Leyton Orient supporters are well aware of their club’s terrible record in live TV games. Fans on Twitter were delving deep into the foggy recesses of their brains in the build-up to the 12.35 game against Wrexham to try and recall the last televised game that they won. Some suggested it was as long ago 2009 or 2007. It was actually, according to the Ilford Recorder, in 2014 when Orient defeated Peterborough 3-2 in the Football League Trophy.
They’re probably not on tv that much though are they? True, in part. They only played in two live televised matches after that victory before relegation to non-league football in 2017. Since then, however, Orient have graced, the division’s broadcaster, BT Sport seven times in just over a season and a half. They’ve failed to win each time.
Orient fans were worried. Their next game in front of the BT Sport cameras was perhaps the biggest of their non-league adventure so far. They welcomed first placed Wrexham to E10 in a battle of the top two sides in the National League. The early kick-off signified unwanted attention for the locals but for the visitors, it would mean a very early start.
Competition: National League
Ground: Brisbane Road
Attendance: 6, 638
Ticket: £18 (advance)
Refreshements: £1.50 (tea)
Dogs spotted: None
Leyton Orient look for Football league return
Orient have been in and around the top positions for the majority of the season. Casual observers might think they had it in the bag, but the arrival of the new year heralded a slip up more often associated with near-neighbours Spurs. Orient lost twice in January, to Salford and Ebbsfleet. They then failed to win either game they played in February. The Os recovered with two league wins in a row but had slipped to third place just over a week ago.
Orient’s stumble has let in sides like Wrexham and Solihull Moors who currently appear to be their biggest rivals for the only automatic promotion spot. The side from North Wales had snuck into top spot although they’ve played a game more than Orient. It meant this early March fixture already had a lot riding on it. The risk of the inflated playoffs and even more TV time remains a fairly unpalatable proposition for most of the East London club’s fans for the time being.
Fans of Chesterfield or Hartlepool may dispute it but Leyton Orient and Wrexham are probably to two biggest names in the division. Wrexham had 87 successive years in the Football League before relegation in 2008. Orient had mustered 112 including a season in the top flight in 1962-63 before it was their turn to leave the top four divisions. The two clubs also boost the top two average attendances in the National League, 5299 for Wrexham and 5276 for Orient.
Midday kick-off for top two
Wrexham had drawn one and won four of their last five games. They had emerged as one of the main candidates for automatic promotion slightly through the back door as many National League observers had their eyes on nearby Salford City. The Dragons have struggled to get themselves in the race for promotion over the last few years. An eighth-place finish in 2016 is their best in the last five seasons. The third oldest professional club in the world brought plenty of eager fans with them to East London in the hope they could open up a gap over their rivals.
The early exchanges of the game thrust two key individuals into the spotlight. Jordan Maguire-Drew was the first. The 21-year-old had played 17 times while on loan at the Dragons from Dagenham & Redbridge last year. He’s also been a key player for Orient in recent games after breaking into the first team following his permanent move from Essex. The visiting fans were keen to ensure everyone knew he lived with his mum. Football supporters are generally pretty accurate, so no reason to doubt their accuracy on the domestic arrangements of a young player.
The second player who was having an eventful afternoon was Marvin Ekpiteta. The defender was caught out early on by the pressing of the Wrexham forwards and lost control of the ball. For most of the first half, he then struggled for confidence. It was clear some of his teammates were reluctant to pass to him at times and Wrexham’s brightest moments of the first half came down his side.
For Orient, Jay Simpson provided the main spark. At times in the first half, he looked like the only player on the pitch that wasn’t feeling the pressure. His excellent touches created a couple of opportunities for Clay and Maguire-Drew, but Orient were unable to get ahead before the half time break.
The near-capacity crowd provided plenty of noisy angst in the second half as both sets of fans grew increasingly nervous. It was the Orient players, however, that were the calmest in the second period. They gradually grew into the game, having the majority of possession and territory during the second period. The reds forced themselves on their visitors and it began to look inevitable that they would score.
A sense of calm took over as the home fans saw their team take the initiative. Orient then supplied the killer blow. They peppered the Wrexham box with crosses before the ball finally fell to Ekpiteta. The centre half who’d overcome his first half wobbles struck a powerful shot that took a wicked deflection and beat the Wrexham keeper.
The goal lifted this corner of East London into the air. The crowd celebrated wildly as bottles of prosecco popped open on the balconies of the ground’s corner flats. Orient then professionally saw out the rest of the game despite Wrexham having a couple of anxiety-inducing set pieces. Suddenly, the visiting fans pre-game chants of “We are top of the league” were thrown back at them with gusto. They could be heard long after the final whistle as far away as Leyton Fire Station.
Orient now have a one-point lead at the top with a game in hand. They still have ten games left to seal their Football League return but they seem to have shaken off their post-Christmas slump. There is still lots of time for plenty of twists and turns but news of dropped points for two of the other chasing pack, Solihull Moors and AFC Fylde later in the afternoon will have made it a happy Saturday for Orient fans.