Leyton Orient extended their winning streak to 6 matches by eliminating Alfreton Town in the Second Round of the FA Cup. However, Orient’s progression was not straight forward. Alfreton made a strong start to the match and they took the lead after just 4 minutes thanks to Paul Clayton. However, Orient improved and Dean Cox was able to level the score on 25 minutes. Two goals in quick succession from David Mooney gave the visitors a commanding lead at the break. Alfreton began the second half in the same way they had started the first and they pulled a goal back through Ben Tomlinson. The home side continued to put the O’s under pressure, but Cox sealed the win with his second goal of the game four minutes from time. Alfreton gave a good account of themselves and they were unlucky to have hit the woodwork on four occasions. The O’s were not at their best defensively and they rode their luck at times, but their clinical finishing was enough to see them through to the third round.
Alfreton were clearly in the mood for a classic cup tie from the first whistle. The hosts put the visitors under pressure early on and they prevented Orient from stringing more than two passes together. Paul Clayton’s low shot proved too powerful for Ryan Allsop as it squirmed under the O’s stopper’s body and into the net. Orient had a chance to relieve the pressure and level the score from a free-kick but Martin Rowland’s effort ended up a long way off target. Alfreton came agonisingly close to doubling their advantage, first Ben Tomlinson’s strike rebounded off the post, then Josh Law’s free-kick deflected off of Rowlands and looped over Allsop but the ball struck the crossbar. After those scares, the away side started to settle down and pass the ball much better, which led to their first real chance of the match. David Mooney found Dean Cox out wide and the O’s winger cut inside and curled the ball into the Alfreton net with his left foot to put the O’s back on level terms. That equaliser helped Orient to take control of the last twenty minutes of the half and as a result more goals followed for Russell Slade’s side. Lloyd James tested the Alfreton goalkeeper Jon Stewart with a shot, but soon after Stewart would be beaten for a second time. Lee Cook’s corner made it all the way to the back post where Mooney was on hand to apply a neat finish to give the O’s the lead for the first time. Mooney made things even more comfortable for Orient when six minutes later he made a late run into the box to head Cook’s cross beyond the Alfreton goalkeeper. The Irishman nearly grabbed his hat-trick before the interval but he was denied by a smart save from Stewart.
Despite the disappointing end to the opening period, Alfreton started the second half with the same vigour that had caught Orient out in the early stages. The hosts reduced the deficit when Ben Tomlinson forced the ball in from close range after Orient had struggled to deal with the corner. Tomlinson was then denied a second goal only by the crossbar. Orient were fortunate to remain in the lead and they continued to find themselves on the back foot. Alfreton came close to leveling the score once again, this time the home side were thwarted by a goal-line clearance. Orient had managed to survive without conceding again, and they started to look a danger at the other end. Kevin Lisbie had a shot blocked at the back post as well as a header saved. The O’s almost paid for their failure to add a fourth when Josh Law hit the bar with a freekick. After hitting the woodwork four times, Alfreton may have already thought it would not be their day. Dean Cox confirmed Alfreton’s worst fears by grabbing a fourth goal for Leyton Orient four minutes from time. The winger combined with Mooney again, this time cutting in on his right foot and Cox coolly slotted the ball beyond Stewart. Alfreton had every right to be proud of their display and they were desperately unlucky on a number of occasions, but Orient had just about enough quality in front of goal to secure their progression to the third round.
Russell Slade was forced to change a winning team due to Gary Sawyer’s suspension, meaning Alex Smith made his debut for the club. It was a difficult time to introduce the youngster, as Orient’s defence as a whole struggled to deal with Alfreton. The O’s have been strong defensively this season, but in this match the back four were disappointing. Mathieu Baudry and Ben Chorley were superb last week against Preston, however they did not cope nearly as well with Alfreton as too often they were outfought and they made mistakes which would be considered uncharacteristic given their performances this season. The absence of Gary Sawyer may have been unsettling and there is little to suggest that performances of this kind will be a regular occurrence. However, the return of Scott Cuthbert should keep Baudry and Chorley on their toes and it was good to see the Scottish defender back in competitive action, albeit very briefly.
It should also be noted that during the spells in which the O’s were second best (most notably the first twenty minutes of each half) the midfield did not retain possession very well at all and this increased the pressure on the Orient defence. When they eventually manged to get a hold of the ball and play a few passes on the ground, Orient grew in confidence and chances followed.
Which brings us on to the more positive aspect of Orient’s performance and the reason why Orient won the game, their clinical edge in front of goal. Other than the latter period of the first half, Orient failed to dominate, but ultimately that did not matter as they were good enough in front of goal to make up for their defensive weaknesses (though the woodwork helped too). Both Dean Cox and David Mooney took their goals well, with Cox’s goals being particularly timely (one to open the scoring and one to kill the game off).Mooney’s run in the first team alongside Kevin Lisbie has done wonders for him, while Dean Cox appears to be back to his best, contributing goals as well as assists.
This ability to score goals has been the key difference between Orient’s performances earlier in the season and the performances that have produced such a good run. It is also worth mentioning that they could have had even more goals in the second half. While this is obviously good news (not to mention more entertaining to watch) Orient need to make sure they are defensively sound as well, because they won’t be able to concede two goals and still win as they did here and against Portsmouth every week.
Slade on Alfreton Win
“It was a great cup tie. We didn’t start well and that didn’t please me obviously. They got an early goal which set us back.”
“But I felt once we got the first goal we played some fantastic football and we got three really good goals which put us in the driving seat really.”
“Fair play to Alfreton. They came at us again and got a goal not long after half-time. They put us under a little bit of pressure and hit the woodwork three or four times. But we had opportunities as well to get that fourth goal before we actually did. In effect that goal wrapped it up when it came.”