Sam Ling had equalised for the O’s after Ali Kioki’s had opened the scoring for Paul Tisdale’s side early on. Zain Westbrooke restored his side’s lead mid-way through the first half, but Orient were unable to find an equaliser after Jamie Turley was dismissed in the 54th minute.
Ross Embleton made eight changes for this tie, with just Ling, Joe Widdowson and Dan Happe retaining their place from Saturday’s defeat to Scunthorpe.
Craig Clay captained the side on his first start since returning from injury, while academy products Hector Kyprianou and Ruel Sotiriou were also handed starts.
Before the match got underway, the Breyer Group Stadium, with fans in attendance for the first time since March, observed a minute’s applause for former fitness coach Sandy Risley, who sadly passed away last week.
Despite an energetic start, the O’s fell behind in the 12th minute when Ali Kioki tapped in from close range, after Sam Sargeant had saved Brandon Hanlan’s initial effort.
Embleton’s side fought back into it as the half wore on and came close to equalising ten minutes after the opener. Jordan Maguire-Drew delivered a pin-point cross onto the head of Lee Angol, however the forward could only drag his header wide of the far post.
The equaliser did come moments later though, as Ling’s deflected cross squirmed past Rovers’ keeper Anssi Jaakola at his near post.
Gas midfielder Zain Westbrooke started at the Breyer Group for the first time since his loan spell in E10 back in 2017, and he marked his return with a goal as he restored his side’s lead with a venomous free kick that cannoned back off of the crossbar and into the net via the back of Sargeant.
Clay had a couple of opportunities to level for the O’s shortly before half time, but the midfielder failed to keep either of his two efforts on target.
Embleton made a change at the break with Widdowson being replaced by James Brophy in a straight swap at left back.
The home side’s first chance of the second half came in the 51st minute when Angol released Ruel Sotiriou down the right-hand side, the Cypriot then cut inside his man and hit a low effort that substitute ‘keeper Jordi Van Stappershoef did well to keep out.
However, things became a whole lot harder for the O’s moments later as Jamie Turley was dismissed by referee Alan Young for a late challenge on Zain Walker.
Embleton made his second switch just before the hour mark. Angol departed for Danny Johnson, and as he entered the field, Orient’s top scorer received the applause his performances so far this season have merited from the 574 in attendance in E10.
A third change soon followed when Josh Wright was brought on in place of James Dayton in the 66th minute.
Orient weathered an initial flurry of Rovers attacks well after the sending off and could have grabbed an equaliser when Sotiriou’s acrobatic effort from Ling’s long throw was almost spilled into his own net by Van Stappershoef.
The O’s faithful were in fine voice as their side searched for an equaliser against the odds, but despite a couple of wayward efforts and a fair shout for a penalty when Johnson was brought down in the box, the O’s were unable to find the late leveller their valiant display deserved.
ORIENT: Sargeant, Ling, Turley, Happe, Widdowson (Brophy 46’), Clay, Kyprianou, Dayton (Wright 67’), Maguire-Drew, Sotiriou, Angol (Johnson 61’)
SUBS: Vigouroux, Coulson, Thomas, Dennis
BOOKED: Kyprianou 69’, Johnson 86’ Clay 90+1′
SENT OFF: Turley 54’
GOALS: Ling 27’
BRISTOL ROVERS: Jaakola (Van Stappershoef 46’), Leahy, Upson, Westbrooke, Hanlan (Ayunga 73’), Kilgour, Hargreaves, Hare, Baldwin, Walker (Liddle 73’), Kioki
SUBS: Little, Kelly, Harries, Barrett
BOOKED: Upson 78’, Hare 81’, Leahy 90’, Ayunga 90’
GOALS: Kioki 12’, Westbrooke 29’
REF: Alan Young