Russell Slade has called on his team and the club’s supporters to recreate the performance and atmosphere against Peterborough United and lead Orient to promotion glory in their play-off final against Rotherham United at Wembley.
The O’s defeated the Posh in an epic League 1 semi-final tie which led to unprecedented scenes of joy at Brisbane Road with fans celebrating on the pitch.
Orient will take more than 23,000 fans to Wembley tomorrow and their manager believes together the players and crowd can help the O’s reach the second tier of English football for the first time in 32 years.
The Orient boss, who expects to have a fully fit squad to choose from, said: “We were expecting and hoping for over 20,000 fans and that is what we’re going to get which is a tremendous effort. We need a similar performance from ourselves from the last game and also from the fans off the pitch to help get us over the line.”
Slade, who has forged a close relationship with chairman Barry Hearn since coming to the club, added: “It would be the biggest thrill for both us if we could win. The chairman wants Championship football as much as we all do.
“It would be a fantastic achievement and special for everybody concerned including the fans and the staff. It would be marvellous but there is an awful lot of work to be done between now and then.”
Slade has experienced the heartbreak of defeat after losing in the play-off final as manager of Grimsby Town to Cheltenham Town in 2006 before suffering more disappointment as Yeovil Town boss against Blackpool one year later.
Slade, who is looking for his first promotion as a manager, said: “I learnt a little bit from the previous finals but in the end there is no written script and no formula. If you think there is a formula to a final, you are kidding yourself. The only formula is hard work and discipline.”
Some teams get caught up in the hype of the occasion and fail to perform on the pitch but Slade admits there is a balance required in preparing for the final.
When asked if it was best to treat it as a normal game, he replied: “It is easier said than done because there are the hopes and expectations of everyone and the players have to deal with things like tickets. It’s good to treat it as another game, but at the same time it’s not ordinary playing at Wembley. You have to accept it is a very big game, with a very big prize, but then you just have to get on with the job.
“I have total belief in them. The little details are important but a word that’s often underused is persistence. We need that persistence in everything that we do well.”
Orient’s opponents in the final are the Millers after they overcame Preston North End in the semi-finals. Rotherham are pushing for their second consecutive promotion after Steve Evans took them out of League 2 last year.
Slade, whose side won at home and lost away to Rotherham this season, said: “He’s [Evans] done a wonderful job for their football club. I think they are two very hard working teams. His side have got a very good work ethic and so has mine.
“Rotherham are a very good side and they get lots of crosses in the box. We’re both good teams and we wouldn’t have got into this position if we weren’t.
“Both games have been very tight ones and this will be no different. They have threats all over the pitch with the pace of Kieran Agard, the aerial ability of Alex Revell and the delivery of Ben Pringle but then so have we.
“We are all really looking forward to it. There is excitement and it’s something we have to embrace and enjoy but more importantly we have to make sure we do our job.”
Slade has had to manage on minimal resources compared to bigger clubs in their division and the O’s boss believes their unity, allied to sheer hard graft, has helped them to the brink of the Championship.
He said: “It means so much to everybody from the chairman who’s ecstatic about getting there and the staff, the two Kevins [Nugent and Dearden] and head of sports science Lee Southernwood. They’ve all been inspirational. Everybody works more than they should. We maximise everything and go beyond the call of duty at times and that’s what it’s about here.
“If you are to shift a club like Leyton Orient from one level to the next that’s what you’ve got to do.”
The O’s boss has described his side as the underdogs throughout the play-offs, but the triumph of Yeovil Town in the final 12 months ago should give Orient the belief they can complete a record-breaking season with promotion.
Slade said: “We are still, whatever happens, the smallest club in every way, shape or form going to Wembley. But what we do have is a fantastic togetherness, a spirit and an inspiration that we’ll hopefully get us where we need to be.
“Yeovil went to Wembley and they were massive underdogs and turned it on its head. It was a wonderful achievement by Gary Johnson and that’s what is so fantastic about English football that the smaller club occasionally from time to time can still do that.”
Slade, who is based in the flats overlooking the ground, has had to live apart from his family for much of his time at the club but insists so many people at Orient are willing to go the extra mile to succeed.
“As you know I’m very happy here,” the manager said. “Obviously my family are in the north and that’s difficult but they’re so supportive. I’ve got a fantastic wife and great kids. We make sacrifices but other people make sacrifices too. We’re willing to do that at the football club and if you want to be successful you have to do that.”