Orient came into the game sitting third in South East Division One with 31 points from 17 games, while Norwich arrived in the capital occupying 11th place with ten points from 16 matches.
Manager Chris Brayford made two changes to the side who began the 1-0 defeat to Cambridge United last time out. With captain Danielle Griffiths absent, midfielder Kate Bradley made her first start since joining the club last month whilst Sárka Stryhalova led the line in place of Belen Ripoll-Douton in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The visitors got the game underway on an overcast afternoon in Mile End, but there was nothing gloomy about Orient’s start when they opened the scoring after just one minute. Leyre Bastyr rolled the ball into Sophie Le Marchand on the left, she made it to the by-line before cutting inside and firing low beneath Eilish Brogan in the Norwich goal.
It was the perfect start for an Orient side in need of a confidence boost after two consecutive defeats. On six minutes, they could have doubled their lead when Lisa Holmback was denied before Stryhalova watched two efforts blocked on the goal-line in quick succession.
Moments later, Le Marchand and Stryhalova combined neatly before Brogan bravely smothered the ball at the latter’s feet. Then, with 12 minutes played the O’s were awarded a penalty when Grace Parker brought down Hayley Barton in the area. Le Marchand took responsibility and confidently dispatched her effort to bag a brace and give Orient a 2-0 lead.
After a lively start to proceedings, the O’s had succeeded in settling any pre-game nerves with two early goals. On 20 minutes, Hannah Porter picked out the run of Le Marchand with a delightful ball but the latter poked her effort wide as the chance of a hat-trick went begging.
Having been on the back foot, Norwich were trying to establish a foothold in the game but were struggling to build a sustained spell of possession. Meanwhile, the chances kept coming for Orient as Bradley was next to force a save from Brogan with a low drive from range.
A third goal looked likely for Orient who maintained their wave of pressure on the visiting goal. After a clever run, Barton saw her shot blocked before Holmback showed quick feet to evade her marker but was denied by Brogan down low to her left.
With half an hour played, Brogan was proving to be the hero for Norwich. Barton skipped into the box with some good footwork, working some space before seeing her shot brilliantly saved at point-blank range by the visiting keeper.
With half time approaching, it was very much all Orient who had seen chances to extend their lead go to waste. However, Norwich goalkeeper Brogan had been excellent and played a pivotal role in keeping her side within reach of the O’s.
Eventually, Orient netted their third of the afternoon on 43 minutes. Barton’s cross dropped kindly for Le Marchand who calmly slotted the ball home from close range to ensure Orient took a commanding 3-0 lead into the interval.
At the break, the O’s were left to reflect on a dominant first half display with three well taken goals putting them fully in control. Norwich were not helped by falling behind so early and faced an uphill battle ahead of them in the second half.
Orient got the second half underway, but it was Norwich who saw more of the ball in the early exchanges. The visitors emerged a different team and were starting to ask more questions of the O’s defence and goalkeeper Naomi Ogunde, with Natasha Snelling’s looping strike dropping just wide of the far post.
Having started the half on top, Norwich were rewarded when Millie Daviss pulled a goal back for the visitors leaving Orient nerves to jangle. Soon after, Ogunde was called into action when she tipped a teasing free kick over the crossbar.
The O’s needed to gather themselves after conceding the goal but Norwich continued to enjoy a spell of pressure. Aimee Durrant’s pace was causing problems down the left whilst Orient had to deal with a succession of well-delivered corners.
However, Orient bagged their fourth against the run of play on the hour mark. Bradley’s excellent long-range pass was well controlled by Barton who lifted her head before picking out the top corner with an audacious strike from distance to give the hosts a 4-1 lead.
Despite their advantage, the O’s had lost some discipline with a couple of clumsy challenges as Connie Montiel-McCann received the game’s first booking after a late tackle. However, the O’s looked assured in their play having regained a three-goal lead after being on the back foot early in the second half.
With twenty minutes remaining, Orient made a double switch with Bradley and Stryhalova making way for Rebecca Hirst and Lisa Fulgence who was making her first appearance of the season. This saw the O’s switch to a 4-4-2 formation, with Le Marchand and Fulgence in attack whilst Hirst moved out to the left wing.
On 75 minutes, Holmback unselfishly threaded the ball into Le Marchand who blazed her effort over the top with only the keeper to beat. It had been a far more competitive second half of football, with Norwich pushing Orient who had stepped off the pace compared to their first half display.
Unfortunately, Norwich saw Durrant forced off through injury before Daviss could only find the side netting after breaking into the Orient penalty area. Then, the hosts made their final change of the afternoon on 83 minutes when Ella Meadowcroft replaced hat-trick hero Le Marchand.
Regardless of the scoreline, Norwich continued to try and reduce the deficit as Daviss picked out Hannah Artis who spun before miscuing her effort wide of the mark. At the other end, Fulgence showed great strength to outmuscle her marker before letting the ball drop and firing just wide of the post.
After a lengthy period of stoppage time, the referee’s whistle secured three vital points for the O’s which saw them leap to second place in the division.
Speaking after the game, Sophie Le Marchand said:
“I don’t think we can underestimate how massive that was for us. I think we have been really lacking in confidence recently. It hasn’t been through lack of working hard, we’ve been training really hard the results just haven’t come. We needed a victory and we needed it to be a big one. I was really impressed with our shape and how well we backed each other up. We communicated really well throughout the whole game so I’m really happy we finally got the result that I think we deserve.”
On her hat-trick, Le Marchand said:
“It’s really good for my confidence. I know I’m always on better form if I’m scoring goals and the same with creating as well. If I’m scoring I feel more confident in myself to run with the ball, to find my team mates, and hopefully to set some up. From a personal perspective I’m really happy.”
Looking ahead, Orient’s next fixture is scheduled for Sunday April 22nd when they host Stevenage Ladies at the Matchroom Stadium. However, the O’s are waiting for their postponed fixture against AFC Wimbledon to be re-arranged so be sure to check their Twitter page (@OrientWFC) for further updates.[Photo by Brian Coombes]