The O’s lost at home for only the third time this season after two late goals from Peterborough United were enough to cancel out David Mooney’s opener earlier in the second half.
Mooney’s glancing header gave his side the lead on 70 minutes and it looked as though Orient had managed to grind out a tough victory over the visitors until two goals in quick succession right at the death won the game for Darren Ferguson’s side.
Britt Assombalonga headed in the equaliser with just two minutes of normal time left before Posh captain Tommy Rowe – who also scored when Orient won 3-1 in the reverse fixture in November – fired in from 18-yards in the 90th minute, completing a dramatic turnaround for the away side.
Despite the undoubted quality of the opposition, it was a good opportunity missed for Orient as a win today would have sent them back to the top of League One, with both Brentford and Wolves’ games being postponed due to the adverse weather conditions.
Peterborough’s last two league games – a 4-3 victory over Notts County and 5-4 defeat to Oldham Athletic – have both been decided by late goals so it was perhaps no surprise that today went the same way.
Orient manager Russell Slade and Posh boss Ferguson made two changes apiece to the sides they sent out in their last fixtures. Shwan Jalal, who was signed on a one-month loan deal from Championship side Bournemouth earlier in the week, came in to make his debut for the O’s while top-scorer David Mooney returned to make his first start since December having been eased back in to action from the bench in the last two games. Meanwhile, Kevin Lisbie returned to the O’s bench after missing last week’s 2-1 defeat away to Rotherham through a groin injury.
The visitors brought Danny Swanson and Nicky Ajose in for Kyle Vassell and Grant McCann having drawn with Swindon in the first leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy southern area final in midweek.
The weather conditions in E10 were particularly temperamental with gusty winds, rain and sunshine making it a real challenge to play any decent football, but it was Peterborough who made the brighter start, with Danny Swanson forcing debutant Jalal into an early save.
However Dean Cox’s 20-yard effort, which was deflected wide for the first corner of the game on eight minutes sparked the home side into life and a good spell of pressure followed.
But on a heavy pitch, neither side managed to hold on to the ball long enough to gain control of the game, with the limited number of openings coming as a result of long balls or counter-attacks.
The visitors broke forward effectively on a handful of occasions, but striker Assombalonga was unable to get the better of the O’s backline, with Scott Cuthbert making one stand-out, goal-saving challenge on the forward midway through the half.
And with just seven minutes to go before the break, Cox – who was Orient’s best player in the first half – came inches away from giving his side a valuable lead but his well-controlled volley cannoned back off the right-hand post, with Mooney unable to turn in the rebound.
The away side’s defence had done a good job of nullifying Orient’s front four throughout the opening period – left-back Craig Alcock doing particularly well in getting tight to Moses Odubajo – and there were no further openings for the O’s before the break; the goalless scoreline a fair reflection in a balanced, but scrappy half.
Posh made by far the better start to the second period, with Orient really struggling to get out of their defensive third or maintain possession. And they had Jalal to thank for keeping the score level on the hour-mark when the loanee goalkeeper somehow managed to tip Assombalonga’s shot onto the post. The ball came back out to visiting skipper Rowe but, just like Mooney in the first half, he couldn’t find the target with the rebound.
Slade knew that he had to change things as the half progressed and introduced Lisbie for Chris Dagnall on 67 minutes. It was the first time since Orient beat Swindon in November that Lisbie and Mooney had been on the pitch together and, providing both can maintain their fitness for the rest of the season, the return of that lethal partnership can only be good news for the O’s.
In fact, it was just three minutes after the introduction of Lisbie that Mooney headed home his 17th goal of the season. A textbook free-kick delivery from Lloyd James wide on the right was guided into the bottom left corner of the net by Orient’s leading goalscorer, putting the home side in the driving seat.
The O’s did well to minimalise the opportunities handed to the visitors after they took the lead but it wasn’t long before The Posh began to throw men forward in search of an equaliser.
Jalal’s impeccable debut performance in goal for the hosts continued, as he claimed every ball that entered his six-yard box and, despite the loss of left-back Elliot Omozusi to an injury early in the second-half, the back four also managed to shore things up as the half progressed, coping well enough with Peterborough’s advances.
However, just as it seemed like Orient had done enough to hold on for a narrow victory, a long free-kick forward from Alcock was headed back across goal for Assombolonga at the far post on 88 minutes, and the striker managed to escape the attention of Nathan Clarke and Mathieu Baudry to nod home the equaliser.
The away side and their fans could now sense that there was a chance to go on and win the game and they did just that on 90 minutes when Rowe struck a first-time shot from the edge of the 18-yard box which proved too powerful for Jalal to keep out despite getting a hand to it.
It was the second week in succession that Orient have conceded a last-minute goal to lose the game 2-1 and will hope to get back to winning ways on Tuesday night when Bristol City visit the Matchroom Stadium.
ORIENT: Jalal, Cuthbert, Baudry, Clarke (C), Omozusi (Sawyer, 56), Odubajo, James, Vincelot, Cox, Dagnall (Lisbie, 67), Mooney (Simpson, 84)
SUBS NOT USED: Larkins, Bartley, Ness, Lasimant
GOALS: Mooney (70)
PETERBOROUGH: Olejnik, Alcock, Little, Knight-Percival, Brisley, Bostwick, Payne (Washington, 73), Swanson, Rowe, Ajose, Assombalonga
SUBS NOT USED: Day, Ntlhe, Kearns, Newell, Anderson, Vassell
GOALS: Assombalonga (88), Rowe (90)
REFEREE: Lee Probert
ATT: 6,717 (1,032)