Leyton Orient were prevented from reaching the fourth round of the League Cup for the first time in more than 50 years as Sheffield United subjected them to a 1-0 defeat at Brisbane Road on Tuesday night.
The visitors raced in to the lead after just two minutes when Michael Higdon headed beyond Gary Woods, and that proved enough to secure the victory for Nigel Clough’s side who did a good job in limiting the O’s to a handful of opportunities for the remainder of the game.
Orient and Sheffield United were both widely tipped for promotion from League 1 coming into this season and had each shown their potential in the last round of the Capital One Cup by beating Premier League opposition. And, while this was a close contest between two evenly matched sides, there was little of the undoubted quality within the two squads on show tonight.
O’s boss Russell Slade opted to make three changes to the side that started in the weekend’s 2-1 win over Scunthorpe United. Dean Cox, Darius Henderson and Chris Dagnall were replaced by Michael Petrasso, David Mooney and Jay Simpson – the latter coming in to make his first start at home.
United made a bright start and were ahead before the game had got going when Jamie Murphy muscled his way past Scott Cuthbert on the left flank and delivered an inviting cross which was powerfully headed home by striker Higdon.
Moments after providing an excellent assist, Murphy almost had a goal of his own when he peeled away from the Orient backline and sent his effort flashing narrowly over the crossbar as Orient struggled to get a hold on the game.
It would have been a huge blow to concede two goals so early on but having escaped another scare, the O’s enjoyed a much more promising spell which saw Jobi McAnuff test Sheffield United keeper Mark Howard and Simpson flash a low effort across the face of goal.
Having taken the lead with the game in its infancy, the visitors were happy to put nine or ten men behind the ball for long periods throughout the first half. That saw Orient dominate possession but ultimately frustrated when it came to creating goalscoring opportunities, limiting them mainly to shots from long range.
Eight of Orient’s 11 games so far this season have been away from home but tonight was the first of three consecutive fixtures at Brisbane Road – a relief, no doubt, to the Orient squad and supporters alike despite the O’s poor showings at home thus far.
But their winless record at home did not appear to be nearing an end at the midway point of this game, with Sheffield United finishing the stronger side and carrying a 1-0 lead into the break.
The second period had much the same feel to it as the majority of the opening half, although Orient looked slightly more inventive when they entered their opponents’ final third.
Just as they had done in the first 45 minutes, McAnuff and Simpson came closest to equalising for the O’s in the early stages – the former dragging a 20-yard effort wide of goal and the latter nodding a header into the arms of Howard after good approach play by Elliot Omozusi.
And the O’s left-back was involved again later when he cut inside to fire an effort goalwards from outside the area, only for it to take a nick off a defender and then the outside of the left-hand post. Skipper Nathan Clarke couldn’t quite get the better of his marker from the resulting corner but the signs were promising for the home side.
With 20 minutes left to play Slade sent on Darius Henderson against his former club but the striker struggled to get the better of a resilient Sheffield back four during his time on the field.
Omozusi had a further long range effort as the game entered the final stages but was this time denied by a save from Howard and, except for a series of blocked shots, Orient had to wait until the dying moments for their clearest sight of goal when a Romain Vincelot surged into the box to get on the end of a Bradley Pritchard cross from the right.
However it was not meant to be and the Frenchman’s header went narrowly over the bar and into the arms of the Sheffield United away support before referee James Adcock brought a close to a disappointing cup tie.
ORIENT: Woods, Cuthbert (Pritchard, 12), Baudry, Clarke (C), Omozusi, Petrasso (Cox, 62), James, Vincelot, McAnuff, Mooney (Henderson, 69), Simpson
SUBS: Grainger, Bartley, Batt, Dagnall
BOOKINGS: James (19), Baudry (45+3)
SHEFF UNITED: Howard (C), Alcock, Harris, Wallace (Doyle, 68), Flynn, Murphy, McGinn, Collins McGahey, Higdon (Porter, 77), Reed
SUBS: Turner, Scougall, McNulty, Davies, McEveley
GOALS: Higdon (2)
BOOKINGS: Doyle (76), Flynn (89)
REF: James Adcock
ATT: 3,223 (715)