In a closely fought game with Fleetwood Town, Orient were denied a penalty in the closing minutes when referee Frederick Graham decided a foul on Bradley Pritchard was committed outside of the box when it appeared to be clearly inside, awarding a free-kick instead.
It meant Orient were not given a clear opportunity to snatch an equaliser deep into stoppage time after Fleetwood had held on to their one-goal lead which came thanks to a Gareth Evans strike just seconds after half-time.
A draw would have been a more reflective score during a game that Fleetwood started strongest but Orient finished well and had the chances to pull level, even without the late penalty controversy.
Fabio Liverani made two changes to the side that secured a very good 3-0 away victory over Yeovil before New Year, with last season’s top scorer David Mooney coming in for Kevin Lisbie who made a goalscoring return in the Yeovil match, while Gary Sawyer made way for Andrea Dossena.
After making a flying start to the season, Fleetwood have tailed off somewhat – winning just one of their last five games – but they did come into this match off the back of a good draw with table-topping Swindon Town last week and manager Graham Alexander named an unchanged side today.
The visitors enjoyed more of the possession in the opening stages of the game, with striker Stephen Dobbie working the channels well but it wasn’t until Gareth Evans blazed an effort over the bar on 13 minutes that the Orient goal was threatened.
Jamie Proctor and Dobbie both had just as little luck with more audacious efforts soon after. Proctor tried an overhead kick which missed the target, while Gary Woods was forced to back pedal to get to Dobbie’s chip from the edge of the box.
And while Orient were gradually coming into the match, Fleetwood remained the most creative in the final third as the half wore on, making the most of the space and time they were being afforded. And Orient were very nearly punished when Dobbie snuck in at the far post to get on the end of Josh Morris’s cross from the left but the ex-Blackpool man’s volley bounced up to hit the crossbar.
It appeared that was the wake-up call the home side needed, sparking their best spell of the half. After a good break forward, Romain Vincelot’s lay-off into the path of Dagnall on the edge of the area allowed the striker to hit a powerful first-time shot without breaking his stride, but it was beaten away well by Chris Maxwell in the Fleetwood goal.
That lifted the crowd and there was a strong penalty appeal when it looked as though the ball might have struck the arm of Fleetwood centre-back Stephen Jordan seconds afterwards, before Josh Wright fired a thunderous half volley inches over the bar from 20 yards as the game approached the half-hour mark.
Vanishing spray was being used for the first time in a league match at The Matchroom Stadium and the referee had to bring it out on a number of occasions as Orient gave away a series of free-kicks in their defensive third. However Fleetwood wasted their best opportunity on the edge of the O’s box 10 minutes before the break when Jeff Hughes tapped the ball to Dobbie who struck it into the charging Dean Cox.
In a 30-second spell just before half-time, both sides had by far their best sight of goal. First Antoni Sarcevic broke through the middle of midfield before finding Proctor’s run in-behind the Orient defence but the striker was closed down well by Gary Woods who blocked the striker’s effort.
Immediately afterwards, Orient stormed up the other end and Dagnall raced towards goal with the ball at his feet only for his low left-footed effort across the face of goal to graze the post via the fingertips of Maxwell. From the resulting corner Mooney had a header cleared off the line in what was the last meaningful action of the half.
Fleetwood stunned Orient 17 seconds after the restart when midfielder Gareth Evans was played in by Proctor almost straight from the kick-off and calmly slotted beyond Woods to send his side into the earliest of second-half leads.
It was not the start O’s boss Liverani would have hoped for and certainly not the best welcome back for John Lundstram. The Everton midfielder was brought on as a half-time substitute to make his first appearance of the season for Orient having rejoined on loan after making nine appearances – including the Play-Off final – for the O’s as they pushed for promotion at the end of the last campaign.
His introduction also saw a change in shape for the home side as he sat at the base of a diamond in midfield, with Vincelot to his left and Pritchard on the right. Meanwhile Mooney was playing behind a front pairing of Dagnall and Cox in the new-look 4-1-2-1-2 formation.
Orient might have equalised soon after falling behind when Dagnall got the better of his man and pulled back to Mooney who had timed his run well but could not adjust his body shape in time to make a good connection with the ball, eventually striking a weak effort straight into the hands of Maxwell from 12 yards.
As the hour mark passed, Lisbie was introduced in place of Cox as Orient pushed for the equaliser, but chances were proving hard to come by. However Mooney was adapting well to a slightly different role and almost pulled the O’s level in stunning fashion on 71 minutes when he found space on the edge of the box to turn and strike a volley goalwards which narrowly evaded the crossbar.
Lisbie’s movement inside the box was creating problems for the Fleetwood defence and he was given a glorious chance to level with 15 minutes left on the clock but was unable to direct Dossena’s teasing cross on target from six yards out.
Orient were completely on top in the final quarter of the game and five minutes later, Mooney had another effort heroically blocked by Fleetwood skipper Mark Roberts when it looked to be flying in, and the Irishman was replaced by Gianvito Plasmati soon after.
The substitute striker got on the end of Bradley Pritchard’s right flank cross moments after coming on, however his header was watched over the bar by Maxwell.
Neat play by Lisbie and Pritchard in the box saw the pair exchange a one-two and Lisbie almost prodded home only for the ball the cleared away from danger just as it looked destined for the back of the net.
There was huge controversy as the game entered stoppage time when Pritchard was brought down by Stephen Crainey. It looked like the foul was committed inside the area however referee Frederick Graham awarded a free-kick on the edge despite the Orient protests, with Liverani sent to watch the remaining minutes from the stands for his reaction to the decision.
The resulting free-kick from wide on the right-hand side of the box was hit into the wall by Dossena and despite Orient piling the pressure on the away side in the time that remained, a volley from Pritchard which again went narrowly over was the closest the O’s got to leveling a very even game.
ORIENT: Woods, Omozusi, Lowry, Cuthbert, Dossena, Pritchard, Vincelot, Wright (Lundstram, HT), Cox (Lisbie, 63), Mooney (Plasmati, 83), Dagnall
SUBS: Grainger, Sawyer, Baudry, Clarke
BOOKINGS: Lowry (88), Plasmati (90+2), Vincelot (90+4)
FLEETWOOD: Maxwel, McLaughlin,Roberts, Jordan, Crainey, Evans, J.Hughes, Sarcevic, Morris (Schumacher, 78), Dobbie (Forbes, 85), Proctor
SUBS: Springthorpe, Blair, M.Hughes, Davies, Haughton
GOALS: Evans (46)
BOOKINGS: Proctor (63), J.Hughes (84)
REF: Frederick Graham
ATT: 4,947 (129)