Leyton Orient

Saturday 24th February 2018, 1500 KO

Leyton Orient FC vs Gateshead FC

The Build Up

It was #magicofthecup time on the non-league circuit this weekend, as both the FA Trophy and the FA Vase reached the quarter final stage.  Across the country, 16 teams would be battling it out for the chance to be just 180 minutes (plus potential extra time and penalties) away from the showpiece dual final day at Wembley on Sunday 20th May.

For the occasion, and at the request of friend of the blog Jeff Bowron, I decided to head back to a ground I’d previously visited, to watch Leyton Orient continue their first ever foray into this storied competition.  When the Os’ 112-year stay in the Football League ended last May, they entered into the pool of clubs competing for the FA Trophy.  The East Londoners reached the semi-finals of the McDaddy of the FA’s cup competitions in 1977-78, they now had the chance to reach the same stage in the Trophy at the first time of asking.


After finishing bottom of EFL League Two last season, Orient may have expected to bounce straight back, but initially struggled to find their feet in a division from which it is notoriously difficult to escape.  A November change of manager has been the catalyst for an upturn in fortunes, and Justin Edinburgh really seems to have brought a new lease of life to Brisbane Road.  Although they sit 15th, they are 6th in the form table, and have lost just once (3-2 to high flying Aldershot) since the turn of the year.  Central to this has been the surge in form of Macauley Bonne, with the Zimbabwean international bagging 16 goals already this season.


Their opposition today knew all about in-form strikers, having faced red-hot Boreham Wood front man Bruno Andrade just last week.  Having seen his side struggle against a centre forward with movement and pace, manager Steve Watson would be delighted to have the key defensive pairing of Neil Byrne and Fraser Kerr fit again today.  In fact, barring the “ruled out2” (cup tied and hamstring injured) Ben Fox, he had a full squad to choose from.

Gateshead fans would be keen to get another shot at Wembley, and erase the memory of their last outing – a 2-1 defeat to Cambridge United in the 2014 Play Off Final.  The Heed have a strong record in this competition, having reach the Semi Final in 2011 where they were beaten by Darlington.  Since that Semi Final appearance Gateshead have reached the Quarters twice but to no avail – the Tynesiders would hope that it was a case of third time lucky in East London.


Gateshead had faced arguably the tougher run to this stage – dispatching of Guiseley, Boreham Wood and Maidstone.  They’d also won when these two sides had faced off in the league this season, running out 2-0 victors on this ground in October.  Orient’s run had been slightly gentler, but made to look much harder.  After beating Haringey Borough, the Os were taken to the wire by National League South new boys Bognor Regis Town, needing extra time to secure the win.  This was followed by a 4-3 slugfest with Dover in the Third Round.

The Ground

I made the critical mistake of doubling up on squats and deadlifts yesterday, so the 90 minute train journey across London was an absolute purgatory of DOMs.  When I finally arrived in Leyton station I was right about ready for a decent sit down meal.  So, back to the Royal Café I headed, where I had come on my last visit to Orient.  I was earlier last time though, and arriving at 1320 on a match day meant it was absolutely rammed – I squeezed myself into a table in the corner, parted with £6.80, and got a very well executed chicken pie, chips, beans and gravy with obligatory Diet Coke.


The walk to Brisbane Road from there was around 5 minutes, and I was greeted with the now familiar sights of the endearing turnstiles tucked into the residential blocks wrapped around the ground.  A reduced price £2 programme, along with significantly slashed ticket prices for the Cup fixture (£10 adults, £5 concessions, £1 kids) made today’s match massively affordable, which meant the attendance of 3,771, comfortably below Orient’s season average, was surprising.


The Match

I’m loath to even speak about the first twenty minutes of the match, as there was very little interesting occurring on the pitch.  Some verbal jousting between the Orient fans in the East Stand, and the hardy forty (at a visual count, I’m now assured it was 65) or so travelling Heed Army members was about the closest this match got to entertainment until the 23rd minute.


It’s fair to say that Gateshead had been the better side for the opening quarter of an hour, but after that point, the Os midfield of Craig Clay and Ebou Adams began to dominate proceedings.  On 23 minutes, the first presentable chance of the match fell the home side’s way, when a succession of corners resulted in a thumping header by Craig Clay from around 15 yards.  The summer arrival from Motherwell’s header was sneaking under the bar until Jim Montgomery tipped over.


This was a catalyst for a prolonged spell of Leyton Orient pressure, as the likes of Brophy, Koroma and Bonne looked to feed off the knock downs and hold up play of big Matt Harrold.  After half an hour, a swift passing move from midfield culminated with Macauley Bonne setting James Brophy – recently signed on a permanent basis from Swindon – free on the left side of the box.  When the winger cut it back into the centre, there was Bonne to apply the finish, but he was kept out by a combination of Theo Vassell and Montgomery.


Orient were racking up the chances now, and it only took two minutes for them to create another.  With Joe Widdowson overlapping Brophy to great effect, Widdowson was able to cut inside into the box, and shoot right footed.  His shot was on target, but well beaten away by the Gateshead number one.


At this point, Gateshead appeared unable to stop the marauding Leyton Orient, who were able to create chances at will.  With 36 on the clock (not that there is a clock at Brisbane Road…), Josh Koroma opened the scoring.  I like Koroma, who is still only 19, and fancy the forward from Southwark to have a good future in the Football League.  On this occasion, he picked the ball up around 40 yards from goal, and drove unimpeded towards goal.  With the space opening up in front of him, Koroma unleashed from 25 yards, past Montgomery, and into the far corner to put Orient a goal to the good.


Five minutes later, Brophy drove into the box from the left wing, and cut the ball in to Bonne whose attempt at a clipped finish was deflected behind for a corner.  Orient had time to create one more first half opportunity – or rather, Gateshead created it for them – when Jim Montgomery almost palmed a Koroma cross into his own net.  Embarrassing, and well deserving of the resultant cockney accented “dodgy ‘keeper” chant from the home fans, but he recovered well to keep it out.  In fairness, it was a rare mistake in an otherwise good performance.  One nil at half time, and Gateshead with a real job on to save the tie.


Leyton Orient had dominated the first half, despite Gateshead probably edging the opening.  Similarly to last week when I watched them at Boreham Wood, the Heed just didn’t have any penetration with the ball, and neither Preston nor York were able to make headway down the wings.  Conversely, Widdowson and Jake Caprice were getting well forward to support their wingers, whilst Clay and Adams were bossing the midfield.


If Steve Watson gave his side a rollicking at half time, it certainly didn’t work, as Leyton Orient quickly showed that they were looking to put this tie to bed.  Seven minutes into the second half, they appeared to have gone some way to doing that, when they broke down the right, and Jake Caprice showed good skill to dance into the box.  He pulled the ball back to Ebou Adams at the edge of the D, and he rifled it into the top corner.  This was really the icing on the cake of Adams’ performance, as he had been metronomic in midfield.


It only took another five minutes for Josh Coulson to give Leyton Orient what was surely an unassailable lead.  A totally unnecessary foul in the Gateshead engine room gave the Os a free kick wide on the left.  This was clipped into the box, where Coulson was given enough space to keep NASA busy, and steered a header into the net.  The visitors from the North East looked dejected and beaten, and I couldn’t see a way back.


Which is why I’m not Gateshead manager.  Watson threw on Danny Johnson, fresh from filming another series of Homeland, and almost immediately the Heed started to threaten.  Once Rees Greenwood was introduced as well, the visitors had three strikers (Johnson, Peniket and Burrow) and two wingers (Preston and Greenwood) on the pitch, and the whole dynamic changed.  Crucially, an injury to Ebou Adams also forced him off the pitch, and it was Orient who began to look rattled.


When Scott Barrow surged forward from left back (a recurring theme in the final twenty), he beat Caprice for pace, and hit an accurate cross to Johnson at the far post.  His first time finish whistled past Dean Brill in goal, and Gateshead had what looked like a 68th minute consolation.


However, with Barrow and Preston linking up delightfully on the left, it began to look more and more likely that the Heed wold score again.  On 76 minutes another Barrow cross found Peniket, but Brill reacted well to keep the former Wales U21 international out.


He couldn’t do anything two minutes later though, when Johnson found space in the box again.  His movement on the shoulder was causing all manner of problems for the Orient backline, and when Jordan Preston slipped him through, he finished neatly in the corner with ol’ lefty, and all of a sudden Gateshead were back in it, with a full twelve minutes to play.  It was another neat finish, and I honestly don’t understand how Johnson (who has impressed me every time I’ve seen him) doesn’t start more frequently.


It was almost to no avail on the cusp of 90 minutes, when Macauley Bonne raced through onto a long ball.  With Montgomery rushing out, the Orient number 9 looked to clip it over him, but the ‘keeper made himself big and saved well.


This would prove crucial, as, in the 90th minute, former Sunderland man Rees Greenwood delivered a cross from deep on the left wing.  Swinging inwards, it looked like it would carry through to Brill, when out of nowhere Peniket leapt.  The big striker made himself even bigger, and the defence couldn’t stop him reaching the ball.  He headed it well, and suddenly, astonishingly we were even.


The Heed players went mental, as did the fans, and all of a sudden, a Tuesday evening replay up by the freezing North Sea was on the cards.


Five minutes of injury time flew by, as did a Rees Greenwood chance, and before I knew it, the referee was blowing for full time.  An absolute thriller was drawn to a conclusion, with 3-3 the final score.  This is in no way hyperbolic, but it was a bigger comeback than the when Rick Astley released that absolute belter out of nowhere a couple of years ago.

The Wash Up

For sixty minutes of this tie, Leyton Orient were dominant.  Built around a commanding midfield performance by Ebou Adams, the effervescent Bonne, Brophy and Koroma had too much movement and precision for the Gateshead defence, whilst their shooting from range was top drawer.  Justin Edinburgh should be proud of his side’s performance for an hour.


However, the first and last fifteen minutes belonged to Gateshead, and for this, credit must go to Steve Watson.  Whilst he maybe could have started Johnson and Greenwood, the record must state that his substitutions (and the injury to Adams) changed the game.  Johnson’s movement and the pace, allied to the power of Burrow and Peniket, caused Orient to crumble.


In terms of performances, I was impressed by Widdowson, Adams, Clay and Koroma particularly for the hosts, whilst Jordan Preston, Paddy McLaughlin and Theo Vassell had good games for the Heed.


Man of the match though (despite a strong claim by Johnson) must go to Gateshead’s left back Scott Barrow.  The summer signing from Merthyr Town showed impressive stamina and guts to continuously drive forward from the back in support of Preston.  It’s no coincidence that all three of the Heed’s goals came from his side of the pitch.


In summary – what a game of football, with Leyton Orient showing some great play, and doing all in their power to give Gateshead a mountain to climb.  But, climb it they did, and the scenes of jubilation from the Tynesiders upon scoring their equaliser were instructive of the confidence this will give them looking forward to the replay.  Football – bloody hell.

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