IF ORIENT are to make it to Wembley they will have to do it the hard way after Ryan Leonard scored the only goal of the game as Southend edged this Southern Area Final first leg tie.
The scrappy strike puts the Shrimpers in the driving seat as they are now just 90 minutes away from reaching the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final.
But when Russell Slade’s side travel to Roots Hall in two weeks time, The O’s will believe they can overturn the one-goal deficit and keep their Wembley dream alive having created a vast number of chances, despite being on the wrong end of the scoreline.
Slade made four changes to the side that had beaten Stevenage on Saturday with Martin Rowlands, Lloyd James, Lee Cook and David Mooney all returning to the starting 11 as Leon McSweeney, Anthony Griffith and Jimmy Smith dropped to the bench, while Charlie MacDonald was cup-tied.
Both sides were keen to make an impression in a frenetic first 15 minutes where chances were few and far between.
But Orient started to settle into the game and grew in confidence and the best chance of the half fell to top-scorer David Mooney. He ghosted into space at the far post and fired in a first-time shot from Lee Cook’s excellent left-wing cross, but visiting keeper Paul Smith dived to his left and pulled off a stunning reaction save.
The visitors threatened for a brief spell and stand-in skipper Scott Cuthbert came to the rescue and headed away the danger after Ben Reeves whipped in a wicked cross. Then Britt Assombalonga, on loan from Watford, tested home keeper Jamie Jones with a shot from the edge of the area.
But it was the home side who finished the half strongly and Shaun Batt twice went close in the space of 60 seconds.
First he wriggled down the left only to see Smith push his shot away and then Mooney pulled the ball back and Batt again saw his effort clawed away by the Southend keeper.
On the stroke of half-time, it was Batt again who burst into the box, but his dangerous run came to nothing as the first half finished all square.
After the break Orient started well, but failed to make the most of their possession and paid the price on 57 minutes when Southend defender Sean Clohessy whipped in a cross from the right which was met by Leonard in the six-yard box and the ball deflected into the net off O’s defender Mathieu Baudry.
The goal seemed to disrupt the home side’s rhythm and it took them a while to find their feet, but they should have levelled on 79 minutes when Dean Cox’s ball over the top set Mooney free and with Smith advancing the striker chipped the ball over the keeper, but it drifted inches over the bar.
The game was delayed for several minutes when Southend’s Michael Timlin was stretchered off after a tackle with O’s substitute Jimmy Smith and he had to be replaced by John Spicer.
O’s pressed during the eight minutes of stoppage time and Mooney had another chance to level when Moses Odubajo cut the ball back from the right and the striker sent an effort from ten yards thudding against the bar.
Seconds later the striker was denied by the Southend keeper as his header was tipped around the post following Cook’s cross and Orient’s night was summed up when Jimmy Smith fired home from 20 yards in the eighth minute of stoppage time, only for the effort to be ruled out for a handball by Mooney.
O’s were down but not out as they still have 90 minutes to rekindle their Wembley dream.
Leyton Orient: Jones; Odubajo, Cuthbert, Baudry, Sawyer; Cox, Rowlands (Smith 75), James, Cook; Batt (Obafemi 87), Mooney.
Subs: McSweeney, Griffith, Clarke.
Booked: Batt, Cox, Rowlands
Southend: Smith; Clohessy, Phillips, Cresswell, Barker; Hurst, Timlin (Spicer 87) Woodyard, Leonard: Assombalonga (Corr 87), Reeves (Lavery 90+6).
Subs: Bentley, Prosser.
Goal: Leonard 57 mins
Booked: Clohessy, Timlin, Barker
Referee: Keith Stroud
Attendance: 5,359 (1,755 away)