Aaron McLean’s first half goal was enough to secure a 1-0 win for Bradford, subjecting Orient to their sixth home defeat of the season.
The O’s were the better side in the first half but the Bantams striker was allowed to escape his marker at a corner on 27 minutes, sending home a controlled finish at the back post from what was their first real opportunity of the game.
The majority of Orient’s chances came in the opening period but they were unable to convert any of these, allowing Bradford to concentrate on defending their lead in the second half.
Referee David Phillips’ decision to blow his half-time whistle milliseconds before Dean Cox’s shot struck the arm of a visiting defender in the box led to protests from the O’s and an incident between Bradford boss Phil Parkinson and Orient assistant manager Kevin Nugent in the tunnel saw both ordered to sit in the stands for the second half.
Russell Slade made four changes to the side that recorded a disappointing draw with Oldham in midweek. After a superb spell on loan with the O’s, goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic was recalled by Hull City during the week meaning Jamie Jones returned to make his first start since December, while new loan signing John Lundstram came straight in to the centre of midfield to replace the injured Marvin Bartley having signed from Everton on Thursday.
As we enter the final seven games of the season – and potentially more should Orient finish in a play-off position – Slade also chose to rest midfielder Lloyd James and full-back Elliot Omozusi, handing Jamie Ness and Gary Sawyer the opportunity to impress from the start.
Meanwhile Bradford – who like Orient came into the game without a win in three games – made two changes to the side beaten by Walsall on Tuesday. John Stead, making his debut having joined on loan from Huddersfield, and Matthew Dolan were the men to come in for Andy Gray and Matthew Bates.
Just as they have did against Oldham, Orient made the stronger and livelier start to the game and Kevin Lisbie had the afternoon’s first big chance on five minutes when Bradford could only clear Moses Odubajo’s right-wing cross to the edge of the area where the striker was waiting. His low shot beat the keeper but right-back Stephen Darby did well to get back on the line and clear it.
The O’s remained on top and should really have taken the lead on 25 minutes from one of the several corners they won throughout the half. The initial delivery was cleared but Orient skipper Nathan Clarke sent the ball back into the mix and it landed at the feet of Scott Cuthbert, but his fellow defender’ side-footed shot from eight yards was somehow held by Bradford keeper Jon McLaughlin.
And just a couple of minutes later, Bradford took the lead from a corner of their own when McLean peeled off to the back post and diverted the ball home. It was an undeserved goal for the visitors who had failed to make Jones work up until this point, but Orient’s marking should have been better from the set-piece.
The O’s went on the attack in the final seconds of the half and there was uproar when the referee chose to blow his whistle just as Cox hit a shot from just inside the area. The ball struck a Bradford hand and would have been a clear penalty but, Phillips turned the O’s protests away as he had already signalled for half-time.
The controversial decision led to an incident in the tunnel which resulted in the match officials sending Nugent and Parkinson to the stands for the second half.
Orient continued to have the better of the game after the break with Moses Odubajo looking like their biggest threat. The winger, who was voted the ninth best player in League One this week, was giving Bradford’s substitute left-back Carl McHugh the run around and his opponent rightfully picked up a booking for a late challenge on him on the hour mark.
Despite some promising spells of pressure, the home side were struggling to get in behind the Bantams’ defence or create themselves any goalscoring opportunities.
This prompted Russell Slade to make a double substitution with 20 minutes to go, introducing Shaun Batt and Lloyd James for David Mooney and debutant Lundstram.
Both substitutes made an impact on the game, with the former setting off on a typically rangey run on 80 minutes only to send his curling effort narrowly over the crossbar.
Orient stepped up the pressure after this moment, however it left them open at the back and Bradford substitute Garry Thompson was twice set free on the counter-attack but he was denied by the right boot of O’s keeper Jones on both occasions.
Jones enjoyed a good return to action and his saves kept his side in with a chance of salvaging something from the game as the final whistle drew closer but Bradford remained strong at the back, making it four games without a win for Orient.
ORIENT: Jones, Cuthbert, Baudry, Clarke (C), Sawyer, Odubajo, Lundstram (James, 70), Ness, Cox, Mooney (Batt, 70), Lisbie (Dagnall, 79)
SUBS NOT USED: Omozusi, Larkins, Lasimant, Simpson
BRADFORD: McLaughlin, Darby, Dolan, Davies, Drury (McHugh, 21), Stead (Thompson, 75), Jones (C), McLean (Bates, 88), McArdle, Reach, Bennett
SUBS NOT USED: Bentley, Yeates, De Vita, Stockdill
GOALS: McLean (27)
BOOKINGS: Davies (38), McArdle (55), McHugh (60)
REFEREE: David Phillips
ATTENDANCE: 5,165 (626)