Both sides came into the match on the back of victories last weekend. Sophie Le Marchand’s brace helped the O’s to a 2-1 win over Ipswich Town, meanwhile Luton hit 17 goals without reply against Woburn and Wavendon in the County Cup. Orient occupied second place before kick-off, whilst the visitors sat in fifth.
Manager Chris Brayford made three changes to the eleven who began against Ipswich. Hannah Porter made her first appearance of the New Year, Egle Trezzi returned from injury, whilst Belen Ripoll-Douton partnered Makesha MacFarlane in attack as the O’s lined up in a 4-4-2 formation.
It was a cagey opening five minutes with both sides looking to settle on the ball in the early stages. Luton’s Natasha Fensome got a sight of goal only to be denied by a brilliant recovery challenge from Francesca Cagetti. Moments later, Fensome found herself in on goal once more but struck her effort straight at Naomi Ogunde in the Orient goal.
After a positive start from the visitors, the O’s carved out their first opportunity of the game on eight minutes. Le Marchand slipped a pass into MacFarlane, who despite being forced wide managed to get a shot away which was blocked by a Luton shirt. It was a scrappy game in the middle of the park, with the playing surface making it difficult for either side to establish a passing rhythm.
Orient began to see more of the ball and were growing into the game. Their best chance came on 21 minutes when Ripoll-Douton latched onto Hayley Barton’s cross but could not direct her effort on target. With half an hour played, there was very little to separate the two sides who had squandered some good chances.
Luton came close to opening the scoring when Zara Carroll’s corner was cleared off the line by Trezzi. Then, the visitors succeeded in breaking the deadlock on 31 minutes thanks to Stephanie Gale. Fensome’s curling effort struck the post before falling to Gale who drilled the ball into the back of the net to give Luton a 1-0 lead.
Despite falling behind, Orient were finding space and getting into some good areas but needed to be more ruthless with the final ball. Once again, Barton and Ripoll-Douton combined only for the latter to see her shot fly over the crossbar.
At the break, the O’s were left to reflect on a below par first half display which lacked the usual energy and creativity they have shown this season. Luton were well organised and physical in their approach, frustrating Orient and taking their chance when it arrived.
Orient started the second half with intent as Le Marchand wriggled into the box before Ripoll-Douton miscued her effort. Despite this optimistic start, Luton doubled their lead on 49 minutes. Fensome ran onto a through ball and placed a left-footed shot beyond the reach of an outstretched Ogunde.
This was a major setback for Orient who needed to get Le Marchand into the game and utilise the pace of MacFarlane through the middle. Luton were encouraged after extending their lead and continued to restrict the home side.
On the hour mark, Luton almost sealed the points when Fensome put her effort wide of the post with only Ogunde to beat. Meanwhile, Orient made their first change of the match with Connie Montiel-McCann replacing Kathryn Canavan as the O’s switched to a 3-1-4-2 formation.
Luton secured the victory with a third goal when Lisa Nixon found the top corner with a superb long-range strike on 62 minutes. This was a huge blow to Orient’s chances of getting back into the match, they were struggling to get hold of the ball and were leaving too much space for Luton to exploit.
With twenty minutes remaining, Orient had two chances in quick succession with Le Marchand and Lisa Holmback seeing efforts comfortably dealt with by Luton goalkeeper Kezia Hassall. The game had become more open in the second half, Orient had no choice but to commit players forward leaving Luton with space to counter.
On 74 minutes, Orient made their second change with Vanessa Wilson replacing MacFarlane. Barton began to assert her dominance on the right side with some driving forward runs as she tried to salvage a lifeline for the O’s.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the situation worsened when Luton were awarded a penalty. Wilson was adjudged to have handled the ball and given her marching orders five minutes after coming on as a substitute. However, Joanne Rutherford smashed the resulting spot kick off the crossbar as Orient moved to a 3-4-2 formation.
Orient’s final change came eight minutes from time when Rebecca Hirst replaced Ripoll-Douton, before Le Marchand’s close-range tap in was disallowed for offside. The visitors compiled Orient’s misery by scoring a fourth goal with two minutes of normal time remaining. Fensome showed great feet to work space on the right before dipping a shot into the top left corner to claim her second of the afternoon.
With five minutes of stoppage time played, the referee’s whistle brought an end to a disappointing afternoon which saw Orient lose at home for only the second time this season.
After the game, captain Danielle Griffiths gave her thoughts on the performance:
“It was very disappointing. I think it was particularly uncharacteristic of us, we just didn’t show enough belief, we didn’t get our game going, and we left it a bit too late to try and claw our way back into the game.”
Next up, Orient will be eager to make amends when they welcome Norwich City Ladies to Mile End Stadium this Sunday in the FA Women’s Premier League, with kick off at 2pm.