Coulson and Harrold head O’s to another crucial win in the battle for the title
- Credit: Archant
National League: Leyton Orient 2 Harrogate Town 0
Leyton Orient took another big step towards the National League title with a hard-fought win at home to Harrogate Town this afternoon with Josh Coulson and Matt Harrold on target.
Although the visitors failed to find the net, they did have chances, but O’s were able to keep them out to remain two points clear at the summit following a fine victory.
Salford City’s late goal at Boreham Wood saw them scrap an impressive 3-2 triumph on the road and it sets up an intriguing Easter Monday with Orient taking on Solihull Moors and the Ammies at home to promotion hopefuls AFC Fylde.
Justin Edinburgh won’t worry about that for now, but will be pleased to see his group come through another high pressure game with flying colours.
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While Orient feel ever so close to promotion, there is sure to be more twists and turns, but after watching this squad deliver the goods for the first 44 games of the season, you’d have to back them to get the job done over the next eight days of football.
Edinburgh was able to welcome captain Jobi McAnuff back into the starting XI while Jordan Maguire-Drew was also drafted in.
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Sam Ling missed out due to injury and Dale Gorman dropped out of the matchday squad altogether after his rare start at Sutton United.
Jamie Turley was back on the bench for the O’s and part of the 16 for a huge match in the capital.
Orient had left it late in most of their other games, but were desperate to get off the mark early against Harrogate.
They almost did when Macauley Bonne saw a shot saved by James Belshaw inside 60 seconds and Josh Koroma’s follow-up effort was blocked behind by Liam Kitching.
A corner was their reward for the positive early intent and from that set-piece the hosts got the opener they so dearly craved.
Captain McAnuff produced a peach of a cross into the area and Coulson got away from his marker to nod beyind Belshaw for his eighth effort of the campaign.
The return of Orient’s talismanic skipper had already reaped reward and centre back Coulson had once again shown his worth to the team.
Harrogate did immediately look for a response to show they were not just present to make up the numbers, with Josh Falkingham having a shot deflected wide.
Simon Weaver’s team continued to seek a leveller and kept the pressure on O’s for a large chunk of the opening exchanges.
Orient survived the initial onslaught though, and soon began to get into their rhythm in front of another jubilant home crowd.
In the 20th minute the O’s supporters were up on their feet again, but their joy was short-lived with Bonne denied by the offside flag.
McAnuff had played in Joe Widdowson down the left and his cut back for Maguire-Drew was scuffed towards goal and was going wide before Bonne turned it in, but he was thwarted by the linesman on the far side and the goal was disallowed.
Again Harrogate responded and Jordan Thewlis showed his quality with a snapshot from 20-yards which flew only a few inches wide of Dean Brill’s goal.
It was a clear signal of intent from the Yorkshire-based club that they would continue putting pressure on the home goal.
The sun was shining in east London and the heat seemed to get to Falkingshaw in the 27th minute when he passed the ball out of play and let rip at Kitching, who was his intended target.
Brill was tested for the first time two minutes later, but he comfortably saved a header by Mark Beck following Jack Senior’s dangerous centre.
Dan Happe was the latest person troubled by Thewlis in the 35th minute and he fouled the Town forward around 30-yards-out, which saw him go into the book of referee Marc Edwards.
Fortunately for the young defender the free kick came to nothing, but cautions were now becoming more regular with Craig Clay shown a yellow for what seemed a good, but strong tackle on Falkingshaw in the 39th minute.
Edinburgh wasn’t happy and neither were the O’s fans, but referee Edwards booked a Harrogate player next for bringing down Maguire-Drew on the edge of the area after lovely play between him and Bonne.
Falkingshaw was the man to go into the book, yet McAnuff couldn’t hand the away side a double punishment as he curled the set-piece over the crossbar.
On the stroke of half-time Thewlis called Brill into action, after cutting inside Marvin Ekpiteta, but the Orient stopper saved and gathered at the second attempt.
Two minutes of stoppage time were added on at the end of the 45 and despite a couple of nervy moments, the hosts saw out the additional 120 seconds to come in leading 1-0 at the break.
It was so far, so good for Edinburgh’s team, but they were well aware of how difficult the second period was going to be against a Harrogate side still in the top-seven.
Widdowson forced a corner for Orient two minutes into second 45 and Happe almost got on the end of McAnuff’s cross, but Town cleared the danger and the O’s defender and Callum Howe needed treatment afterwards.
Both were fine to continue and an intriguing half was able to resume and Koroma went close in the 53rd minute.
He latched onto a loose ball and cut inside and out, but instead of squaring for Bonne or Maguire-Drew at the back post, he lashed well wide from 12-yards.
It was a good opportunity wasted and the hosts could ill-afford to waste chances given how finely poised the game was in E10.
Town threatened again on the hour mark and really should have equalised when Thewlis was played through on goal.
Although he looked offside, the forward rounded Brill, and then cut inside Ekpiteta, but could only fire against the post with a number of bodies around him and right wing-back James Brophy lashed the loose ball clear.
The tension inside the ground was beginning to increase now with Harrogate pushing for a leveller and Orient dropping deeper and deeper and not retaining possession.
Edinburgh had seen enough and made his first substitution in the 64th minute, taking off Maguire-Drew and replacing him with Matt Harrold.
He was virtually straight into the action and headed a Brophy corner wide from 12-yards with 67 on the clock.
Orient had suddenly found a second wind and were the team pushing for the next goal of the game at the Breyer Group Stadium.
In front of a crowd of 6,665 – their third best of the season at home – they came ever so close to doubling their advantage in the 72nd minute.
A corner into the area was kept alive by O’s and the ball came for Happe on the right side and he chipped in for fellow centre back Ekpiteta.
Ekpiteta controlled the ball like a forward and rifled a powerful shot towards the near post, but Belshaw stuck out a strong hand and made a fine save.
The noise levels inside the stadium were going through the roof now, but Orient, and in particular Koroma, continued to be wasteful in front of goal.
With the score 1-0, Harrogate were not out of the game and produced a scare for O’s in the 76th minute when Coulson and Brill had a lapse of communication.
It saw Coulson head clear when Brill had rushed out of his goal, but Beck could only fire wide while off balance.
Another change was made for Orient with 13 left when Turley replaced Koroma, who had been wasteful, but also brilliant on occasions.
Town boss Weaver made his second roll of the dice straight after with Beck replaced by Dominic Knowles and with nine minutes to go Joe Leesley came on for Senior.
While Harrogate were trailing, O’s continued to look assured and were now keeping hold of possession and dictating the flow of the game.
The game could have been put to bed in the 83rd minute, but Brophy’s free kick could only be headed wide by Harrold, who had again made a good impact from the bench.
With the fans in full voice, they were desperate to get Orient over the line to put them on the verge of the title.
It gave Edinburgh’s team an extra lift and they forced two corners in quick succession with 85 on the clock, but couldn’t trouble Belshaw with either.
Yet the whole mood of the ground nearly changed in the 88th minute when Harrogate had an effort cleared off the line.
Happe let a ball forward go through to Brill except Thewlis had got in behind and so rounded the Orient goalkeeper, but his shot from a tight angle was brilliantly stopped on the line by Coulson at full stretch.
It was a stunning piece of defending and was just as important as the ex-Cambridge United defender’s goal in the second minute.
At the end of the 90 the fourth official signalled for five minutes of additional time and while it produced groans, they soon turned to cheers.
Good play by O’s near the corner flag saw Brophy win another corner and from this one Edinburgh’s men made their mark again.
Brophy whipped in a delightful ball to the back post and there was substitute Harrold to power home a header for his seventh goal of the campaign.
It sparked wild celebrations, but another goal not too far away from east London was also very important.
Salford, having thrown away a two-goal lead, grabbed a late third at Boreham Wood to snatch a 3-2 win.
Come full time, Orient and their supporters didn’t care because with two games left, they still lead the National League table by two points from the Ammies.
This victory, which completed a double over Harrogate, sets up a mouth-watering Easter Monday clash away to title rivals Solihull, who are three points off O’s.
If results go their way, Edinburgh’s team could win promotion in Birmingham, but for the time being they can celebrate and dine on this excellent result for a couple more days.
Leyton Orient: Brill; Coulson, Ekpiteta, Happe; Brophy, Clay, McAnuff, Widdowson; Maguire-Drew (Harrold 64); Koroma (Turley 77), Bonne.
Unused substitutes: Sargeant, Lee, Simpson.
Harrogate Town: Belshaw; Burrell, Howe, Kitching; Fallofield, Kerry, Falkingham ©, Emmett (Muldoon 74), Senior (Leesley 81); Thewlis, Beck (Knowles 78).
Unused substitutes: Cracknell, Thompson.
Attendance: 6,665 (160 Harrogate Town supporters).