The long wait for a victory at the Matchroom Stadium this season was ended tonight when goals from Jay Simpson and Marvin Bartley were enough to see off League 2 side Northampton Town in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy southern area quarter-final.
O's strikers Simpson and Chris Dagnall showed signs of a very promising partnership throughout the first half, with the latter playing a perfectly weighted pass into Simpson's path for the opening goal just short of the half-hour.
Simpson was forced off with a slight knock soon after the break but his strike partner continued to look a threat and got his second assist of the night in the 90th minute, with Bartley this time capitalising on a timely delivery to slot home from 18 yards out.
Having been knocked out of the FA Cup at the weekend, the JPT is the only cup competition that Orient remain in, and Mauro Milanese made four changes to his side for the occasion.
Most notable among those stepping into the team were goalkeeper Adam Legzdins who had been sidelined since August with a broken finger and Gary Sawyer who was also making his return from a long-term injury. Elliot Omozusi and Bartley completed the changes, with Gary Woods, Mathieu Baudry and Shaun Batt dropping to the bench while Scott Cuthbert was rested from the match day squad altogether.
Meanwhile the Cobblers, who came into the match off the back of a good draw with Rochdale in the FA Cup on Saturday, made five changes to their starting XI as they prepared to face their second League 1 opponent in the space of a few days.
A minute’s silence to remember those who have lost their lives whilst serving for the country in war was impeccably observed by O’s and Northampton fans before the match and this was followed by a Special Remembrance Service at half-time on the 100th anniversary of World War I.
It was a lethargic start from both sides once referee Andy Davies got the match underway however the tie burst into life when Simpson and Dagnall combined well on the back of a long ball forward. Simpson laid the ball square across the 18-yard box but his strike partner’s low shot from the penalty spot was not enough to beat Matt Duke in the visitors’ goal who parried away low to his right.
The Orient forwards were showing a good understanding in the opening stages and combined well again just after 10 minutes, with Dagnall this time firing wide from the edge of the area.
Dean Cox, too, was getting into central areas to combine with the pair and the winger’s nice lay-off after Josh Wright’s quick free-kick presented Simpson with his first sight of goal but Duke was able to hold onto the shot on this occasion.
Another effort followed from Simpson, this time from range, all before Northampton had their first shot at goal however the visitors thought they had opened the scoring on 26 minutes when they had the ball in the net after a free-kick was turned in by Alex Nicholls, only for the assistant referee to flag for an offside.
And just moments later Orient found themselves in front after their strikers combined well yet again. Dagnall picked up the ball on half-way and split open the Northampton defence with an accurate through ball to Simpson who raced clear of Ryan Cresswell before opening his body and slotting it into the bottom right corner of the net to give his side a much deserved lead with 27 minutes played.
It was the first time this season that Orient had taken the lead at home in any competition and they were doing well in protecting it as the half progressed, patiently keeping possession and awaiting the next opening.
Cox did not need much of an invitation to exploit Northampton’s back four when that opening arrived with just under 10 minutes to go before the break.
He played an outrageous half-volley pass with the outside of his right boot from the left wing – just inside the opponent’s half – which curled behind the Northampton centre-half pairing of Cresswell and Ben Tozer, straight into the path of Dagnall. The striker chested the ball down and looked to be clean through on goal only to be caught, forcing him to go wider than he might have liked before unleashing a shot that was blocked well by Duke to keep it at 1-0.
That was the last opportunity for either side during a half that will have thoroughly pleased Milanese, even if his side could have scored more than the single goal.
It looked like the O’s would continue to create chances after the break too when a bright start featured a mazy run from Dagnall only for the forward to lash his shot wide of the near post when he finally found himself unopposed in the area.
Having made his debut in the final minutes against Preston two weeks ago, young forward Scott Kashket came on to make another appearance in front of the home crowd when he replaced Simpson on 52 minutes after Orient’s goalscorer took a knock.
Whilst the O’s remained the better side during the early stages of the second-half, they were being limited to shots from distance and Northampton made a triple substitution shortly before the hour to try and force themselves back into the tie.
And one of those substitutions, Chris Hackett, came close to creating an equaliser for his side on 75 minutes when he got to the byline before sending a dinked cross to Kaid Mohamed whose header went inches wide of Legzdins right-hand post, reminding Orient that they only possessed a one-goal lead.
Milanese introduced Batt in place of Omozusi midway through the half – which saw Pritchard moved to right-back – and the substitute made a typically rangey run down the left wing shortly after coming on before delivering a good low ball across the face of goal which Dagnall prodded on to the post before it fell harmlessly behind for a goal-kick.
Meanwhile, Hackett continued to look the most dangerous threat from the visitors, sending a volley wide of goal and a number of good deliveries into the box which fellow substitute Marc Richards was getting closer and closer to meeting.
At the other end, Dagnall remained as energetic as ever and his persistence at running with the ball paid off in the final minute of normal time when he jinked inside before laying a pass into the path of on-rushing midfielder Bartley who side-footed brilliantly into the bottom right corner of the net from 18 yards to put the game out of reach for the League 2 visitors.
The tireless Dagnall was replaced moments later by Mathieu Baudry to make sure of the win and Cox even had time to extend the O’s lead further in stoppage time only to send his effort narrowly wide after Wright had set him free with a great cross-field pass.
So the score remained 2-0, handing Orient a thoroughly deserved – yet long overdue – first home victory of the season whilst also firing them into the JPT southern area semi-final.
ORIENT: Legzdins; Omozusi (Batt, 70), Lowry, Clarke (C), Sawyer; Pritchard, Bartley, Wright, Cox; Dagnall (Baudry, 90+3), Simpson (Kashket, 52)
SUBS: Woods, Plasmati
GOALS: Simpson (27), Bartley (90)
N’HAMPTON: Duke, Alfei, Carter, Collins (C), Sinclair (Richards, 57), O’Toole, Tozer, Nicholls, Ravenhill (Hackett, 57), Mohamed, Creswell (Langmead, 57)
SUBS: Snedker, Byrom
BOOKINGS: Tozer (36), Carter (54)
REF: Andy Davies
ATT: 1,966 (228)