It’s been a truly suburb season for the Leyton Orient U18s as they improved on last year’s Merit League 2 triumph to claim the Merit League 1 with a game to spare after an incredible 10-game unbeaten streak.
While the first team’s struggles and problems off the pitch have been well documented this year, the young O’s have had to overcome their own struggles too. Early on in the season the injury bug seemed to stay away but a cluster of injuries to key contributors meant players like Victor Adeboyejo, captain Michael Clark, Myles Judd and Sam Sargeant were all ripped out of the team in one fell swoop.
Add in the effects of players like Aron Pollock and Josh Koroma being called up to the first team throughout the season and the problem is clear. Even youth academy director Andy Edwards was moved up to first team assistant after Ian Hendon’s sacking.
No one would have been shocked had the U18s’ team struggled to keep their focus and momentum, but this group of young men proved themselves to be worthy of belonging to a football club. They gelled as a team quicker than expected, adding in Sam Dalby from Buckhurst Hill boys. He has been a jewel of a finding. Rian Mclean moved from striker to right back filling in the gaps.
Youth Academy Coach Danny Webb found himself thrust into the role of head coach and thrived, changing the formation and giving his players the push they needed to play without fear and to not be afraid of the consequences.
The season started brightly for the team. The objective was to make it into the playoffs for the Merit League one by winning the Youth Alliance South East League. With five wins out of the first 10 games and three draws the team was set up nicely. But the team to chase was Luton Town; a thunderous start for them left them the team to beat and nobody could.
An unbeaten October and two wins at the start of November all but set the O’s for qualification for the Merit League One, but then the injuries all started to kick in and the team wavered. Three loses out of five dented the confidence and the team appeared to be limping into the winter break.
But after a forced change in management the young O’s came back with fire in their bellies. In the first game after the winter break, the O’s met Luton Town, a team they couldn’t beat in the previous league but on a rainy, cold, miserable morning they overcame the favourites with a 1-0 win thanks to Pollock’s sliding finish.
Dominant wins over Gillingham and Portsmouth followed before a wonder goal from Dan Happe secured a cagey 1-0 over Exeter. The team was flying and were running away with the league. Four more wins against Plymouth, Southend, Cheltenham and AFC Wimbledon with a draw sandwiched inbetween with AFC Bournemouth confirmed the league title before Barnet were ticked off the list at the Matchroom Stadium.
For a team of mostly first year scholars, the step up next year could be huge. With some first team experience already in the team, we could be seeing a number of good young footballers finding their way into the senior ranks very soon.