Prior to kick-off, Orient sat second in South East Division One with 25 points, just two behind AFC Wimbledon who occupied top spot with 27 points.
With some key players missing through injury and suspension, Chris Brayford made two changes to the side who began at Stevenage a fortnight ago. Leyre Bastyr came in for Vanessa Wilson, whilst Sophia Piotrowska replaced the suspended Lisa Holmback in midfield as the O’s lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
This had all the ingredients for an enticing match between the league’s top two sides, who were competing with testing conditions as the snow fell on a slick 3G surface.
Within four minutes, the hosts could have been ahead. Caroline Bisson’s low drive on the turn was cleared off the line by Hannah Porter, before a downward header was diverted onto the bar by Sophie Le Marchand and into the grateful arms of Orient ‘keeper Naomi Ogunde.
Wimbledon had settled into the match quickly, creating some decent early chances. Orient stood firm, but needed to be more effective with the ball going forward.
On 15 minutes, the hosts opened the scoring courtesy of Katie Stanley. A cross from the right-hand side sat up nicely for Stanley, who controlled before guiding her effort beyond Ogunde to put the league leaders ahead.
This goal was a blow for the O’s, but they responded well and could have equalised on 25 minutes. Hayley Barton did brilliantly to evade her marker on the right, before picking out the unmarked Sárka Stryhalova who directed her header agonisingly wide of the post.
With their lead intact, Wimbledon began to take control of proceedings as they looked to double their advantage before the break. Ogunde was forced into two smart saves, pushing away Rebecca Sargent’s low drive before tipping Becky Mclaren-Johnson’s shot over for a corner.
The hosts continued their attacking onslaught as Le Marchand cleared another header off the goalline, before Bisson blazed her effort over the top after Ogunde had punched the ball clear from a corner.
It had been a tough 45 minutes for the O’s, who were lacking composure on the ball and accuracy in their passing. They needed to be more ruthless in trying to break down a Wimbledon side who looked comfortable for most of the half.
Orient made a double change at the break. Piotrowska and Kayleigh Xidhas came off, with Francesca Cagetti and Makesha MacFarlane being introduced. The O’s switched to a 4-4-2 formation with Cagetti partnering captain Danielle Griffiths in central defence, and MacFarlane joining Stryhalova in attack.
On 51 minutes, Wimbledon were awarded a penalty after Cagetti was adjudged to have handled the ball from Stanley’s flick on. Jordanne Hoesli-Atkins took responsibility and confidently smashed the ball past Ogunde to double the hosts lead.
This was a bitter pill to swallow for Orient, and the next goal would be crucial in setting the tone for the remainder of the match. Wimbledon were playing some free-flowing football at times, but the O’s needed a sustained spell of possession to swing momentum back in their favour.
However, with 20 minutes left Wimbledon sealed the victory with a third goal. Stanley’s low shot was fumbled by Ogunde, before Kelly Jade-Whelan poked the ball home from close-range to dash any hopes of an Orient fightback.
With 73 minutes played, the O’s made their final substitution of the game with Chloe McNee making way for Rebecca Hirst. Despite the scoreline, Orient continued to push forward as they tried to reduce the deficit.
Hirst showed positivity with five minutes to play, driving forward before firing an effort into the grasp of Wimbledon ‘keeper Shanell Salgado. Wimbledon remained resolute, and saw out the remaining minutes to extend their lead at the summit to five points.
Speaking after the match, captain Danielle Griffiths gave her thoughts on the performance; “It’s not a performance we are particularly proud of. The conditions didn’t help but I think we were very slow to start, and although we improved into the game you can’t do that against top of the league so it’s disappointing.”
Griffiths talked about the reverse fixture this weekend saying; “It’s definitely a must win game, I think it’ll make us more determined. It’s always bitter to lose, particularly in a game that you know you could have gone top of the league, so we’ll definitely be more determined next week.”
Orient’s final fixture before the Christmas break sees them face AFC Wimbledon for a second time, with kick-off scheduled for 2pm at Mile End Stadium this Sunday.