If ever a game epitomized what it is like to be an Orient fan, then this was it. 1-0 up after half an hour thanks to a Lloyd James penalty on his first start since September. But with Orient’s defence all over the shop, Gillingham scored 3 goals in 21 minutes either side of half time. The Gills cut through Orient’s defence at will, the majority of the crowd wondering how left back, Andrea Dossena played for Liverpool in the Champions League. Cody McDonald should have completed his hat-trick but wastefulness in front of goal and heroics from Alex Ciask prevented this.
Darius Henderson pulled one back with 24 minutes left however the home side remained as open as the borders at Dover. McDonald, Norris and Dack all had chances going close with Dack clipping the post. However, it was Orient who grabbed an equalizer when Josh Wright popped up with his second goal in a week to level with 5 minutes left. This was a man who had failed to score in 3 years prior to his strike at Coventry but curled home from inside the box to earn the O’s a point.
Gills boss Justin Edinburgh called for his side to finish the season strongly with teams being remembered on how they finish. On yesterday’s evidence he will be baffled as to how his side blew a two goal lead when seemingly on course for victory.
O’s boss Fabio Liverani made 5 changes from the side that beat Coventry in midweek with Andrea Dossena, Ryan Hedges, Dean Cox and David Mooney recalled with Lloyd James starting his first game since September. Gillingham made 3 changes after defeat to Fleetwood on Good Friday with recalls for Cody McDonald, Jake Hessenthaler and Leon Legge.
In a frantic opening period Dean Cox had a diving header tipped over by former O’s keeper Glen Morris whilst Jermaine McGlashan rounded O’s keeper Ciask but couldn’t find a teammate after a Dossena’s mistake. The Gills were pressing high on Orient’s back line with the home side looking far from solid, surprising from a side who had kept three clean sheets in their previous 5.
McGlashan was causing major problems down the right with Dossena on another planet at times. Cox and McDonald both had volleys at goal but neither troubled the keepers before Orient took the lead against the run of play. Ryan Hedges was fed down the right running towards the byline, he cut back onto his left foot and was caught by Max Ehmer. James stepped up slotting home the resulting penalty but this seemed to galvanize the away side.
5 minutes later, they grabbed their equalizer, after a corner was flicked on to Norris at the back post, the striker crossed for McGlashan to tap home. The Gills were playing a 3-5-2 formation with Orient not heeding prior warnings of threat down the flanks as they continued to look vulnerable. Doug Loft fired wide before McDonald headed home 8 minutes after the equalizer. Bradley Dack picked the ball up on the right, whipping in a ball to McDonald who was given the freedom of Leyton to nod home.
It could have got worse for Orient as Dack waltzed through the non-existent back-line however his curling shot was parried behind by Ciask. Gillingham maintained their pressure at the start of the second half with McDonald inches away from Norris’s cross. Dack was playing in the hole behind the front two, having so much joy although his effort on goal curled just over the far post.
The away side did grab a third after Norris was bundled over by Lowry in the box, McDonald slammed home the spot kick to give the Gills a 2 goal margin which at the time looked extremely comfortable. Liverani chucked on Darius Henderson for David Mooney just before the penalty however he was the catalyst for Orient’s fightback.
His added physical presence created a half chance for Hedges who volleyed at Morris after the striker’s knock down. Chris Dagnall began to have an increased involvement having fed on scraps for much of the game. McDonald should have wrapped up proceedings and his hat-trick on the hour mark. Dack played him in but his poor touch allowed Ciask to gather as he looked certain to score.
Henderson did pull one back with 24 minutes left, a through ball from Cox was chased by Dagnall who beat Leon Legge to the ball. He fed Henderson in whose first shot was smashed straight at Morris, however the former Forest striker followed in and volleyed home to give Orient hope.
The Gills continued to win the midfield battle with Loft, Hessenthaler and Dack dominating Orient’s duo. Dack nearly grabbed a goal his performance deserved as he cut inside unleashing a curling shot which clipped the outside of the post.
Edinburgh’s side reverted to a 4-4-2 as his side began to come under increased pressure from the home side. Henderson should have grabbed his second as Dagnall headed back from a Dossena cross but the substitute screwed his header wide.
In an end to end period, Norris and McDonald should have finished the contest but both had efforts brilliantly saved by Ciask who kept his side within touching distance of the Gills. Orient pushed forward with substitute Jobi McAnuff playing a key role, he should have leveled but fired wide from inside the box.
Josh Wright did bag the equalizer 5 minutes from time after Orient’s best passage of the game. A cross from McAnuff was blocked by a Gills defender, Henderson played in Wright who curled home, creating another memorable celebration from the midfielder. Nathan Clarke replaced Dossena after the goal to try and shut up shop. Both sides pushed for a late winner but neither could oblige, having to settle for a point.
The Gills will wonder how they failed to grab maximum points from a game where they created so many good chances. Wasteful finishing and a MOTM display from Ciask kept Orient within the game. Dack, McDonald, McGlashan and Norris ran the O’s ragged for the majority but 2 lapses in concentration cost their side dear.
The O’s looked poor in defence and were dominated throughout in midfield. It begs the question why change a winning formula? and change a back 4 that kept a clean sheet away at Coventry? Well, only Fabio Liverani will know but on yesterday’s evidence it failed to work as he breathed a huge side of relief with his side fighting back.
Andrea Dossena looked far from there with his inability to defend clear for every on looker to see, Mathieu Baudry and Shane Lowry deserted any ability that had to create a partnership at the back.
One thing which riles with me is, after the Bradford defeat Fabio announced to the pressure that he played Pricthard to cover the threat down the wings from the Bantams. No problem with that but when a side plays 3-5-2 with 3 men in the middle of midfield, we were outnumbered with 3 vs 2. He changed his formation at Coventry as the Sky Blues were in the ascendancy but nothing yesterday.
The Gills dominated throughout with James looking far from match fit with bottling challenges with him weary after his recently healed broken leg. Not his fault as it appears to me that he has been rushed back too quickly in my opinion. We conceded all three goals at Priestfield from set pieces but Orient remained unable as much like most of the season to mark then men from a corner. Is it actually that hard?
Darius Henderson changed the game after his introduction with the point massive in terms of Orient survival prospects. A game in which on another day could have been lost by 6 or 7 the O’s grab a point with spirit, determination and fight showed once more. The question is which team will turn up at Crewe on Saturday? Points over the performance remains the motto at this stage of the season and with 7 from a possible 9, Orient can get out of their situation. However if the O’s play like that at Crewe it will be another uphill task.
All that I know is as much as Orient frustrate me, I will be there at Crewe supporting the boys. If the fight, passion and determination of the Coventry, Port Vale second half and last 20 minutes of yesterday I will be happy. We will have to wait and see what happens at Gresty Road on Saturday but defeat appears no option…