Orient return to form in dramatic fashion with first half annihilation of Gillingham
Orient put on an attacking masterclass against Gillingham to record their third 5-1 victory of the season.
The O’s made a blistering start to the game with David Mooney firing his side in front after just four minutes before Dean Cox sent a trademark 20-yard shot flying past Gills keeper Stuart Nelson in the eighth minute.
A brilliant first-half display from the home side saw them double their early lead before the break when first a bullet-header from Kevin Lisbie almost burst the net on 34 minutes, and then Mooney guided home his second of the day 60 seconds later.
Orient’s strikers hadn’t found the net in seven games coming in to this fixture but substitute forward Chris Dagnall became the third to do so in one game when he finished off a great solo run 12 minutes from time, before Craig Fagan grabbed a consolation goal for the visitors a few minutes later.
Russell Slade experimented with a 4-3-3 formation in last week’s draw at Sheffield United but switched back to a more familiar 4-4-2 for today’s game. That saw Mooney return to the starting XI to partner Lisbie upfront, with the pair clearly eager to add to their combined total of 32 goals this season. Meanwhile central midfielder Romain Vincelot also made a welcome return after sitting out the last three through a combination of suspension and injury.
Both sides came into this fixture having picked up 10 points in their last eight League One games, with Gillingham sitting comfortably in mid-table and the O’s continuing their push for promotion as the season nears its end.
But a run of five games without a win meant Orient dropped out of the top three for the first time all season after last weekend’s results.
However the omens are good because the last time the O’s faced today’s opponents they took all three points having gone into the match on the back of a four-game winless streak but the victory sparked a six-game unbeaten spell, so Slade will certainly hope today’s result has the same effect going in to the final four games – and potentially more with the play-offs – of the campaign.
There was a minute’s silence ahead of the kick-off to remember the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster on its 25th anniversary which was impeccably observed, and Orient came flying out of the traps once the referee signalled the start of the game, taking the lead with just four minutes on the clock.
Superb build-up play led to young O’s loanee John Lundstram threading an inch-perfect pass through to Mooney who had made a great run inside from the left touchline, and the striker took one touch before firing beyond the Gills keeper with the outside of his right boot to grab his first goal since the start of March.
Orient may have returned to a 4-4-2 formation but it was by no means a rigid shape that Slade’s side were adopting, with Mooney’s movement in particular causing all kinds of problems for the visitors’ defence. He was dropping deep and drifting out to the left flank during Orient’s early attacks, finding space for both himself and his teammates.
To such an extent that, four minutes after taking the lead, left-back Elliot Omozusi was allowed to make a rampaging run into the opponent’s box with the ball at his feet before Mooney teed up Cox, who was lingering in a familiar position on the edge of the box, and the winger unleashed a shot straight into the bottom right corner of the net from 20 yards out to double his side’s lead before the game had even reached its 10th minute.
The O’s really were on fire and the crowd were showing their appreciation, greeting every successful pass with ‘Ole’ as early as the quarter-hour mark.
Such was the home side’s level of dominance, the Gills only entered Orient’s final third on a couple of occasions during the first half and Jamie Jones wasn’t tested until half-an-hour in when Amine Lingazi sent a rather tame shot goalwards, which the O’s no.1 gathered with ease low to his left.
Every man in a red shirt was putting in a performance of the highest level and, having already sent in a number of teasing crosses from the right, Moses Odubajo whipped in a deadly delivery on 34 minutes which led to the O’s extending their lead.
Lisbie had spotted the winger’s intentions early and made a pacey run to the near post where he met his teammate’s cross at the optimum point, sending an unstoppable header past Nelson to record his first goal since February.
But not content with sending his side three up within 35 minutes, Lisbie raced out of the blocks to intercept the ball off a Gills defender straight from the restart. That gave the striker 30 yards of space to run into with the opposition defence desperately trying to recover, but it was already a lost cause because Mooney was just as alert as his teammate and had sprinted into the middle making himself available for Lisbie to find with a square pass once he reached the 18 yard box. Mooney made no mistake when the delivery arrived and fired a precise first-time shot into the bottom right corner of the net.
Those two goals in quick succession finished off the game before half-time and also meant that both strikers reached personal milestones for the season, with Lisbie notching his 15th goal of the campaign and Mooney his 20th.
Much to the relief of Orient’s exasperated opponents, that was the last real action of the opening period and the referee’s half-time whistle was met with thunderous cheers from the O’s faithful.
It was the kind of inspiring performance that will have made every young (and old) Orient fan watching want to grab their boots and head straight to the park for a kick about, but there was still another 45 minutes to come.
The O’s started the second period with just as much energy and ambition, not willing to settle for the current scoreline, and Odubajo almost laid on a second for Lisbie early on but the striker’s shot was deflected over after he met Odubajo’s neat cut-back on the edge of the six yard box.
Orient might have been putting on one of their best attacking performances of the season but the defence were also on their game this afternoon, with captain Nathan Clarke typically commanding at the back, clearing up any danger that came their way.
But the real action continued to feature in the Gill’s half and Lisbie again came close to getting his 16th of the season on 70 minutes when he ran into the box with the ball at his feet, somehow managing to squeeze a shot between two challenging defenders but the keeper did well to save with his legs.
Soon after, substitute Chris Dagnall went on a similar run himself, and this time found the net to make it five for the home side. The striker picked up the ball just inside the Gills half, sending the defence back-pedalling towards their own goal and eventually drilled a low shot into the bottom left corner of the net.
The game had been over by half-time but Gillingham did well to limit the damage in the second period, and Fagan grabbed a consolation goal for his side on 82 minutes when he volleyed in after a deep cross from the left which Mathieu Baudry couldn’t quite keep out on the line.
In a record breaking season for the O’s, it was the sixth time they have scored four or more goals in a single match and the third time they have recorded a 5-1 victory.
Orient: Jones, Cuthbert, Clarke (C), Baudry, Omozusi, Odubajo, Vincelot (Ness, 70), Lundstram, Cox, Lisbie (Batt, 79), Mooney (Dagnall, 70)
Subs not used: Larkins, Sawyer, James, Simpson
Goals: Mooney (4, 35), Cox (8), Lisbie (34), Dagnall (78)
Bookings: Clarke (19)
Gillingham: Nelson, Martin, Linganzi, McDonald, Weston (Birchall, 64), Lee, Harriman (Smith, 67), Barrett, Fagan, Hewitt, Hessenthaler (Gregory, 89)
Subs not used: Baxter, Whelpdale, Akinfenwa, Borrowdale
Goals: Fagan (82)
Bookings: Lee (16)
Referee: Carl Boyeson
Attendance: (5,128 (1154)