Manager Chris Brayford made three changes to the side who began the 5-2 victory against Haringey Borough at Mile End last Sunday.
Katharine Nutman and Tara O’Halloran were unavailable meaning Lisa Holmback and Chloe McNee came into midfield. Rebecca Hirst started on the left wing with Chanel Richards not in the match day squad.
Orient got the game underway on a dreary afternoon in Blofield, Norfolk, however it was Norwich who started with greater purpose during the early exchanges. The O’s lined up with Hayley Barton in the No.10 role while Le Marchand lead the attack.
It took 13 minutes for the first shot on target to arrive as Natasha Snelling’s effort bounced comfortably in front of Orient goalkeeper Naomi Ogunde. Orient needed to press the ball more quickly and were yet to create an opportunity on goal.
However, the O’s first sight of goal was a glorious one. Ogunde’s kick down field was pounced upon by Le Marchand who raced into the penalty area, feinted past Tigi Robson before guiding a curling effort wide of the far post.
Shortly after, Barton floated a teasing free-kick from a central position inches over the crossbar. Orient were gathering momentum with half an hour played, pressing the ball more effectively and forcing Norwich to play deeper.
Then, Barton’s corner dropped kindly for Le Marchand whose snap shot was smothered by Norwich goalkeeper Hope Armstrong before Millie Daviss’ long-range effort flew harmlessly over the crossbar at the other end.
In the build-up to half-time, Orient were seeing more of the possession as Hirst’s strike was bravely blocked by Norwich captain Sasha Diston and fell for McNee who angled her shot over the crossbar.
At the break, the teams went into the dressing rooms all square after a fairly uneventful first half of football. The O’s had failed to severely test Armstrong in the Norwich goal and needed to find a spark of creativity to tip the match in their favour.
Norwich got the second half underway as the temperature began to drop. Orient came close six minutes after the restart when Barton’s deep cross was beaten away by Armstrong. On the counter, Daviss was through on goal but blazed her first time effort high and wide.
Orient’s first change arrived on 53 minutes with Hirst making way for Suaila Cardoso Queni. Soon after, McNee connected with Barton’s in-swinging corner but diverted her header onto the roof of the net.
On the hour mark, the teams remained level with the game hanging in the balance. Barton’s cross looked to be looping out of play, however a determined Le Marchand managed to head the ball towards goal but it was well held by Armstrong.
Finally, the O’s carved out a breakthrough on 74 minutes courtesy of Le Marchand. Cardoso Queni played an intelligent ball over the top for Le Marchand to chase, she was denied by Armstrong at the first attempt before nestling the ball into the bottom corner on the rebound.
Norwich went in search of a quick response with Ogunde reacting smartly to push a deflected effort behind for a corner. Then, Camila Pescatore went on a menacing run forward with her resulting shot forced behind by Armstrong’s right-palm.
With ten minutes to play, Orient had shouts for a penalty waved away. Barton went down in the area after skipping past her marker, but the referee brandished a yellow card for simulation.
Orient made their second and last change of the afternoon as Connie Montiel-McCann replaced Pescatore with five minutes remaining. The O’s needed to remain focused and disciplined in the final moments to keep their narrow lead intact.
Despite a nervous period of stoppage time, Orient held out with the referee’s final whistle securing an important three points for the O’s in their last away league game of 2018.
After the match, goal scorer Sophie Le Marchand praised the O’s character and determination:
“I think it was a really gutsy victory, massively ground out. I feel like we have been building in confidence the last few weeks, we’ve strung a series of results together and we’ve started to play our kind of football. Today, they (Norwich) were a young, battling side and we really had to grind it out.
I do feel that in the second half particularly, we put an enormous amount of pressure on them and at some point, a goal was going to come. To hold on to that 1-0 and for them barely to have a chance I think was very gutsy. The buzz around the team seems to have returned, hopefully we can push on from there.”
After a difficult spell, Le Marchand was hugely satisfied about getting back amongst the goals:
“I think I’m a confidence player and I’ve been on a drought. In the past few seasons, I’ve scored a lot of goals and I feel like I have been the source of a lot of goals and that people have relied on me to produce that. To go through a lean patch has definitely dented my confidence.
Despite that, I do feel that I still have a lot to offer regardless of the goals with assists and hopefully providing some sort of danger in attack. I definitely felt a huge amount of relief when that goal went in today and I hope that is the end of the drought, I can move forward and score some more goals for the club.”
Next, the O’s travel to face Worthing Ladies in the Isthmian Cup quarter-finals on Thursday 6th December with kick-off at 20:00.