An action-packed 90 minutes saw Crawley subject Orient to only their second home defeat of the season at the Matchroom Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Having taken the lead through Moses Odubajo just before the quarter-hour mark, Orient allowed Crawley to take a 2-1 lead into half-time when ex-O’s striker Gary Alexander headed home before Andy Drury scored from the rebound of a missed Alexander penalty.
A frantic second half saw Orient frustrated throughout and Crawley extended their lead with just under 15 minutes left when Nicky Adams pounced on Mathieu Baudry’s error to chip the ball home.
The O’s did manage to pull one back when substitute Marvin Bartley squeezed the ball home after a goal-mouth scramble on 85 minutes but they could not find enough in the tank to snatch an equaliser.
It was Crawley’s first win since October and ended a streak of four games unbeaten for the O’s, who remain top of League One after Wolves could only draw away to Rotherham.
Orient boss Russell Slade made three changes to the starting XI that conceded a last minute equaliser to Bradford last week. Defender Elliot Omozusi was ruled out through suspension, Dean Cox was unwell and Robbie Simpson dropped to the bench, with Yohann Lasimant, Gary Sawyer and Kevin Lisbie the men taking their place.
Meanwhile opposition manager John Gregory brought Andy Drury and Mike Jones in to his side after they experienced opposite fortunes to the O’s last week, completing an excellent comeback against Preston in stoppage time.
Orient made a confident and attacking start to the game, taking just three minutes to test Crawley keeper Paul Jones when Shaun Batt turned Kyle McFadzean with ease before knocking the ball through his marker’s legs allowing him plenty of space to find a shot, only to be denied by Jones.
Batt was by far the home side’s biggest threat in the early exchanges with his pace, as always, making him a handful for the opponent’s back four and he had a significant part to play in the opening goal on 14 minutes when he linked up superbly with Lisbie and Odubajo to split the Crawley defence in half.
First Batt held the ball up on the halfway line before knocking it in to the path of Odubajo who burst through the middle and set Lisbie free.
The striker overran the ball slightly but remained strong enough to fend off his man and return a pass back to the onrushing Odubajo who slotted the ball low past Jones to grab his sixth goal of the season.
The weather in E10 began to worsen after the goal, with the heavy rain and swirling winds making for difficult playing conditions, but the O’s did not let this stop them from producing some impressive football, keeping the ball on the ground and dominating possession.
That said, such conditions were always going to play havoc for both teams’ defences.
And Orient found this out on 36 minutes when the wind carried a cross from Crawley’s right all the way to the far post where Alexander was waiting to nod the ball low past Jamie Jones and into the net.
Crawley used the momentum from the goal well and began to put the home side under increasing pressure.
And nine minutes after equalising, Gregory’s men won a penalty after Lloyd James handled a Mark Connolly shot, giving Alexander an opportunity to double his tally.
The forward’s spot-kick was tipped on to the post by Jones but the keeper was let down by his defence who were slow to get to the rebound, allowing Drury to rush in and slide the ball home to take Crawley into the break 2-1 up.
After a disappointing second half to the opening period, Orient came out far more hungry after the break and Slade brought Robbie Simpson on for Lasimant which saw Batt moved out to the left flank.
However, eager to get a goal back early on, the home side were throwing bodies forward which allowed the game to become a far more open one.
Alexander came close to extending his side’s lead when Crawley broke away on 50 minutes but Baudry’s block was enough to deflect the striker’s effort narrowly wide with Jones well beaten.
The match also turned into a heated affair when Orient were angered by referee Trevor Kettle’s decision to award nothing when Lisbie appeared to be brought to ground by McFadzean when the striker could have been clean through on goal.
And Batt picked up a booking minutes later for a tussle with the same opponent, only adding to an already fiery atmosphere on the pitch and in the stands.
However the frantic tempo of the game was not allowing either side to gain control which meant the goalscoring opportunities were few and far between.
And it was a defensive error rather than any form of good build-up play that led to the next goal on 76 minutes.
Baudry gave away possession 30 yards from his own goal with no-one covering in behind, which gave Adams acres of space to run in to and the winger picked his spot well before chipping the ball over a stranded Jones.
And the away side could have scored a carbon-copy minutes later when Adams again dinked the ball over Jones but captain Nathan Clarke did brilliantly to get back and clear the ball off the line and away from danger.
A fast-paced game in difficult playing conditions seemed to have taken its toll on a tiring Orient side but they continued to push for a way back into the game nonetheless.
And, when Sawyer whipped in a free-kick from wide on the left with five minutes left, Bartley somehow managed to scramble the ball in to the Crawley net when their defence really should have done better.
Orient had been thrown a lifeline but the referee’s decisions continued to go against the home side and they could not muster the energy to create any more clear sights of goal in the closing minutes.
ORIENT: Jones; Cuthbert, Baudry, Clarke (C), Sawyer; Odubajo, James (Bartley, 75), Vincelot, Lasimant (Simpson, 45); Batt, Lisbie
SUBS NOT USED: Larkins, Lee, Gorman, Ling, Finney
SCORERS: Odubajo (14), Bartley (85)
BOOKINGS: Lisbie (35), James (43), Batt (53)
CRAWLEY: P.Jones; Sadler, Connolly, McFadzean, Clarke, Alexander, Drury, Walsh, Bulman (C), Adams, M.Jones
SUBS NOT USED: Hurst, Essam, Torres, Proctor, Smith, Malins, Maddison
SCORERS: Alexander (36), Drury (45), Adams (76)
BOOKINGS: Connolly (67), Bulman (70), Alexander (87), Drury (90+4), McFadzean (90+4)
REF: Trevor Kettle
ATTENDANCE: 4,855 (342)