Director of Football Martin Ling admits he is looking forward to the challenge of Sutton United on the opening day of the season.
Reflecting on Wednesday’s release of the O’s 2017-18 Vanarama National League fixtures, Ling believes the trip to Gander Green Lane will provide a stern test for the Club.
“Sutton were big news last year in terms of their FA Cup run and getting to play Arsenal, and we know we will it will not be easy,” Ling told leytonorient.com.
“It is a 4G pitch and I can’t see that many of our players would have played a competitive game on that surface having previously been in the English Football League. The surface will present us with a hurdle but we believe is something we can overcome.
“We all would have preferred a home game on the opening day of the season, at least the game is a local one and I am sure there will be a very good Orient following. It’s not a perfect opening day fixture, but it could have been a lot worse.”
Following the trip to Sutton on August 5, Orient then return to the Matchroom Stadium for back-to-back home fixtures against Solihull Moors and Maidstone United, and despite the pair not being the biggest names in the division Ling stressed the threat each pose in what proves to be a busy opening month.
“They may not be stand out teams with regard to their finishing positions last season given they both finished in the bottom half, but they will still both provide us with a strong test.
“We cannot afford to go into home games thinking we are going to walk over sides, because let me tell you now it is not that straightforward. It took Luton four or five years to get out of this division, so it shows that it will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination.
“When I look at the two-week period between August 5 and August 19, we have five games. The fixtures come at us very quickly and proves that we are going to need not only numbers within a squad, but also people who can play on Saturday and Tuesday,” he explained.
“We are going to need the squad to be used to its full capacity and that leads on to where we are in signing players as is shows that we do need another batch of players to come in.
“We currently have 14 senior players, and I use the word senior loosely because we have 14 individuals under professional contracts with some sort of league experience.
“We know that there is a lot of work still to be done, but for the period we have been here we are happy with the signings made so far, and if we can continue to bring in players of the same calibre of the first four, we will be absolutely delighted.
“I feel like we are laying quite nicely a set of foundations that can take us into the next couple of years. I did say when I came in that it was going to be a big task in terms of timescale and trying to keep everything that needs to be done moving forward. We had nothing and although we have still got a lot to do, it is starting to take shape.”
With a number of Clubs local to Orient in the National League, Ling revealed his pleasure at the O’s not having to travel far over the festive period, while admitting he is excited for the visit of Dagenham and Redbridge on Boxing Day.
“From December 9 to January 6 we don’t have to go out of the South East which is lovely.
“That month is a good month in terms of everything being in and around you, but the league seems very much to be like that - teams are either really close or really far away.
“I went through the fixtures with Lindsey and there was not a single difficult decision to make regarding overnight stays, it was either a clear yes or a clear no. There will be a lot of time when the travelling is quite easy, but there will also be a time when the travelling is going to be a long way away.
“That period of fixtures around Christmas won’t put a lot of miles on the car, and I might even see my boy Sam a few times with us coming up against his side Dagenham & Redbridge on both Boxing Day and New Years’ Day which are the two big games.”
Despite being treated to several local ties over Christmas, the O’s will rack up plenty of miles in the closing weeks of the season with trips to Guiseley, Macclesfield and Gateshead, and Ling believes those fixtures will require a strong focus from the players.
“It seems strange to be looking at the final games of a 2017-18 season as I feel we are still a long way from getting a squad together, but there is some mileage to go in those final three away fixtures.
“They are the type of places where the mentality needs to be spot on. I have managed in this division and these are the sort of games where the players need to pull themselves through.
“Going to those places are where the sides who want to be successful are really going to be tested, and they are where promotion can be both achieved and lost.”
The 2017-18 campaign also sees a change in structure of the National League Play-Off system with an increase to six teams and the introduction of one-legged ties, and Ling admitted he believes it is a better structure to have in place.
“I think it is a fairer system if I am honest, because second and third get rewarded for performing as well as they have by getting a home tie in the semi-final.
“The fact that there are now six teams widens the opportunity, and although this season is about consolidation you will never hear me saying that is good enough. I don’t think the players will look at it like that, I don’t think a new First Team Coach will look at it that way and nor will the fans.
“We are going into the season in what I would describe as being undercooked, as we are not prepared how we would normally like to be in building a squad for the upcoming campaign. I’m not going to take anything away from the signings we have already made however, as I am extremely pleased to have been able to bring them into the Club.
“The be-all and end-all is that 24 teams go into the season to finish as high as they possibly can. Ultimately, the only successful sides in the division are the two teams that go up.”