Last week, Orient kicked off the New Year with a 2-1 league victory against Denham United at Mile End, whilst MK Dons won 4-2 at Norwich City in the FA WPL Plate. The O’s came into the match in second place with 28 points while MK Dons sat four points behind them in third.
Manager Chris Brayford made three changes to the side who started against Denham. Vanessa Wilson replaced Kathryn Canavan at right-back, whilst Chloe McNee and Makesha MacFarlane stepped into midfield for Kayleigh Xidhas and Rebecca Hirst.
On a chilly afternoon in Buckinghamshire, the hosts breached the O’s backline inside 15 seconds with a through ball that was well cut out by captain Danielle Griffiths. MK Dons saw more of the ball in the opening exchanges, playing a high line and pressing with intent.
Milton Keynes’ first real chance of the match came courtesy of Heather McDonnell, who brought down an aerial ball before dragging her effort harmlessly wide of Orient keeper Naomi Ogunde’s goal.
However, MK Dons succeeded in breaking the deadlock with 13 minutes played. Charly Wright floated a corner into the penalty area where Charly Clarke was lurking to nod the ball home and give the hosts an early lead.
Orient needed to regain their composure after the goal, but looked stretched and short of ideas at times as MK Dons went in search of a second. With half an hour played, the visitors needed an injection of pace or a spark of creativity having failed to ask questions of MK Dons goalkeeper Sophie Shultts.
With 32 minutes gone, the hosts could have doubled their advantage. Laura Mills found herself one-on-one with Ogunde who produced a brilliant save with her feet to deny the forward. Meanwhile, the O’s were struggling to get bodies beyond Sárka Stryhalova as the lone striker, and were having to drop deep when they lost possession to resist MK Dons attempts to counter.
Despite being on the back foot for the majority of the first half, Orient stuck to the task and were rewarded with an equaliser on 41 minutes. Hayley Barton’s corner was turned onto the near post before falling nicely at the feet of Wilson who shot high into the net for her first league goal of the season.
Much to the O’s frustration, they were level for just four minutes as MK Dons regained the lead on the stroke of half-time. Ogunde rose to collect a cross from the right, only to see the ball slip from her grasp into the path of Louise Naylor who scored from close range to put the home side 2-1 ahead.
At the break, Orient were left to reflect on a below par performance, but would have taken pride from the attitude they showed to recover from an early setback. However, MK Dons were dominant for most of the half and more efficient in possession.
It was a quiet start to the second half, but the O’s were showing signs of improvement in terms of physicality and movement of the ball. They made a double change just before the hour mark, with McNee and Stryhalova making way for Egle Trezzi and Ella Meadowcroft.
With one goal to separate the sides, the visitors started to gather momentum in their search for an equalising goal. MK Dons remained resolute in defence, but the O’s were gradually forcing them further back inside their own half. In a physical encounter, Orient were temporarily reduced to ten players as Lisa Holmback, who was thankfully able to continue, received treatment after taking a ball to the face.
The O’s were beginning to dominate possession, as spaces began to emerge which they tried desperately to exploit. Their final change arrived on 78 minutes, with Canavan coming on for goalscorer Wilson at right-back.
Naturally, as Orient pushed forward they were susceptible to MK Dons hitting them on the break. Kerry Newman, who had only been on the pitch a short time, forced a save from Ogunde in the box before drilling a shot over the bar moments later.
It was a tense finale, with Griffiths striking a well-positioned free kick into the wall during a lengthy period of stoppage time. Orient battled until the final whistle, yet despite an improved second half display they couldn’t avoid finishing second best on the day.
Speaking after the game, O’s player of the match Leyre Bastyr gave her thoughts on the performance: “It was a good opposition, but I think that we had certain time periods where we really did get together. We’ll just have to make sure that covers more time in the game. The first 15 minutes of the second half for example, not to great, so we have to widen those gaps of brilliance.
I think as a team we’re all a bit rusty after the winter break. We just need to concentrate on putting the passes together, playing as a team, not panicking, and trusting each other. It was good in that we saw many places that we can work on and now we know better. We tired them out, I think that’s a positive. We ran them down, and the next game we run somebody down it’s just capitalising on that.”
Midfielder Egle Trezzi said: “I think Chris pointed it out. We’ve seen what it takes to be successful in this league. It’s create chances and not give away because the second goal was a gift. There’s stuff that we have to improve on, we reacted in the second half and showed character.”
Orient will be eager to get back to winning ways when they return to league action at home this Sunday, with Ipswich Town Ladies the visitors to Mile End Stadium for a 2pm kick off.