Barry Hearn believes Leyton Orient can bounce back from the crushing disappointment of their play-off final defeat and challenge for automatic promotion next season.
The O’s suffered a heartbreaking defeat on penalties at Wembley to Rotherham United last month. But the Orient chairman has already started focusing on their response in the next campaign and believes the club can rise again.
Hearn thinks the O’s can react positively next season and are well equipped to challenge for promotion to the Championship under the management of Russell Slade.
“I’m always optimistic and we have every right to be because we have a good team,” Hearn said. “We want to keep the squad together and add to it. If we can maintain our form and improve slightly on it then I think we’ll be in with a great shout of automatic promotion next season.”
Hearn admits it was tough to take in the immediate aftermath of missing out on promotion but insists there is no point in Orient feeling sorry for themselves.
He said: “It was very hard and the first 24 hours was numbing. We got so close and it wasn’t even as if we lost to the better team because I thought we had the majority of the play. It was harsh obviously but I had Froch versus Groves to look forward to. Obviously the following Saturday at Wembley went a lot better than the previous Sunday.
“But you can’t feel sorry for yourselves. It was a great opportunity and we went so far but didn’t get to the promised land. It’s all well saying it was a terrific season but at the end of the day we didn’t go up.”
Hearn thinks League 1 could be an easier proposition next season following the promotion of Wolves and Brentford and believes Orient will contend towards the top assuming they handle the setback from Wembley in the right way.
Hearn said: “They defied the odds this season and two things happen after a play-off final defeat. You either go up the next season or you struggle but I think there is too much character in the squad for that to happen.
“The players still have that ambition and I think it will be a bit easier next season because there won’t be a Wolves or Brentford. I think we are in with a decent shout but we will see what kind of mental damage, if any, that the play-off final has had once the season starts.”
The whole squad and coaching staff were treated to a break in Las Vegas last week as a reward for finishing in the play-offs. Although it would have been easy for the players to still be demoralised, Hearn insists the trip was a great way for them to get the disappointment out of their system.
“We played a bit of golf, had a lot of fun and had a nice meal,” the sports promoter said. “The mood was very good and it felt like we were washing our hair. We washed last season out of our system and the mood was very upbeat. There is no point crying over something you can’t do anything about.”
There is likely to be plenty of interest in Moses Odubajo this summer. The 20-year-old winger played every single match last season and his goal in the Wembley final was his 12th of the season. Hearn admitted there have been several enquiries from clubs already but added they will not consider selling Odubajo unless there is an offer well in excess of £1m.
The O’s chairman said: “We have to be realistic if a big club comes in for someone. We wouldn’t hold anyone back but the player is under contract and we wouldn’t accept any silly deals. We don’t need the money badly so it would have to be the proper amount or we wouldn’t talk.
“There is no question Moses would cost well over £1m. If he goes to a higher level at his age, you don’t get those type of players on the cheap.”
Hearn added: “We have built a good squad and we will do everything we can to keep it that way.
“I wouldn’t expect anyone to stay out of loyalty. I understand that players have to do what is best for themselves and their family. But I think Moses would be even better after another year with us.”