After a goalless 82 minutes, substitute Chanel Richards netted the winner with a brave header from Belen Ripoll Douton’s cross to secure a hard-fought opening day win for the O’s.
Orient lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with Pinja Piira starting at right back, new signing Katharine Nutman made her debut in central midfield, while Lisa Fulgence partnered Ripoll-Douton in attack.
The O’s got the game underway on a breezy afternoon in Bedfordshire. They registered their first shot on goal when Ripoll-Douton’s effort rolled into the arms of Luton goalkeeper Kezia Hassall.
Luton began to settle into the match and were using the wide areas to find a way through the Orient defence. After winning a corner, Zara Carroll watched her delivery from the left strike the near post before going out of play.
It was a quiet opening fifteen minutes with neither side able to carve out any clear-cut chances. However, Orient had a sight of goal on 17 minutes when Rebecca Hirst neatly picked out Fulgence whose long-range strike fizzed over the crossbar.
With half an hour played, the O’s needed greater composure on the ball within a very competitive midfield. Going forward, they were struggling to produce flowing attacking moves as the match became scrappy in the build-up to half time.
Although, the O’s created one of their better openings in first half stoppage time. Ripoll-Douton pounced on a poor goal kick from Hassall, before feeding Hirst down the left whose cross evaded Hayley Barton at the back post.
At the break, chances had been few and far between for both sides with the majority of play happening in the midfield. The O’s needed more creativity in the final third if they were going to find that allusive breakthrough.
Luton got the second half underway, but it was Orient who passed the ball with greater purpose during the opening exchanges. However, Luton’s Amy Summerfield tried a speculative effort from distance which sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
On 55 minutes, Orient came close to breaking the deadlock when Barton’s corner from the right caused a scramble in the penalty area but nobody in a blue shirt was able to turn the ball home.
Moments later, the O’s were asking questions of the Luton backline once more when Piira’s through ball found Fulgence who controlled well but couldn’t generate enough power in the shot to trouble Hassall.
Orient made their first change of the match when Hirst was replaced by Jade Henry on 58 minutes. On the hour mark, the game was opening up with the O’s looking more cohesive in attack and seeing some good glimpses of goal.
With just under twenty minutes remaining, Luton’s Nicola Henman latched onto a ball over her shoulder but struck straight at Naomi Ogunde in the Orient goal. Meanwhile, the O’s made their second substitution as Chanel Richards replaced Fulgence in a like-for-like swap in attack.
Shortly after, Richards almost made an immediate impact from the bench but diverted Ripoll-Douton’s cross wide of the target from close range. At the other end, Egle Trezzi received the game’s first yellow card after a poor challenge on Henman.
As the game entered its final stages, the O’s came closest to finding an opener when Richards looped the ball over Hassall and watched anxiously as the ball came back off the crossbar and was cleared to safety.
However, Richards endeavour was rewarded when she netted what proved to be the winning goal in the 82nd minute. Ripoll Douton sent an inviting ball towards Richards who bravely challenged Hassall in the air, winning the battle and nodding the ball into the bottom corner.
In response, Luton quickly went in search of an equaliser and won a free-kick in a dangerous central position only for Carroll to strike into the grateful arms of Ogunde. Then, Luton’s Jessica McKay was booked for a late tackle on Leyre Bastyr.
Orient’s final change of the game came with two minutes remaining as Ripoll Douton made way for Suaila Cardoso Queni. In the closing moments, the O’s could have sealed the points when Richards played Henry through on goal but Hassall was equal to her effort.
Much to their delight, the O’s saw out stoppage time to claim all three points and a clean sheet in their opening fixture of the 2018-19 season.
After the game, goal scorer Chanel Richards spoke briefly about the team’s performance and netting the winning goal:
“We played decent, but we need to get more 50-50 challenges and communicate a bit more. I was so happy to score the winning goal, when I came on I was wanting to get a goal.”
Next, the O’s welcome Cambridge United Women to Mile End Stadium for their first home game of the season this Sunday 26th August with kick-off at 2pm.