By Marios Papaloizou
EIGHT months ago a 20-yearold John Lundstram stepped up to the Wembley penalty spot for the biggest moment of his life in the League One play-off final.
Rotherham’s Lee Frecklington had just seen his kick saved by Jamie Jones, leaving the on-loan Everton youngster with the chance to give Leyton Orient the advantage.
A week of practice meant Lundstram knew exactly what he was going to do and a high rightfooted shot down the middle rippled the net. Orient were in the driving seat.
In the end, however, it wasn’t to be for the O’s and, after a fruitful experience, Lundstram would return to Merseyside with a tinge of regret.
A lot has changed for both parties since that day with the young midfielder making his first-team debut for the Toffees during preseason before heading to Blackpool for a taste of life in the Championship.
For Orient the story isn’t quite as good; four managers have taken their turn in the dugout at Brisbane Road this season and a team that came so close to promotion are now loitering precariously around the relegation zone.
But Jose Riga’s departure from Blackpool meant Lundstram was surplus to requirements and Orient swooped to snap up the midfielder on loan, granting him the chance to put the ghosts of last season to bed.
“That penalty was the most nerve-racking moment of my life. The walk up is just such a lonely moment,” said Lundstram.
“Nothing can prepare you for it. It doesn’t matter how much training you have done or how many penalties you have taken.
“I think having gone through the play-off experience with them gave me a closer connection to the club. It’s a huge day for them and for you, so going through it is something that stays with you.
“People might think that experience might not mean as much as a loan player. But playing at Wembley is every kid’s dream and it’s a huge moment for the fans, and I knew that. It was just gutting not to win.
“So coming back was an easy choice for me. I know everyone here and don’t have to adjust, I can just get on with it.”
With Fabio Liverani taking the reins from fellow Italian Mauro Milanese, there is plenty of work to do if Orient are to have any hopes of making a return to Wembley this season.
It’s been a mixed bag of results so far for Liverani, who followed back-to-back defeats with convincing wins over Crawley and Yeovil.
While a 1-0 defeat to Fleetwood in Lundstram’s second debut for the club was a reality check, he is optimistic about the future.
“The gaffer is new, but the faces around the club are the same and that was a big factor in wanting to come back here,” he said.
“I think the position the club is in right now is a false one and we will be looking to push on heading into the back end of the season.
“The time at Blackpool was good but now I’m here and what is important is that I get my head down and help get the club back on track.”