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Leyton Orient's winning run in League One comes to an end after frustrating 1-1 draw at home to ten-man Walsall
All good things to come to an end but Leyton Orient may not have expected it to end like this.
Leading 1-0 against Walsall and playing with an extra man for 72 minutes of the match, the O’s looked certain to extend their winning run to nine games in League One.
Andy Butler was sent off in the 18th minute for an overly-robust challenge on Roman Vincelot and when David Mooney drilled home his ninth goal of the season before half-time, things looked to be following the usual script.
The second half however took an unexpected twist as Orient failed to convert possession into chances and with 19 minutes to play Craig Westcarr grabbed an unlikely equaliser.
The home side pressed and probed – Mathieu Baudry headed against the crossbar with minutes to play – but it wasn’t to be and a frustrating afternoon for the O’s was capped off when Vincelot was himself sent off in the dying moments.
Orient, unchanged for the seventh consecutive game, started the brighter and forced two corners within the first five minutes but Walsall carved out the first chance as Butler reached Westcarr’s corner first but couldn’t direct his header.
The hosts gradually began to assert some control on the game however and should have taken the lead just before the quarter hour mark when Moses Odubajo picked out Dean Cox with a delightful chipped cross, but Cox headed wide from close range.
Walsall would have been pleased with a solid start to the match but with 18 minutes gone, the whole complexion changed. Vincelot picked the ball up on the right and Butler, seeing the ball loose, cleared out both player and ball.
The challenge was robust but on first viewing didn’t appear malicious. Referee Graham Scott however showed little hesitation in handing the Walsall captain a straight red card.
The visitors adjusted immediately, sending Ben Purkiss on to play right back as Westcarr dropped back into midfield leaving Troy Hewitt on his own up front in a 4-4-1.
Minutes later it was ten-man Walsall who created the next opening and it was Hewitt involved as a long ball over the top caught Orient napping but the forward was unable to bring the bouncing ball down and danger was averted.
Orient started to enjoy the extra man with Cox and Lloyd James in particular starting to exploit the gaps in midfield.
In the 37th minute Cox’s threaded ball inside Andy Taylor at left back found Mooney but the in-form striker snatched at his finish from just inside the area and the ball went harmlessly wide.
Walsall failed to heed the warning signs and moments later when Mooney was given another chance, he made no mistake.
James crossed the ball into the area and Richard O’Donnell came to claim the ball ahead of Kevin Lisbie. Instead of catching or clearing however, the Walsall keeper fatally fumbled the ball straight to the feet of Mooney who duly drove the half volley into an open net.
Orient, solid for most of the half without being spectacular, suddenly sprung into life and Lisbie could have doubled the lead before half time as he weaved his way through in the box but was blocked by the onrushing O’Donnell.
The O’s finished the half completely dominant but Walsall survived and it remained 1-0 until half-time.
The opening ten minutes of the second half saw the game far more open than it had been in the first 45. Orient were largely dominant and when Walsall occasionally broke forward, the O’s looked threatening on the break.
The best chance early on fell to Cox who, having been played in by an incisive Mooney pass, shot wide of the far post from an acute angle inside the area.
For all their dominance though Orient were too content to just keep possession in front of Walsall without actually testing their opponents’ defence.
As the game drifted past the hour mark, Walsall would have been more than happy to still be in the match and in the 71st minute, against the run of play, the visitors grabbed an unexpected equaliser.
A deep cross to the back post caused confusion in the Orient defence and as goalkeeper Jamie Jones failed to clear, Hewitt did brilliantly to knock the ball across goal for Westcarr to head into an empty net.
The hosts came close to restoring their advantage almost immediately after as Vincelot’s cross found Lisbie unmarked but his header flew straight at O’Donnell who palmed the ball over.
With fifteen minutes to go Slade went 4-3-3, replacing Scott Cuthbert for Shaun Batt but Orient struggled to break a resolute Walsall defence down.
Jayden Stockley, on for Lisbie with five minutes to play, danced his way through scrambling bodies in the box and when he tripped over a flailing leg the Orient fans appealed hopefully, but the referee was unmoved.
The O’s piled on the pressure in the lfinal minutes and Baudry found himself free in the centre of the box but his header towards goal was agonisingly tipped on to the crossbar by O’Donnell.
Orient continued to search for a late winner but when Vincelot was sent off for a second yellow card it became clear that, for the first time this season, it wasn’t going to be the O’s day.
Slade’s men, who remain unbeaten and top of the table, will be looking to get straight back to winning ways when they travel to Oldham Athletic next Saturday.
Leyton Orient: Jones, Omozusi, Baudry, Ckarke, Cuthbert (Batt, 74), Cox, James, Vincelot, Odubajo, Mooney, Lisbie (Stockley, 85)
Subs: Sawyer, Larkins, Batt, Lasimant, Gorman, Bartley, Stockley
Walsall: O'Donnell, Taylor, Butler, Featherstone (Purkiss, 22), Chambers, Mantom, Lalkovic (Baxendale,68), Westcarr, Downing, Chambers, Hewitt
Subs: Purkiss, Hemmings, Benning, Baxendale, Roberts, Sawyers, McQuilken
Referee: Graham Scott
Attendance: 5,429 (355 away)