A miserable game at Brisbane Road on Tuesday night ended in a third successive defeat for the O’s as Notts County comfortably hung on to their 1-0 lead for 70 minutes.
Balint Bajner fired the visitors in front in the 20th minute, doing well to turn inside a crowded O’s box and send a low shot into the left corner of the net and Orient offered few signs of launching a comeback for the remainder of the game, ensuring there would be no repeat of last season’s 5-1 win in the same fixture.
With the O’s game against Rochdale called off at the weekend, manager Fabio Liverani had an extra few days to consider the side he would send out following the disappointing 4-1 home defeat to Scunthorpe a week and-a-half ago. And there were six changes in his starting XI – including a debut for loan signing Alex Cisak, who replaced Gary Woods in goal – as well as a change in shape to a diamond.
And with the visitors lining up in a 4-5-1, it looked as though the middle of the park was set to be a congested area this evening. However with just four minutes on the clock, County managed to thread a ball right through the heart of Orient’s midfield and defence into the path of Garry Thompson.
The striker was clean through on goal and seemed destined to send his side into an early lead but somehow managed to drag his right-footed effort wide of the post with only Cisak to beat.
In what was turning out to be a lively opening period, Orient could have taken the lead themselves moments later. Defenders Scott Cuthbert – making his return from injury to captain the side – and Mathieu Baudry did well to win the first and second balls from a corner, only for the Frenchman’s eventual back-heel to be cleared off the line by County.
Just as the game began to settle down following a frantic start, the away side struck through their forward Bajner when he managed to turn in the box before firing beyond Cisak with his left foot on 20 minutes.
The Hungarian had also scored against Orient in pre-season for former club Ipswich during a 1-1 draw at Brisbane Road, but there was no doubting that this strike carried far more significance and Orient were set a tough task against a side that looked determined to win for only a second time in 13 games.
Orient looked to be at their most threatening from set-pieces and Shane Lowry’s header grazed the top of the bar from a corner shortly after Josh Wright’s out-swinging free-kick caused problems for the County defence.
Kevin Lisbie, Gary Sawyer and Shane Lowry all tried their luck from distance as the half progressed, with Orient struggling to retain possession or find any openings in the final third. But with 10 minutes to go before the break, the O’s midfield began to find more space and with that came some quality service into Chris Dagnall.
The striker twice headed wide after accurate crosses were fired in from the right wing, but his best opportunity came when Romain Vincelot set him free on the counter. However the forward was unable to add to his eight goals this season, with Notts County defender Blair Adams doing enough to recover and deflect his shot wide of goal.
There was still time for Lowry to have a 20-yard volley cleared off the line before half-time after ‘keeper Roy Carroll came well out of his goal to punch a free-kick but that was the O’s last opportunity to find a leveller in the opening 45 minutes.
In an untidy start to the second half, it felt as though the next goal would swing the tie and Liverani didn’t wait long to introduce Shaun Batt and Dean Cox, who replaced Chris Dagnall and Bradley Pritchard respectively.
Cox was immediately involved in the action and Lisbie might have done better with a header from the substitute’s right wing cross on 65 minutes. There were some muted claims for a penalty from the O’s fans who thought Hayden Mullins might have handled the ball to get in the way of Lisbie’s glancing effort but referee James Linington never considered it.
Soon after Mooney attempted an audacious drive from 30 yards wide on the left but his effort swung away from the far post at the last second, denying what was turning out to be a miserable game a quality goal.
With the full-time whistle quickly approaching, Lisbie and Cox both had half chances but Carroll made comfortable saves on both occasions, and it seemed evermore unlikely that the O’s would be able to salvage a point in a game that they won 5-1 last season during their incredible 12-game unbeaten run.
Ryan Hedges was sent on with four minutes of normal time left and he was the final O’s player to knock on the County door with a fierce effort from 25 yards in the dying seconds. However Carroll was again equal to the task and parried away from danger to subject Orient to a third straight defeat.
ORIENT: Cisak, Lowry, Cuthbert (C), Baudry, Sawyer; Wright, Pritchard (Cox, 63), Vincelot, Mooney (Hedges, 86); Dagnall (Batt, 58), Lisbie
SUBS: Woods, Clarke, Bartley, McAnuff
BOOKINGS: Cox (80), Wright (85)
NOTTS: Carroll, Mustapha Dumbuya, Adams, Mullins (C), Hayhurst, G.Thompson, Jones, C.Thompson, Noble, Bajner (Thomas, 78), Edwards
SUBS: Pilkington, Hollis, Thomas, White, Daniels, Woolery, Harrad
GOALS: Bajner (20)
REF: James Linington
ATT: 3,534 (339)