Improve the shooting, then....

Improve the shooting, then….

“There’s a chicken on the pitch,” shouted an Orient steward in a dayglo orange jacket. “He thinks it’s all over,” came the response from a man in a Southport shirt. It was the only sign of life in Brisbane Road one hour before kick-off in Orient’s FA Cup first round tie with the Conference Premier side.

If you take a quick look at Leyton Orient’s ground from the Brisbane Road side, it looks as though not a lot has happened in recent years, but look again and you can see that the ground now has very modern, minimalist floodlights, as opposed to the giant, national grid-style pylons that we all grew up with, and on each corner of the ground, blocks of flats have been built to give the Orient die-hard his ultimate home. The action, as far as the club is concerned, takes place on the far side, where the Matchroom Stadium, as named by Orient owner Barry Hearn, has its administrative centre.

Leyton Orient went into the FA Cup first round as the highest-ranked club in the draw, something that wasn’t lost on the club in its match programme. With Russll Slade’s team top of League One, with 12 wins from their first 15 games, and their only defeat a 3-1 loss at the hands of Coventry, these are good, and unexpected days, for Leyton Orient. You get the feeling that even the regulars are surprised and that they are still waiting for the likes of Wolves and Coventry to overtake them.

Orient 2For Southport, they couldn’t have had a tougher draw, away to the League One leaders. Once a Football League outfit, voted out in 1978 – the make way for Wigan Athletic – they are happy to be in the Conference Premier once more, although hopes of a return to the Football League have probably all but gone, especially as the Conference has become so competitive and a stopping off point for so many former League clubs. Their manager, Alan Wright, has a five year plan to become a Premier manager. He won’t do it with his current club.

Wright’s charges, who were 16th in the table, went into this game on the back of an outstanding victory against current Conference leaders Cambridge United, a 1-0 win thanks to a debut goal by on-loan defender Matt Brown.

Orient, however, recorded one of their best results a week earlier when they won at ambitious Peterborough United by 3-1, coming back from a goal down to maintain their lead at the top of the table.

Unlike Southport, Orient do have a little bit of a Cup pedigree, semi-finalists in 1977-78 and quarter-finalists in 1972, both runs ended by London neighbours Arsenal. Southport have very little in the way of a track record, although they reached the fifth round in 1966. Orient and Southport had met just once before in the competition, in 1998-99 when the Os won 2-0 at Haig Avenue, which is now the Merseyside Community Stadium.

For some reason, Orient decided they could do without their big old stand for this matchday, and given the crowd was just 3,014 they were probably right. Southport provided around 270 fans.

The noisy travelling fans were silenced in under three minutes when Shaun Batt, not a first choice striker, but standing in for veteran Kevin Lisbie, received the ball on the edge of the area and fired home with virtually the first decent attack of the game. “That’ll kill them off,” said one burly East Ender, who looked as though he would be more at home at the Boleyn Ground than Brisbane Road. A bit later, I noticed that he had WHFC tattooed on his knuckles, so he was either on a day-off from being a Hammer, or he couldn’t afford the trip to Norwich, where West Ham were playing.

When the second goal went in, all too easily in the eighth minute, that early conclusion had some credibility. This time, David Mooney volleyed into the net after a cross had eluded the entire Southport defence. It looked as though Southport would receive a drubbing.

The news just go worse for the Merseysiders when goalkeeper Danny Hurst and Brown both went off injured in the 15th minute in two separate incidents. The first half was punctuated by a series of niggling injuries on both sides, so much so that nine minutes of added time were played.

Southport recovered well, though, and pulled a goal back in the 21st minute when a scruffy effort by Luke George found the back of the net. That was a bit of a wake-up call for Orient but the visitors’ refused to give-up on the tie and for a while, had the upper hand. In first half added time, Orient scored again, Lloyd James with a low shot past stand-in keeper David Stevenson.

At the interval, an impressive tribute – despite the appalling feedback over the tannoy, which reminded one of the torture handed out to Michael Caine in the Ipcress File –  to the fallen of the two World Wars took place. In particular, Orient’s contribution to the Footballers’ Batallion in WW1 was highlighted. For the second time in the afternoon, the crowd paid its tribute. A poignant moment, enhanced by a bagpipe solo.


Orient extended their lead in the 56th minute, another effort by Batt, whose goal was greeted with the inevitable comparisons with the caped crusader himself.

From a goalscoring perspective, the highlight of the game came in the 67th minute when Dean Cox hit a screamer into the top corner from 25 yards. Now 5-1 down, Southport still refused to lay down, and their fans deserve enormous credit for providing the soundtrack to the cup tie for the entire 90 minutes. They were rewarded in the 87th minute when another untidy goal, by Matty Flynn, reduced the arrears.

And that was it. A final score of Leyton Orient 5 Southport 2. A good work-out for Slade’s men and Southport giving a good account of themselves. Orient’s prize? Walsall at home, fellow league oners and a winnable tie. Then it’s among the big boys once more.