Leyton Orient secured their first three points at Brisbane Road this calendar year thanks to a clinical opening 25 minutes and a resolute defensive performance in the second-half.
The O’s raced into the lead after just three minutes when Andrea Dossena slotted home his first goal for the club after great quick-fire link-up play between wingers Jobi McAnuff and Ryan Hedges.
And on a day when one player opened his account for the club, David Mooney scored his 50th goal in an O’s shirt when he struck his penalty with great confidence to double the advantage on 25 minutes.
Alex Cisak made a brilliant penalty save in the second half to deny Oldham a route back into the game and the O’s defended resolutely before grabbing a third in the final seconds through substitute Jay Simpson.
Results elsewhere mean that Orient remain in the bottom four but it was an impressive all-round performance and a crucial three points nonetheless.
Orient came into this one having failed to collect a single point at home since Boxing Day which had seen them fall well into the relegation zone. And following the most recent defeat to Bradford on Wednesday Fabio Liverani made five changes to his side with Mathieu Baudry, Josh Wright, Dossena, McAnuff, and Hedges all coming in.
Dean Cox was among those to miss out as he was only passed fit enough for the bench after tweaking his hamstring in midweek and, with captain Nathan Clarke also moving to the bench, Romain Vincelot wore the armband.
Oldham have enjoyed a more satisfactory season than the O’s so far and find themselves in touching distance of the play-offs despite last week’s home defeat to Colchester United. And manager Lee Johnson made three changes to his starting line-up for the visit to Brisbane Road today.
Orient came from a goal down to beat the Latics 3-1 when the sides met on the second day of the season, in what was one of their best performances of a disappointing campaign.
But there was no need for a comeback from the O’s today. The game had barely got going before exceptional play from the home side on four minutes saw them take the lead through left-back Dossena.
McAnuff drifted in field from his left wing position and did brilliantly to flick the ball into the feet of Hedges, whose inch perfect pass through the Oldham defence fell into the path of Dossena who had made a positive run up the flank.
The Italian got the ball out of his feet well and fired a calm shot across goal into the far right hand corner of the net. Dossena had not started since the defeat to Fleetwood Town on 10th January and the goal was his first for the club since joining in November last year.
McAnuff, who himself had not started since the Boxing Day win over Crawley Town, was having a blinding first half. Liverani had ordered him and Hedges to switch flanks throughout and the Oldham defence were clearly struggling to cope with the movement.
And it was the former Reading man who won the penalty that enabled the O’s to double their lead on 25 minutes. Dagnall’s ball allowed him to race into the Oldham box from the left and referee Darren Sheldrake showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot when he was clearly dragged down.
Mooney stepped up in front of the Tommy Johnston stand to coolly slot home the penalty, sending goalkeeper Jake Kean the wrong way. It was the Irishman’s 50th goal for Orient and his eighth in all competitions so far this season.
At the other end, Joseph Mills almost caught out Alex Cisak on the half-hour mark with an in-swinging free-kick from wide on the right, but the O’s ‘keeper did well to adjust and tip the ball over the bar.
While Orient did not create much beyond their two first-half goals, the visitors showed little sign of pulling one back from open play, with Rhys Turner’s wild half-volley the only significant attempt they had with five minutes to go before the break.
The Latics would certainly have been disappointed with their display in the first 45 but came out looking much brighter after the break, with Carl Winchester and Danny Philliskirk’s creativity leading to a number of early openings.
Orient wasted a good opportunity on the break as the clock ticked past the hour mark. Josh Wright burst through the middle of the pitch with three teammates for support and the midfielder picked out McAnuff to his left. The wide man had space to move into with the ball but opted to take a first-time shot with his left and the ball ended up trickling past Kean’s post.
That was McAnuff’s last contribution before being replaced by Cox, but it was a strong performance from the number 11.
Minutes later and Oldham were handed a huge chance to get back into the game when Baudry was adjudged to have tugged on Rhys Murphy’s shirt in the box, with Sheldrake awarding the second penalty on the afternoon.
But Orient ‘keeper Cisak made himself a hero with the O’s faithful when he saved Jonathan Forte’s powerful spot-kick which looked destined for the bottom right corner.
However the danger was not over as Oldham captain Liam Kelly was first to the rebound and hit his shot well, only for it to cannon off the bar. It was a manic few seconds and Orient were finally given some respite when the referee blew for offside when the ball came back into the box.
Despite his penalty miss the O’s backline were finding it difficult to cope with Forte’s pace and strength at times but, fortunately, the forward was not able to find the target with a couple of efforts from the edge of the box.
Orient were seemingly content to sit on their two-goal lead for the remainder of the game with Liverani introducing Marvin Bartley for Mooney, meaning Dagnall was left to lead the line alone. The pace of Cox and Hedges on the break was still giving the O’s a threat on the break but Oldham were controlling possession for long spells.
The home side were camped inside their defensive third for much of the final 15 minutes which might have proved costly if Oldham had managed to score but they maintained their shape well and coped effectively with the Latics’ advances.
Winger Dominic Poleon caused the most problems during this period, firing one shot wide of goal from the left side of the box before lashing another well over the bar minutes later.
But Orient continued to hold out well and even managed to snatch their third of the day deep into the five minutes of time added on.
Cox did well to work the ball into Simpson – who had come on for Hedges with 10 minutes to go – and the striker turned inside the box to get a left footed shot away. It wasn’t the cleanest of strikes but was good enough to sneak past Kean’s left hand and into the bottom corner.
It might not have been the prettiest second half performance from the O’s but was exactly what was required. Crawley’s last minute winner and Colchester’s shock win over Bristol City mean Orient remain in 23rd place but there is no doubting this was a crucial three points for the O’s and felt as though the team had turned a significant corner.
ORIENT: Cisak, Sawyer, Lowry, Baudry, Dossena, McAnuff (Cox, 61), Wright, Vincelot (C), Hedges (Simpson, 80), Mooney (Bartley, 70), Dagnall
SUBS: Grainger, Clarke, Lisbie, Plasmati
GOALS: Dossena (3), Mooney (25 PEN), Simpson (90+5)
BOOKINGS: Sawyer (39), Vincelot (72), Bartley (82), Dagnall (90+5)
OLDHAM: Kean, Mills (Brown, HT), Elokobi (Kusunga, 18), Kelly (C), Poleon, Philliskirk, Forte, Winchester, J.Wilson, B.Wilson, Rhys Turner (Murphy, 58)
SUBS: Coleman, Dieng, Mellis, Lockwood
BOOKINGS: Brown (75)
REF: Darren Sheldrake
ATT: 4,423 (544)