The O’s suffered their first defeat in five games, with Doncaster Rovers putting in a strong away performance to win a tight affair at Brisbane Road.
Orient dominated the first half with more than three-quarters of the possession but were punished for not making the most of it 12 minutes after the break when Doncaster captain Rob Jones powered home a header to send his side into the lead.
The O’s found visiting goalkeeper Stephen Bywater in fine form on the night and he was responsible for making three excellent saves in the final 20 minutes to protect his clean sheet and secure the win for Rovers.
After a run of four games unbeaten, Orient had managed to climb out of the relegation zone – albeit only on goal difference – and came into tonight’s match in 19th place. Manager Fabio Liverani knew his side could have got more out of Saturday’s 1-1 draw away at Crewe but made just a single change to the starting XI tonight, with Andrea Dossena a straight replacement for Shane Lowry at left-back.
Doncaster also collected a point at the weekend during what has been a poor run of form but remain in mid-table thanks to a strong first half to the season. Paul Dickov made three changes to his side which included captain Jones’ return.
Orient were just about the stronger side in a highly uneventful opening quarter-of-an-hour, with Jobi McAnuff looking lively on the left flank although none of the numerous crosses fired into the box were met with any conviction by the O’s forwards.
Oddly, it was Orient’s two full-backs who combined to create the game’s first meaningful chance when Scott Cuthbert’s teasing cross from deep evaded everyone until left-back Dossena slid in to connect at the back post. Unfortunately the Italian could not direct his effort on target but it was enough to spark a period of pressure from the O’s and got the home fans on their feet.
Minutes later Marvin Bartley went on a driving run from midfield before whipping a low delivery across goal and Darius Henderson will wonder how he didn’t hit the back of the net from eight yards out. The striker made good contact with the ball, adjusting his body well to meet the cross, but his volley was too close to Bywater who demonstrated excellent reflexes to beat it away.
Henderson was hoping to score for the third game running following his strikes against Gillingham and Crewe, and he was certainly getting the better of Doncaster centre-back Andy Butler during a half that the O's were beginning to dominate.
Such was Orient’s control, it took 40 minutes for the visitors to muster a shot on target when Richie Wellens sent a tame curling effort towards goal from 20 yards having been set up by a neat back-heel from James Coppinger.
But moments later there was a strong shout for handball at the other end when it looked like the ball might have bounced off Jones’ arm following good work from Ryan Hedges but referee Carl Berry waved away the protests.
Doncaster should have scored shortly before the break when they countered down the left but striker Chris Main made a hash of his first-time effort inside the area when he looked to have had enough time to take a touch.
And as the half entered stoppage time, Dean Furman came close to capitalising on a mix-up between Mathieu Baudry and Alex Cisak at the back but Cuthbert managed to cover well and block the South Africa international’s shot on the turn.
Rovers made a change at half-time when Jonson Clarke-Harris replaced Harry Middleton, switching to two upfront in the process. And the move seemed to re-energise the visitors who could have scored twice in the opening five minutes of the half.
First Kyle Bennett’s thunderous strike from the edge of the box had to be parried away by Cisak and then Bennett almost turned provider when his free-kick flashed across the face of goal and should have been converted by a teammate in the six-yard box.
But on 57 minutes the winger sent in another inviting free-kick and this time defender Jones lept to hammer his header into the bottom left corner from 12 yards. It was a textbook attacking header from the Doncaster centre-back and punished Orient for a first-half that they dominated but failed to score in.
As the game entered the final 20 minutes, Orient began to show signs of making a comeback and substitute Shane Lowry was very unlucky not to get his first goal for the club during a spell that saw the O’s win three corners in quick succession.
The defender won a header inside the six-yard box from one of those set-pieces and powered his effort low towards the bottom right corner only for Bywater to work his feet well and parry it away.
Shortly afterwards Josh Wright came close to scoring one of the goals of the season when he turned his man on the edge of the area and hit a sweetly struck drive, however Doncaster’s ‘keeper was having an excellent night and stretched to tip the ball behind.
With minutes to go, Bywater again came to his side’s rescue when Jay Simpson drove at the defence before curling a shot towards the same left corner of the goal that Wright had aimed for previously.
And although Orient finished the game with four strikers on the field, Doncaster’s rearguard stood strong and coped well with the long balls that were launched into their area from the home side in a desperate final attempt to find the equaliser.
Results elsewhere in Tuesday's fixtures saw Orient slip to within one place of the relegation zone ahead of the weekend’s trip to MK Dons.
ORIENT: Cisak; Cuthbert, Baudry, Clarke (C), Dossena (Lowry, 63); Hedges (Simpson, 71), Bartley, Wright, McAnuff (Mooney, 78); Dagnall, Henderson
SUBS: Sargeant, James, Mooney, O’Neill, Taylor
BOOKINGS: Clarke (5), Henderson (47), Wright (50), Bartley (90)
DONCASTER: Bywater; Warbara, Jones, Butler, Evina (Stevens, 55); Coppinger, Middleton (Clarke-Harris, HT), Wellens, Bennett; Furman; Main (McCombe, 82)
SUBS: Marosi, McCombe, Forrester, Tyson, Stevens, Mandeville
GOALS: Jones (57)
BOOKINGS: Evina (28), Warbara (41), Jones (45+3)
REF: Chris Berry
ATT: 4,410 (249)