The O’s are coming back! Orient clinch point they need to seal National League title

Justin Edinburgh celebrates with Leyton Orient staff and players (pic: Simon O'Connor).

Justin Edinburgh celebrates with Leyton Orient staff and players (pic: Simon O'Connor). - Credit: Archant

National League: Leyton Orient 0 Braintree Town 0

Leyton Orient claimed the point they needed on the final day of the National League season to become champions and earn promotion back to the Football League on a wonderful day for everyone connected to the football club.

Already-relegated Braintree Town made life difficult for Justin Edinburgh’s team, but the O’s remained focused and kept another clean sheet following a goalless draw.

With Salford City losing at Hartlepool United and Solihull Moors only claiming a point at Dagenham & Redbridge, the east Londoners could have lost, but they made it six unbeaten to clinch the title and erase the memories of the previous’ regimes time in charge.

Orient have not won many league championship – only two in their history – and the most recent before this was back during the 1969/70 campaign in the Third Division South.

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Promotion isn’t even a norm for the club with the last under now director of football Martin Ling in 2006, but that isn’t the main reason why this triumph is so special.

It is a victory for football fans who have to put up with owners who don’t care about anything other than their ego.

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The moment the O’s faithful took to the Brisbane Road pitch following the 2-1 win over Hartlepool United on April 17 2017, it was a message to then-owner Francesco Becchetti that they would be here much longer than him.

Relegation from League Two was confirmed days later and then on April 29 2017 another stand was made – the Orient supporters forced themselves onto the field of play towards the end of their match with Colchester United.

It eventually had to be finished in front of four empty stands with only staff and media present alongside the players.

Now O’s were on their way back with over eight thousand home fans in attendance and a team which connects with the home faithful for the first time since the fantastic group from the 2013/14 season in League One.

Edinburgh kept faith with the same XI which earned a crucial point at Solihull and the substitutes’ bench was the same too for this pivotal clash with Braintree.

A superb crowd was in attendance, as expected, and the fans were in fine voice too with the title almost secured.

O’s owners Nigel Travis and Kent Teague earned huge cheers when they entered the pitch to conduct interviews with BT Sport.

At one stage Orient supporters were scared of playing in front of the TV cameras after a long winless run on the box, but they have enjoyed it of late.

The game got underway and there was a partisan feel to the occasion and Edinburgh’s men started well and forced a corner inside five minutes.

Braintree weathered the storm, yet lost Robert Atkinson after seven minutes to injury and then news filtered through Salford had already scored at Hartlepool.

It already felt like it may be a day where the nerves are tested and the blood pressure goes through the roof.

Orient didn’t let the Salford score affect them though, and forced two more corners by the 15-minute mark, but the Iron’s goal was still yet to be breached.

The chances continued to come and Macauley Bonne sent Joe Widdowson away in the 21st minute, but the left-back got caught in two minds and was subsequently tackled and Town goalkeeper Ben Killip grabbed the loose ball.

After that opportunity the tempo of the encounter slowed and Edinburgh’s team were being made to work change to produce openings.

Iron then briefly threatened after half an hour and forced a corner in the 33rd minute, but Bonne was there to head away.

Four minutes later and O’s went close when Jobi McAnuff was found outside the area and he checked back, but saw his curling effort blocked behind by Kodi Lyons-Foster.

The resulting corner was punched clear by Killip and Braintree briefly threatened on the break, but midfielder maestro Craig Clay came across to mop up the danger.

While Orient had yet to make the breakthrough, everything was still relatively going to plan with Salford only a goal up and Edinburgh’s men drawing, which gave them an unassailable lead at the summit.

An anxious moment happened a minute before half time when Marvin Ekpiteta brought down Mohammed Sogaf around 25-yards-out.

It gave Braintree a free kick in a dangerous position, but Sven Karic curled his shot over the wall and it ensured it was goalless at the break.

After a slow start to the second period, the half sprung to life close to the hour mark when Brophy nearly set up Koroma for a tap-in, but Lyons-Foster slide in superbly to thwart the danger.

Then Clay smashed an effort over the crossbar and news came through that Salford had conceded an equaliser at Hartlepool.

Orient were even closer to the Football League again now, but the celebrations when Bonne put the ball in the back of the net had to be cut short when the linesman put his flag up for offside.

Substitute Oscar Borg nearly produced a goal in the 62nd minute, but although his cross found Andrew Eleftherious, his effort was weak and Dean Brill saved easily.

The O’s fans were in the party mood now and why not as they went through their full repertoire of songs including making the Football League aware they were on their way back.

Captain McAnuff made way with 19 minutes left to a standing ovation with Charlie Lee on in his place and he volleyed over moments later.

Even bigger cheers occurred when Hartlepool grabbed another goal against Salford to go 2-1 up.

It was all over now and Orient were merely minutes away from the title and promotion and everyone inside the stadium was enjoying this moment to savour.

More substitutions were made with Matt Harrold and Jordan Maguire-Drew introduced as the seconds ticked away in E10 and then three minutes of stoppage time was added on.

For once, the O’s faithful and the players could enjoy the time added on safe in the knowledge they were about to get promoted.

The final whistle duly followed and despite asking fans not to invade the pitch, they came on in their thousands and they deserved to.

After two relegations, wages not being paid and players being forced to stay in a hotel after a league defeat, this was now a moment to celebrate and for tears of joy and not tears of sadness at the prospect of this great club potentially folding.

The players were lofted up high in the air and could savour being league champions – only the third ever title winners in the history of Orient.

Edinburgh’s men can now relax to an extent for the next three weeks and prepare for a final trip of the season, to Wembley for the FA Trophy final on May 19.

What a fitting way to bid farewell to non-league football and O’s will hope to create more history by winning the ‘Non-League Double’.

After all this squad have achieved this season, who would back against them going to the national stadium and finishing this wonderful season on another high.

Leyton Orient: Brill, Coulson, Ekpiteta, Happe; Turley, Clay, McAnuff (c) (Lee 71), Widdowson; Brophy (Maguire-Drew 88); Bonne, Koroma (Harrold 84).

Unused substitutes: Sargeant, Simpson.

Braintree Town: Killip ©; Eleftheriou, Lyons-Foster, Matsuzaka, Atkinson (Borg 7), Karic; Sogaf, James, Richards; Allen (Cerulli 79), Henry.

Unused substitutes: Temple, Eze, Gipson.

Attendance: 8,241 (171 Braintree Town supporters).

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