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The Payne game: Tough times make EFL’s Orient excess hard to understand

Devastated: Embleton PICTURE: REX

THIS season’s fixture list isn’t just busy, it’s bursting to the point of overflow due to the late finish to last season.

The EFL could have come up with a way of reducing the burden. Four divisions of 18 teams rather than three of 24 may have been too radical for the powers that be, but is the EFL Trophy really necessary in this of all seasons?

Given the lack of innovative thinking, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that postponements are the last thing the league needs if this season is going to be completed without a fixture pile-up.

But it is also a fact of life that football is not operating in a bubble. If the number of Covid-19 cases rip through the community, why should our national sport be any different?

And yet the EFL, for reasons best known to itself, has taken a hardline approach to all this. Leyton Orient were last week kicked out of the Carabao Cup after tests paid for third-round opponents Tottenham reportedly revealed 17 cases.

Coach Ross Embleton described the decision as ‘devastating’. Kudos at least then to the many Spurs fans who softened the considerable financial blow by buying up Orient merchandise.

But the EFL messaging after Covid cases at Orient and Grimsby — which includes the postponement of the latter’s game with Bradford tomorrow — was no more sympathetic. The standard line being taken is: ‘The circumstances surrounding the postponement will now be the subject of an investigation in accordance with EFL regulations.’

At a time when hard-up lower-league clubs have to make every penny count, it seems overly harsh on Orient who have been penalised through no fault of their own.

The EFL is hardly operating on the moral high ground, with its testing regime having been hugely scaled back but denying that is down to the £12m cost.

By defaulting Orient and hanging the threat of sanctions over other clubs forced into postponements, it is possible some clubs could be deterred from testing players at every available opportunity.