Russell Slade believes the O’s can take inspiration from Brentford and win promotion next season after their heartbreaking play-off final defeat to Rotherham United.
Orient missed out on a place in the Championship after a 4-3 penalty shoot-out defeat to the Millers on Sunday at Wembley despite leading 2-0 at half-time.
In the last six years, three sides have gone up immediately after losing in the final. The Bees went on to win automatic promotion this season, less than 12 months after suffering the disappointment of losing in the League 1 final, and Slade insists Orient can aspire to do the same.
The O’s boss said: “I didn’t say too much afterwards to be honest. I’m very proud of the season. They’ve given everything like they gave everything today. They can be very proud of what they’ve done.
“It’s not an easy moment for any of us right now. But of course at some stage we will sit down, reflect and see what we could have changed or done better and we’ll go again.
“I think the thing to do is to look at what Brentford did last season where they bounced back after the disappointment of missing out in the play-off final against Yeovil. We need to use that as a model and make sure we can react in the right way and come back and see if we can do it next year.”
Slade is still waiting for his first promotion as a manager as he lost a play-off final for the third time. He has experienced disappointment with Yeovil Town and Grimsby Town before but admits Sunday’s cruel defeat on spot-kicks was the most painful moment of his career.
Slade said: “It doesn’t feel too good obviously. It’s the worst feeling in football I’ve had and I’m sure it’s a very tough moment for my players that have given absolutely everything yet again for the cause.
“It is cruel and it’s not like we’ve not practiced them. We’ve done that religiously but it’s all about the moment and making sure you do the right thing and get the ball in the net.
“Having said that, goalkeepers out there are not quite sure what your fourth or fifth penalty taker is going to do so there is a bit of guess work in there as well. You need that little bit of fortune which Rotherham got today.”
Goals from Moses Odubajo and Dean Cox put the O’s on course for promotion before the Millers quickly levelled at the start of the second half. But Slade insists he was always wary of his side’s lead and never thought the job was done.
“I never felt that the game was won,” Slade said. “I’ve been in management long enough to know that 2-0 sometimes is a very difficult scoreline at half-time. I just think the 15 minutes after half-time where they really came at us we didn’t deal with that as well as we ought to have done.
“The momentum swung on the back of what I thought was a decent challenge by our skipper Nathan Clarke. He’s awarded a free-kick which I thought was fortunate and then they had a bit of fortune there where Jamie Jones has come for it and punched it against our player and dropped for Alex Revell to score. I think that was a big moment in the game.”
The O’s were major overachievers this season with minimal resources and were not fancied to win promotion at the start of the campaign. But Slade believes the O’s can keep the squad together and mount another challenge again next year.
He said: “It’s been a wonderful journey from day one and it’s a pleasure to work with these players that are in every day. The good thing is the majority of them are under contract so it’s not like we're going to lose the nucleus of the side.
“I think we can sit back and look at what we require, maybe to make that little extra step, which gives us that extra one per cent to get us over the line.”
Slade added: “For the football club it’s been a good period over the last two years where we finished seventh and third. I feel proud that I’ve moved the club forward in the time I’ve been here and certainly over the last two years it’s been good for the little club in the east end of London.
“We’ve been playing some good football and scored another couple of decent goals again today. I can’t praise the group enough for what they’ve done over the period of time they’ve been with me.”
The O’s were promised a trip to Las Vegas if they reached the top six this season and the squad are jetting off to Sin City next week. Although their manager admits no-one feels like celebrating now he thinks the trip could provide some welcome relief.
Slade said: “Yes, I am going with them to Las Vegas but it doesn’t feel like that right now. I’m not sure too many will be relishing that but we’ve got a week before it.
“Sometimes you just need that little period and it might turn out to be just the kind of tonic the group need getting back together in a week’s time and having a little bit of time to reflect and hopefully we can come back that little bit stronger.”