Orient’s automatic promotion hopes suffered another killer blow when Korey Smith’s 90th minute equaliser snatched a draw for Oldham at the Matchroom Stadium
The O’s took the lead on the stroke of half-time when Dean Cox’s corner was headed home by Scott Cuthbert, whose excellent movement had allowed him to get in front of his marker and direct the ball beyond former Orient loanee Paul Rachubka.
But exactly 45 minutes later, Oldham clinched a point thanks to captain Korey Smith’s impressive 25-yard volley which flew into the top right corner, leaving the O’s looking shell-shocked and without enough time to find a winner.
Russell Slade made two changes to the side that earned a 1-1 draw away to Walsall on Saturday. Chris Dagnall made way for Kevin Lisbie upfront while central midfielder Romain Vincelot served the first of his two-game suspension after picking up his 10th booking of the season at the weekend, meaning Marvin Bartley returned to make his first start since early February. However Bartley was forced to come off through injury midway through the opening period, which saw Jamie Ness enter the fray unexpectedly early.
Meanwhile Oldham manager Lee Johnson named an unchanged starting XI after beating in-form Crawley 1-0 on Saturday, as they hoped to pull further away from the relegation zone.
Despite dominating possession early on, the first chance of the night fell to the visitors after they hit Orient on the counter-attack. A good ball out to the left flank from their skipper and playmaker Smith found David Worrall in space and his cross was headed goalwards by Jonson Clarke-Harris but Eldin Jakupovic got down well to hold onto the striker’s effort.
Smith was the opposition’s brightest player all night and he set Worrall free with another pinpoint cross-field pass just a minute later. This time the Oldham right-winger cut inside and hit a cross-cum-shot across the face of goal but Jakupovic was alert once more and parried his effort behind for a corner.
It was a particularly big night for Dean Cox who was making his 200th appearance for the O’s and he looked to be in the energetic and creative form he has been for the majority of the season.
The winger linked up brilliantly with Lisbie on the left after 30 minutes and sent in a teasing cross towards the striker who had continued his steaming run into the box, only for Lisbie’s header to narrowly evade the near post.
This fired Cox and his teammates in to life, and another Cox cross minutes later – this time to the far post – was almost turned in by Moses Odubajo.
Oldham did start to work the ball a lot better in the lead up to half-time and a good spell of pressure saw Danny Philliskirk twice find enough space to get a shot away but Jakupovic saved comfortably on both occasions.
And in the final minute of normal time, Orient took a crucial lead. Lisbie forced a corner from the left and Cuthbert got across his man to send a thumping header past Rachubka into the bottom left corner from eight yards out.
The O’s could even have doubled their lead before the half-time whistle had Mooney managed to divert a great nod down from strike partner Lisbie, but the Oldham keeper this time did well to push the ball behind.
Buoyed by the late goal in the first half, Orient made a pacey start after the break with Cox again looking lively and continuing to feed his strikers with enticing crosses from the left.
However it wasn’t until 60 minutes that the home side tested Rachubka again when Cuthbert almost added to his tally for the night. The defender made another great run at a corner – this time moving towards the back post – and powered a low header at the keeper but couldn’t quite make contact with the rebound.
This was a big opportunity missed for the O’s and the game began to turn in the favour of the visitors, without them ever being completely dominant.
A goalmouth scramble after a long-range free-kick in to the O’s box could have seen Oldham substitute Charlie MacDonald equalise soon after he came on but he was unable to make good enough contact with the loose ball and it was eventually cleared to safety much to the relief of the O’s faithful.
And MacDonald was presented with another chance for his side as the game entered the final stages, this time being sent clear by Gary Harkins but the striker fired high into the Tommy Johnston Stand.
Moments after this, Orient substitutes Chris Dagnall and Robbie Simpson failed to make the most of a good break away at the other end with a loose pass eventually going out for a goal kick, handing a final lifeline to the away side.
And, failing to take on board the earlier warnings, Orient received a sucker-punch in the last minute of normal time when Smith chested down Cuthbert’s headed clearance before hitting a stunning volley in to the top right-hand corner of the net.
Jakupovic had come out of his goal to close down the danger in the preceding move when he should probably have stayed on his line and he wasn’t able to recover in time to keep Smith’s effort out, but it would have taken something special for the Bosnian to save it anyhow.
Orient looked despondent when the ball hit the back of the net and despite forcing some pressure and a corner in stoppage time, they were unable to rescue all three points making it three games without a win.
ORIENT: Jakupovic, Cuthbert, Baudry, Clarke (C), Omozusi, Odubajo, Bartley (Ness, 20), James, Cox, Mooney (Simpson, 86), Lisbie (Dagnall, 75)
SUBS NOT USED: Jones, Sawyer, Lasimant, Gorman
GOALS: Cuthbert (45)
BOOKINGS: Cox (49), Ness (60)
OLDHAM: Rachubka, Brown, Grounds, Wesolwoski (Dayton, 62), Smith (C), Clarke-Harris (MacDonald, 62), Wilson, Lockwood, Worrall (Millar, 77), Philliskirk, Harkins
SUBS NOT USED: Oxley, Dunfield, Winchester, Gafaiti
GOALS: Smith (90)
BOOKINGS: Lockwood (84)
REFEREE: Lee Collins
ATTENDANCE: 3,645 (238)