Danny Whitehead took centre stage to inspire Salford City to a 3-0 win over Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road, a result that lifts them into second place.

The midfielder put in a man-of-the-match display with two assists as the O’s saw their lead at the top of the National League cut to just two points.

Two goals in the opening eight minutes did the damage as Carl Piergianni and Rory Gaffney both buried headers from Whitehead deliveries, before Piergianni added a third late on.

The comprehensive nature of the scoreline was somewhat harsh on an Orient side who tried in vain to break down a well-drilled Salford backline in a second half they dominated.

Both sides saw plenty of the ball early on in an up-tempo start that belied the expected caginess normally witnessed in these sorts of top-of-the-table clashes.

But it was the visitors who would make the decisive impression – twice in-fact – within the opening 10 minutes.

Salford were in front with just six minutes played when a flat delivery from a Whitehead corner was met with an emphatic header courtesy of Piegianni from only a few yards out.

And it was 2-0 within two minutes of the opener as the superb Whitehead delivered a peach of a cross for Gaffney, who wriggled free from Marvin Ekpiteta and guided a header beyond Dean Brill.

Orient were clearly rattled by those double setbacks and were all too frequently over-run in the middle of the park.

The visitors’ 3-5-2 system was suffocating in its effectiveness as Salford struck twice with devastating swiftness and threatened more goals every time they broke in numbers.

In truth the O’s were struggling to get a foothold in the contest but at least they could still rely on tremendous backing from their supporters, even if the atmosphere was now predictably subdued.

One notable foray into the Salford half nearly brought reward, however, as James Brophy went down under pressure in the far corner of the penalty box only for referee Richard Hulme to wave away the protestations.

Orient were again left aggrieved after two full-blooded challenges from Nathan Pond and Piergianni on Josh Koroma and Macauley Bonne initiated a melee involving virtually everyone on the pitch.

That scuffle led to bookings for Pond and Piergianni, while Charlie Lee and Koroma were also cautioned, typifying the physical nature of the contest.

The hosts’ method of long balls into Bonne were being stifled and not until the 27th minute did they register their first effort as Koroma’s curler was claimed comfortably by Chris Neal.

Salford still carried a significant threat on the break but by now the O’s were enjoying their best spell of the half.

Captain Jobi McAnuff collected the ball around 25 yards from goal and stung the palms of Neal from distance.

Up the other end, Gaffney should have put the seal on a Salford win inside 40 minutes but he spurned a glorious opening after being played through by Whitehead, blasting high into the South Stand.

The sold-out home faithful then witnessed Koroma fire wide again before the unfortunate Josh Coulson saw his goal-bound flick cleared off the line deep into first-half stoppage time.

After the break, Orient picked up where they left off and should have reduced the arrears just two minutes after the interval.

Koroma’s run was well-timed but he could only fire straight at Neal one-on-one following McAnuff’s superb reverse pass.

It was to prove a case of what might have been on an afternoon that would see the influential Coulson withdrawn because of an injury.

Salford’s game plan was clear all along, though. Soak up the expected Orient pressure and then finish the contest when presented with the opportunity to do so.

But the O’s were clearly buoyed by the backing of the close to 7,000 in attendance as Brophy tested Neal.

Frankly they looked a completely different proposition in the second half, harrying the Ammies into cheap turnovers and bringing a renewed urgency.

Whatever Justin Edinburgh said at the break appeared to have the desired effect as the hosts finally looked capable of unlocking a stubborn and organised Salford side.

Two changes on the hour – including the introduction of new signing Jordan Maguire-Drew – offered greater potency to the attack.

Half-chances from distance punctuated some promising build-up play, but Salford, with a comfortable two-goal cushion, were well placed to cope with the pressure despite Orient’s dominance in possession.

Maguire-Drew provided brief glimpses of his quality, particularly from dead-ball situations, as he whipped a free-kick just wide with 15 minutes remaining.

However, with virtually their first effort of the half, Salford clinically put the gloss on a statement win when Piergianni glanced in Walker’s centre from a contentious free-kick after 80 minutes.

They will take some comfort from fellow promotion chasers Wrexham losing at home to Dover Athletic and Fylde being beaten by Bromley.

But Orient must now regroup in the knowledge that while this represents a significant and disappointing setback, they have no shortage of the nous and character required to respond.

The distraction of an FA Trophy trip to Wrexham next weekend has probably come at just the right time for all concerned.

Leyton Orient: Brill; Ling, Ekpiteta, Coulson (Happe 65), Widdowson; McAnuff, Gorman (Lawless 63), Lee (Maguire-Drew 63), Brophy; Koroma, Bonne. Subs not used: Sargeant, Harrold.

Referee: Richard Hulme.

Attendance: 6,937 (251 away)