Leyton Orient U18s produced a superb team performance to win 2-1 at Northampton and return to the top of the Merit League 2 Division.
After falling behind midway inside the first half, Orient produced a second half come back as Sam Alderson equalised with a 20-yard free-kick before substitute Scott Kashket headed home the winner with 13 minutes remaining.
Following Saturday’s win at AFC Wimbledon, Academy Director Andy Edwards made four changes as U16s trio Myles Judd, Charley Barker and Dan Happe came into the starting XI while Christian Owusu partnered Shola Oladipo up front.
In what was a tight start to the game, Myles Judd came close to putting the O’s ahead in spectacular fashion when he controlled a pass from Freddy Moncur on the corner of the Northampton penalty area and fired a shot with the outside of his boot which went just wide of the far post.
Judd’s attempt proved to be the only effort during the opening period as both sides cancelled each other out before Northampton’s Shaquille Master bent an effort from 18-yards into the hands of Ben Card on the 20th minute.
The shot spurred Northampton on however as Matty Forster stung the hands of Card with a fierce strike from the edge of the box before the hosts took the lead with their next attack.
Forster floated a corner into the box and despite Card’s best efforts to get out to the ball and punch it away, Joe Iaciofano managed to get there first to head the ball into the net.
Rattled by the goal, Orient then nearly conceded another seconds later as Iaciofano broke in behind the O’s defence to receive the ball in acres of space inside the box, but Card impressively parried away his powerful attempt.
As the half went on Sam Ling connected with a Moncur set-piece at the far post but his header was blocked behind for another corner.
Two minutes later Judd rose highest to get on the end of another Moncur delivery but despite getting a clean connection, Northampton goalkeeper Charlie Andrews got back on his line to keep out the attempt.
In first half stoppage time the O’s really should have equalised from another set-piece. Moncur clipped the ball forward to Ling who broke away from his man and headed back across goal to Christian Owusu who could only direct his header over the bar from close range.
During the half time break Orient made one change as Jack Humphrey replaced Kane Adams at left back and following a promising start to the half, Orient deservedly levelled the tie.
Charley Barker went down under a challenge 20-yards out and Sam Alderson took full advantage by bending a magnificent free-kick into the bottom corner, leaving Andrews rooted in the centre of the goal.
With the game all square Northampton looked to get back on the front foot as first Alex Mushata powered his way down the flank and delivered a teasing ball that Iaciofano and Forster failed to connect with, before Shaun McWilliams sliced a shot wide from the edge of the box.
As the 60-minute mark approached Orient made a double substitution as Sandro Semedo and Scott Kashket replaced Moncur and Owusu.
Five minutes later however the O’s were dealt a huge blow as Ling was caught by a challenge from McWilliams who was subsequently booked. The O’s skipper was unable to continue resulting in Orient having to see out the final 25 minutes with 10 men due to having already made all three substitutions.
Ling’s injury sparked a reshuffle for the O’s as Judd moved inside to partner Dan Happe at centre back while Barker sat just in front of the pair in midfield and all three duly delivered with commanding performances during the final stages.
In Ling’s absence Kashket took the captains armband and with 77 minutes played the forward popped up with a crucial goal.
Semedo tricked his way down the left and thrashed a cross towards the far post that, despite evading everyone, Alderson managed to prevent from going out. Having kept the move alive the winger then stood up a cross for Kashket to direct a header, which took a slight deflection off Callum Westwood, beyond Andrews.
The goal was no less than Orient deserved following their response to going a man down but Northampton looked to get straight back into the match.
Card had rarely been tested throughout the second half but two minutes after Orient taking the lead he had to be at full stretch to push Danny Clifton’s shot from distance round the post.
Northampton continued to throw bodies forward as they searched for an equaliser and McWilliams drilled a rasping shot that Card managed to gather at the second attempt.
That was to be the final save Card was forced into making however as the O’s defence reduced Northampton to shots from distance and held on for a vital three points that moves them back to the top of Merit League 2 with one game remaining.
The U18s play their final game of the season at home to Cambridge on Saturday where a win will crown them champions.
NORTHAMPTON: Charlie Andrews, Tom Carroll, Sam Warburton, Shaun McWilliams, Ryan Marsden (C), Callum Westwood, Shaquille Master (Jamie Hall 81), Danny Clifton, Alex Mushata, Joe Iaciofano (Ethan Lamptey 83), Matty Forster (Harvey Burt 88).
SUBS: James Goff, Ben Toseland.
GOALS: Iaciofano (25)
BOOKINGS: McWilliams (65)
ORIENT: Ben Card, Myles Judd, Sam Ling (C), Dan Happe, Kane Adams (Jack Humphrey 45), Sam Alderson, Freddy Moncur (Sandro Semedo 59), Charley Barker, Nick Brown, Christian Owusu (Scott Kashket 59), Shola Oladipo
SUBS: Michael Clark, Montel Agyemang
GOALS: Alderson (49), Kashket (77)