The O’s women’s team suffered an uncharacteristic 6-2 loss at the hands of title challengers Milton Keynes Dons Ladies in the Women’s Premier League on Sunday.
For the first time since October, Orient graced the turf at Brisbane Road with a great crowd turning out to support the team in their penultimate home game of the campaign.
Going into the match, the O’s occupied third place in South East Division One with 37 points meanwhile MK Dons arrived in E10 sitting fourth with 36 points.
Manager Chris Brayford made one change to the side who began the 2-1 victory against AFC Wimbledon on April 15th. Captain Danielle Griffiths returned to central defence with Connie Montiel-McCann reverting to right-back, whilst Egle Trezzi came into midfield with Francesca Cagetti absent.
Orient got the game underway on a chilly afternoon in Leyton, but this failed to deter a vocal crowd in the West Stand. It was a bright start from the hosts who were enjoying a spell of possession and looking to cause problems in the final third.
However, the first shot on goal came from the Dons when Dawn Mallett’s effort from the edge of the box was pushed behind by Orient keeper Naomi Ogunde on seven minutes. Then, the visitors broke the deadlock when a corner picked out Vicky Holland at the back post who guided her header past Ogunde to give Milton Keynes a 1-0 lead on 11 minutes.
This goal had put the Dons in control of the game as they forced Orient to sit deep inside their own half. With twenty minutes played, the Dons could have doubled their lead only for a brilliant goal-line clearance from Leyre Bastyr to deny them.
It was a shaky opening half an hour for the O’s who fell further behind on 27 minutes. A scramble from a corner saw the ball sit up for Louise Naylor who nodded home from close range to double the Dons’ advantage.
Despite this blow, Orient pulled one back just three minutes later with their first effort on goal. Some good work down the right resulted in the ball falling for Sophie Le Marchand who stroked it past Emma Kirby in the MK Dons goal to hand the O’s a lifeline.
With that strike, the dynamic of the game shifted as did the atmosphere with the O’s faithful in full voice. On 35 minutes, Orient found an equaliser courtesy of Lisa Holmback. Hayley Barton’s dangerous delivery was not dealt with but Holmback was alert to pass the loose ball into the bottom corner to draw the hosts level.
Immediately, the Dons were back on the front foot with Charley Clarke shooting straight at Ogunde who was later forced into another smart save by Laura Mills. This was becoming an entertaining encounter living up to its billing.
Three minutes before half-time, Orient’s hard work was undone when the Dons re-took the lead courtesy of Mills. A delightfully weighted through ball from Alice Hughes found the run of Mills who confidently swept her strike past Ogunde to put the visitors 3-2 ahead.
Moments later, Orient could have been level when Kate Bradley’s wonderful lofted pass found Le Marchand who pushed the ball into the path of Holmback but she couldn’t get it under control as the chance went begging.
At the break, the fans were left to reflect on a frantic 45 minutes of football with great goals and end-to-end passages of play. Orient had shown character to recover from two goals down and would have been disappointed to fall behind after a spirited fightback.
The Dons got the second half underway with relatively few chances of note for either side in the first ten minutes. However, the visitors netted a fourth goal on 56 minutes when Hev McDonnell beat the offside trap and smashed the ball beyond Ogunde to give the Dons a 4-2 lead.
Just two minutes later, the Dons sealed their victory with a fifth goal when McDonnell bagged her brace after a clinical finish into the bottom corner. This was a major blow for Orient who faced a mountain to climb for the remainder of the game.
Falling three goals behind had clearly knocked Orient’s confidence, however the crowd’s support was relentless with roars from the stands every time the O’s broke forward. On 68 minutes, the home side made their first change of the afternoon with Lydia Cooper making her return from long-term injury in place of Montiel-McCann.
On 71 minutes, MK Dons scored their sixth of the afternoon when substitute Anna Loftus drove forward before letting fly from range and watching the ball loop over Ogunde and into the net. With the scoreline 6-2 in the Dons favour, Orient were determined to reduce the deficit and came close when Bradley stung the palms of Kirby with a powerful drive.
Then, Orient’s second change of the game saw Lisa Fulgence make way for Jade Henry who was making her first appearance for the O’s since joining from Ipswich Town Ladies. Soon after, Rebecca Hirst replaced Trezzi in Orient’s final change of the afternoon.
With the full-time whistle came disappointment for the O’s, however the occasion was largely positive with the team attracting a large crowd and inspiring the younger generation who had turned out to support them.
After the game, captain Danielle Griffiths gave an assessment of Orient’s performance:
“We didn’t get off to the best start going two behind. Second half of the first half was very good, we fought back from that to get to 2-2 which was brilliant. Then we just let them get on top, they’re a very good team but we probably didn’t impose ourselves as much as we could.”
Griffiths had a message for the fans who turned out on the day:
“Thanks very much for all your support, the chants are great! It really means a lot to us and it’s very much appreciated, sorry we couldn’t get the result!”
Next, Orient will host Stevenage Ladies on Sunday May 13th in their final home game of the season with kick-off at 2pm. The venue for this match is still to be confirmed, so please keep an eye out for updates on the club’s Twitter page (@OrientWFC).