Orient went out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at the Area Semi Final stage after a 1-0 defeat at Gillingham. On balance it was harsh on the O’s but set plays proved their downfall again as John Egan’s second half header proved the difference between the two sides.
Mauro Milanese mixed his line up once more as skipper Nathan Clarke was rested, whilst Andrea Dossena missed out with a hamstring injury. It was a new looking back four as a result, with Shane Lowry returning to partner Scott Cuthbert in the middle with Gary Sawyer making a first start since August as left back.
Romain Vincelot returned in midfield alongside Josh Wright whilst they were flanked by Jobi McAnuff on the left and Bradley Pritchard on the right, whilst in attack, David Mooney was rewarded for his two goals in his last two games with a start in place of the suspended Chris Dagnall.
Orient were keen to avenge the dramatic late defeat at Priestfield three weeks ago in the League with a place in the Area Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at stake on a crisp but beautiful afternoon in Kent.
The new left sided partnership of McAnuff and Sawyer functioned well in the early stages with both sending in deliveries hat caused problems as Orient controlled the opening exchanges.
Leon Legge was the two-goal hero three weeks ago and he will have been disappointed he didn’t net a third against the O’s this season when headed over a corner on 15 minutes.
Sawyer was enjoying his returning to the starting line up and sent in an excellent cross after cutting back onto his weaker foot that Mooney flicked goalwards that was saved before Nelson was again called into action a minute later when a Lowry free-kick took a deflection that forced a good low save from the former O’s ‘keeper.
Wright was relishing the amount of time he was receiving in the middle of the park and kept things moving whilst Plasmati was next to go close with a speculative effort from distance that Nelson scrambled back to gather.
Lowry had found his range with his earlier free-kick and after the half hour mark went closer with one from 35 yards that dipped narrowly over Nelson’s bar.
The home side looked only really a threat from set plays and when Jake Hessenthaler sent a deep free-kick into the box with time running out in the first half, it fell kindly for Luke Norris who looked destined to score until Lowry threw himself in front of the shot to turn it behind for a corner.
Orient went closer with a set play of their own two minutes later when McAnuff whipped a free-kick in from that left that Plasmati glanced towards the top corner only for Nelson to produce a fine flying save to tip it over.
The game had been crying out for a moment of magic and it almost came early in the second half when Norris produced a stunning volley from a cross-field ball but it fizzed narrowly wide.
Despite that chance, Orient still looked the more likely to score though Nelson remained a spectator for the early periods. He must have expected to be picking the ball out of the net though on 68 minutes when Sawyer again fired a stunning cross into the six yard box on the volley, only for Pritchard to stab just wide from close range.
Set plays had been the problem for the O’s the last time they journeyed here and it proved their undoing again as John Egan rose highest to head home from a Michael Doughty corner to give the home side the lead.
Milanese responded by throwing Cox into the action and he made an instant impact with a dangerous cross and dipping volley as Orient searched for a way back into it.
The subs were having an impact as Batt, on for Plasmati, bundled into space in the left channel and put a lethal looking ball across the face that somehow evaded everyone with Pritchard at the back post.
Young Scott Kashket came off the bench for stoppage time but was unable to make an impact as the O’s bowed out of the cup.
Gillingham: Nelson, Egan, Ehmer, Legge, Loft (C) (McGlashan 72), Hessenthaler, Norris (McDonald 72), Doughty, Dack, Dickenson, Chicksen
Subs: Morris, Pritchard, Hoyte
Goals: Egan 79
Bookings: Legge 17,
Orient: Legzdins, Omozusi, Sawyer, Vincelot, Cuthbert (C), Mooney, McAnuff (Cox 79), Lowry, Wright, Pritchard (Kashket 89), Plasmati (Batt 72)
Subs: Baudry, Grainger
Bookings: Lowry 74, McAnuff 77, Batt 88
Attendance: 3103 (620)
Ref: T Kettle