Ross Embleton made three changes to the side that lost out to Colchester last weekend. Sam Ling and Joe Widdowson replaced Jordan Thomas and Tunji Akinola in defence, while top scorer Johnson returned up top in place of Louis Dennis.
Neither side gave much away in an attritional start. Lawrence Vigouroux had to be aware to claim a cross from Ryan Fallowfield, but other than that the opening 15 minutes passed without incident.
However, that all changed moments later when the O’s shattered the deadlock. After turning over the ball, Conor Wilkinson released Johnson in behind with a precise through ball and the forward did what he so often has this season and kept his cool to fire home his 10th of the campaign.
Wilkinson could have doubled Orient’s lead on the half hour mark. The wide forward received the ball from Jobi McAnuff, cut onto his favoured left foot and let fly, but was denied by a great save from Harrogate ‘keeper James Belshaw.
Embleton’s side weren’t to be denied a minute later though. A ball forward from Josh Coulson found Johnson in the box, the former Motherwell man then showed a sublime piece of technique to bring the ball down and lash the ball past Belshaw on the half volley to give the O’s a two-goal advantage.
The home side continued to carve the visitors up on the counter and they could have made it three in the 37th minute. Johnson once again latched onto a ball over the top, this time the in-form striker elected to lay the ball off to James Brophy, however the winger was unable to find the bottom corner with his near post effort.
Harrogate pushed to get back into it in the closing stages of the first half, but Orient’s defence held firm to maintain their two-goal lead heading into the interval.
The second half started in a similar vein; the away side carried on committing players forward and the O’s continued to threaten on the break. One such occasion saw Wilkinson pick out Brophy, the winger flashed a ball across the face that was cut out by the Harrogate defence, it then fell to McAnuff whose shot deflected behind for a corner.
From the resulting set piece, Orient put the game to bed. Belshaw misjudged McAnuff’s in-swinger and that man again, Johnson, was on hand to head in for his hat-trick.
Johnson almost netted a fourth moments later, the forward hit a snapshot that Belshaw did well to turn around the post.
With the result now beyond doubt, Embleton began to ring the changes. First, McAnuff was replaced by James Dayton. Then, in a double switch, Wilkinson and Brophy made way for Louis Dennis and Jordan Maguire-Drew. Finally, Hector Kyprianou departed the field with Josh Wright taking his place in the heart of midfield.
The away side attempted to pull a consolation back in the closing stages with a succession of set-pieces, but the O’s defence stayed strong to secure their clean sheet and a very impressive victory.
ORIENT: Vigouroux, Ling, Coulson, Happe, Widdowson, Cissé, Kyprianou (Wright 87’), McAnuff (Dayton 74’) Wilkinson (Maguire-Drew 82’), Johnson, Brophy (Dennis 82’)
SUBS: Sargeant, Thomas, Akinola
BOOKED: Coulson 26”, Widdowson 69”
GOALS: Johnson 18”, 31”, 74’
HARROGATE: Belshaw, Fallowfield, Jones, Falkingham, Thomson, Martin (Stead 59’), Lawlor (Burrell 46’), Kiernan (Walker 84’), Kerry (Kirby 59’), Muldoon, Hall
SUBS: Cracknell, Lokko
BOOKED: Burrell 67’, Jones 80’
REF: Neil Hair