“My positive was that we got in 0-0, because we could’ve been behind, but once we did, we reassessed and just calmed the players. They were disappointed by their performance but we understood that would be possible, that we didn’t start well.
“As the game went on, I thought we dominated and grew into the game, and like I say, I do believe that we were worthy of taking the game to extra-time, there’s no doubt about that.”
The club’s drop into non-league in 2017 has frequently been referred to alongside their League One play-off final with Rotherham United three years earlier, as the O’s memorably led 2-0, only to lose on penalties and miss out on a place in the Championship. After Francesco Becchetti’s takeover, the Italian’s chaotic and often farcical reign saw Orient suffer two relegations in the next three seasons, culminating in the end to their 112-year stay in the Football League.
Since Nigel Travis assumed control in June 2017, the club has steadily been able to build again. Edinburgh was appointed as manager in November of that year, ultimately presiding over a mid-table finish in a notoriously unforgiving National League for relegated clubs.
This season, the O’s have outlasted the competition, winning the league by three points from Solihull Moors. With retained lists being announced throughout English football of late, Edinburgh says that Orient’s will follow in due course.
Charlie Lee had announced before the Trophy final that it would be his final game for the club, and when asked if he had spoken to the players about their futures yet, Edinburgh confirmed that everyone was in the picture.
“Yes I have; I’m sure the club will announce that. (Goalkeeper) Charlie Grainger left in the week; I felt it was only fair that the players were aware.
“It’s been a long period where the season finished and we waited three weeks for this game, so they’ve been thoroughly professional and I think that showed in Charlie (Lee)’s performance when he came on.”
Looking to the future, the likes of winger Jordan Maguire-Drew offer plenty of hope and encouragement. The 21-year-old joined on a permanent deal from Brighton & Hove Albion at the beginning of January, and his manager feels it could well be the ideal arrangement for player and club alike as the EFL calls.
“The latter part of the season, his last three or four games, he’s got over his injury. I think there’s a big future for him.
“The big thing for me is he’s our player now. He’s had a lot of loans; we’ve secured him on a long-term deal and I think that he feels wanted.
“He feels that this is his home, and I think there’s a lot more to come and those kind of performances will get him a starting place in the team.”