The O’s women’s team were crowned Isthmian Cup champions after a 2-0 victory over Ashford Town (Middlesex) Ladies at Aveley FC on Wednesday evening.
Manager Chris Brayford made four changes to the side who started the 3-3 draw away at Actonians Ladies in the FA Women’s National League on Sunday.
Naomi Ogunde and Hannah Porter returned from absence and injury respectively, while Hayley Barton and Suaila Cardoso Queni came in to provide the attacking threat for Orient.
With a strong crowd in attendance, Orient got this eagerly-anticipated cup final underway in perfect footballing conditions at Aveley FC, kicking from right to left in their all-red strip.
It was a bright start from the O’s who passed the ball with confidence, forcing an early corner which fell to Leyre Bastyr who couldn’t direct her effort on target. A left-back by trade, Bastyr was deployed in a more advanced left wing role on this occasion.
However, it was Ashford who saw the clearest sight of goal with eight minutes played. Alissa Down curled a delicious strike towards the top right-hand corner of the goal, only to be denied by the woodwork which came to Orient’s rescue.
Again, the Middlesex club came asking questions of Orient goalkeeper Naomi Ogunde. Ashley Cheatley evaded Porter inside the penalty area, racing into space before drilling a low strike towards the near post which was beaten away by Ogunde.
It appeared that Ashford had found their rhythm and would have taken the lead but for the brilliance of Ogunde. A corner from the left was swung into the danger zone, Charmaine Benham rose highest but watched as Ogunde superbly pushed her header over the crossbar.
Having rode this wave of pressure, Orient began to regain some control. Lisa Holmback played a lovely one-two with Cardoso Queni, facing up to Ashford goalkeeper Lauren Restel who managed to get something on the shot to deny the Swedish midfielder from close-range.
Impressively, Barton curled the resulting corner into the net, but this was chalked off by the referee who spotted an infringement inside the crowded penalty area. Yet, Barton would not be denied on 38 minutes.
From an Ashford set-piece, Orient produced a swift counter attack. Holmback threaded a wonderful pass through to Barton who burst into the penalty area, before firing the ball across Restel and into the bottom corner to give Orient a 1-0 lead.
A stoppage in play followed while Ashford’s Nadia Peters was stretchered off after a collision prior to the opening goal. Orient could have extended their lead before the break, but Cardoso Queni struck the post after Porter’s effort had been scrambled off the goal-line.
After an entertaining first-half, Ashford got the second underway, but it was Orient who almost doubled their advantage. Barton’s cross was deflected into the path of Bastyr whose first time strike flew over the crossbar.
At the second attempt, Bastyr produced an individual piece of brilliance before the hour mark. From the left corner of the box, she curled a sumptuous right-footed effort over Restel which nestled into the far corner to double Orient’s advantage.
Confidence was flowing amongst the O’s players as Barton forced a smart save from Restel at her near post. From the resulting corner, Egle Trezzi’s half-volley was pushed behind by Restel who was equal to Orient’s advances once again.
A two-goal lead saw Orient come into their own, playing some free-flowing football as they looked to move out of sight. With fifteen minutes remaining, Lisa Fulgence replaced Cardoso Queni in the O’s first change of the night.
Their second substitution arrived with five minutes to play. Holmback, who received Player of the Match, made way for Chloe Christison-McNee as the O’s edged nearer to claiming their first piece of silverware at National League level.
During three minutes of additional time, Phoebe Eshen replaced Barton who set the O’s on their way to victory with the opening goal. Orient saw out the remainder of the match in a professional manner, before the referee’s whistle confirmed them Isthmian Cup champions.
Fresh from the post-match celebrations, Hayley Barton praised Orient’s approach and insists their eyes are firmly fixed on the upcoming Capital Cup final:
“I thought it was a really professional performance. We knew Ashford would come out really quick and try to give us a bit of a scare. We had to hold our shape and be confident in the way we play which I think we did. We showed a lot of patience and just had faith that we can get the goals and that it was going to come. It was really good to get the two goals, shut up shop and keep the clean sheet.
“It’s nice to come away with some silverware. We know we’ve got another cup final to prepare for in a couple of weeks, we’re going to look to do exactly the same!”
The O’s return to action for the Capital Cup final against fellow South East Division One side Actonians Ladies on Thursday May 2nd with kick-off at 19:45.