Rachel Keightley headed the home side in front early in the second half, before Hirst came off the bench to level the game in the dying moments to spare Orient’s blushes after a below par performance.
Manager Chris Brayford made three changes to the side who began the 1-3 defeat to Billericay Town Ladies on Wednesday evening. Keegan Russell made her first start of the season at left-back, Chloe McNee returned in midfield while Chanel Richards led the attack.
Denham got the game underway on a pleasant afternoon at The Den. The hosts began on the front foot winning a free-kick in a dangerous area, but Annie Hewitt failed to test Naomi Ogunde in the Orient goal.
After five minutes, the O’s saw their first glimpse of goal when Richards flicked the ball into Sophie Le Marchand who advanced into the penalty area before angling her shot narrowly wide of the far post.
Moments later, Orient could have opened the scoring when Richards’ audacious chip from the right side of the box dropped agonisingly wide of the post. Then, Le Marchand did well to bring the ball down but lifted her shot into the arms of Gracie Perkins in the Denham goal.
With a quarter of an hour played, it had been a well-fought encounter. Orient had grown into the match and were dominating possession, however they needed a better final product going forward.
Le Marchand, who was proving tricky to contend with down the left side, wriggled her way to the by-line and drilled a low ball across the box which flew wide of the post. At the other end, Denham won a free-kick to the left of the goal that was well cleared by stand-in captain Hannah Porter.
Orient were continuing to dominate the ball but were yet to find the key to unlocking a resilient and organised Denham defence. Their best chance fell just after the half hour mark when Le Marchand found Richards who moved the ball onto Barton whose effort was deflected behind for a corner.
On 42 minutes, Russell received the game’s first booking for a high foot but once again Hewitt struck into the grateful arms of Ogunde from the resulting free-kick as the half finished goalless. Orient had dominated possession but failed to find a breakthrough due to a combination of good defending and wastefulness in front of goal.
At half-time, the O’s made a double substitution with Richards and Russell making way for Louise Hogan and Suaila Cardoso Queni. They started the second half brightly with Barton’s pin-point cross picking out Cardoso Queni who prodded the ball inches wide of the post.
However, after a resilient defensive display Denham broke the deadlock on 52 minutes. A corner from the right was attacked by Keightley who leapt highest to guide her header into the bottom right corner to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
Denham were clearly boosted after opening the scoring while Orient’s confidence was knocked. The quality of delivery from set-pieces and precision in the final pass was lacking which was affecting their rhythm on the attack.
On the hour mark, Orient should have equalised when Egle Trezzi’s aerial pass was well controlled by Le Marchand who raced through on goal only to be denied one-on-one by the feet of Perkins.
The O’s were playing a higher defensive line and pushing bodies forward in search of an equaliser. They were passing out from the back with composure but their decision making was proving to be poor.
With 77 minutes played, Orient’s final substitution saw Hirst replace Trezzi as they pegged Denham back inside their own half. Soon, the O’s watched another chance go begging when the ball fell kindly for Cardoso Queni whose close-range effort was saved by an alert Perkins.
However, Orient’s persistence paid off when they grabbed an equaliser in what proved to be the last meaningful action of the game. Tara O’Halloran knocked a well-weighted ball into the path of Hirst, whose first touch created the angle for her to nestle the ball into the far corner and snatch a dramatic point for the O’s when the game looked lost.
Next, the O’s travel to face Cambridge City Ladies & Girls FC in the SSE Women’s FA Cup Second Qualifying Round this Sunday 23rd September with kick-off at 2pm.