The game: Leyton Orient v. Bradford City.
The ground: Brisbane Road.
The conditions: crisper than a packet of lightly sea-salted Tyrrells.
On Wednesday evening, with a pinching wind propelling me down Leyton High Street, I scampered my way toward Brisbane Road and my first ever match in League One. Joining a crowd of O’s fans on the way, walking beside a couple of blokes arguing about jellied eels – not a crude caricature, that actually happened – it felt like I was getting the proper Orient experience well before I reached the stadium; swept along, huddled amongst the red-and-white bobble hats, I was as ready as anyone for the midweek visit of Bradford City’s battling Bantams.
Orient and Bradford came into the game on the back of very different seasons. While the home side, struggling badly under recently-appointed boss Fabio Liverani, languished second-bottom of the third tier prior to the start of play, the away side were looking to promotion via the play offs; complimented by a stunning cup run and tussling victories against the luxury of Chelsea and Sunderland, the Bantams’ league campaign was shaping up to be another Phil Parkinson masterclass. Nevertheless, the home fans were far from deterred by the formidable opposition. Brisbane Road was filled to the residential flats with supporters, while strident cries of ‘East, East, East London!’ met the 644-strong travelling contingent at the gate.
For the first twenty minutes of the match, it was hard to figure out how Orient were a team teetering on the brink of relegation; sharp football saw them take the game to Bradford. Though the away side showed their hunger at the set piece early on – a few menacing free kicks just cleared by the O’s – it only took seven minutes for the home side to register a decent shot at goal; from their own free kick, the ball fell to Dean Cox on the edge of the box; his arcing shot was saved and held by Bantams’ stopper Jordan Pickford.
In the fifteenth minute, after some open football from both teams, a flowing attack came exceptionally close to yielding up an O’s goal. Pinging the ball up the pitch, Orient bore down on Pickford’s net; a lofted ball to the left side of the box then found both Chris Dagnall and the magnificently-bearded Romain Vincelot rushing forward. The latter struck it first, smashing his shot off the underside of the crossbar – but not over the line. On the rebound, striker David Mooney fired low from five yards; his effort was desperately blocked by Bantams’ defender James Meredith, before the resulting corner was cleared.
The O’s must have found it hard to believe that they hadn’t gone one up at this point; little wonder, then, that they seemed positively stunned when they conceded just over five minutes later. A perfect long ball by Bradford midfielder Mark Yeates found a gaping hole between the Orient centre backs, into which burst Bantams’ forward James Hanson. Volleying from eighteen yards, his strike also thundered off the underside of the crossbar – and into the back of the net.
To a roaring verse of ‘He used to work in the Co-op!’ (Hanson did, indeed, once work in the Co-op), the away side suddenly took control of the game; the goal had come against the run of play yet they capitalised on it with purpose. Though Vincelot went close again in the twenty-fourth minute, an Orient corner landing him with a free header – saved by Pickford – Bradford were generally keener all over the pitch; winning a multitude of corners and free kicks (much to the home fans’ frustration), their set-piece menace was repeatedly made apparent.
Regrettably for the O’s, this didn’t stop them succumbing to it. In the thirty-first minute, Felipe Morais floated a left-sided free kick into the Orient area; Hanson, completely unmarked, headed in his second goal at the near post. The O’s fans were practically hissing with rage at the non-existent defending, while the Bantams launched into another Co-op chorus and a roaring chant of ‘Parkinson is the special one’; a match that had started so well for the home side had rapidly become a bit of a disaster.
Orient did cling on until half time without conceding again, despite another good chance for Hanson and a storming long-range effort from Morais. By the sound of their groans at the break the O’s supporters found it all rather predictable, yet I was a little surprised with how the first half had gone; either way, I went off to buy a hot beverage in a polystyrene cup, then briefly got lost in the South Stand’s maze-like system of urinals.
Thankfully, I did emerge just in time for the resumption of play. The second half started slowly; though Orient seemed to have regrouped somewhat, Bradford shrewdly broke up any positive home moves. Then, in the fifty-second minute, the away side had a chance to finish the game as a contest. After a swift counterattack, substitute striker Francois Zoko – on for Hanson – was put through on goal; racing into the box, his scuffed shot was saved by O’s goalie Alex Cisak. The loose ball was struck well by Bantams’ midfielder Billy Clarke, but his shot was palmed up into the air by Cisak and eventually cleared. The keeper had kept Orient in it.
Nonetheless, they couldn’t exploit this reprieve. Though the home side showed bursts of attacking potential, they failed to pressurise Bradford for anything more than a few minutes; Bradley Pritchard shot high and wide from a good position in the sixty-sixth minute, Dagnall nodded a free header well wide just afterward, but nothing really came off. Meanwhile, the Orient back four were always vulnerable; in the seventy-fifth, Bradford’s Andy Halliday ran the entire length of the right wing before cutting inside his marker with ease and blasting at goal; Cisak kept him out, but this didn’t exempt the defence from the fans’ wrath.
Orient’s last chance came in the eighty-second minute, Shane Lowry thumping a free kick on target only to see Pickford save at full stretch. After that, a string of half chances for Bradford closed out the match; bellowing out songs for both the BBC and Wembley until the very end, the away fans were clearly pretty happy with the performance.
The South Stand boos gave quite the opposite impression; bright start aside, the O’s had been well beaten. The Bantams can keep on aspiring to Wembley, but Orient need to aspire first and foremost to League One’s twentieth spot; two very different seasons roll onward.
Result: Leyton Orient 0 Bradford City 2.
My MoM: James Hanson. He used to work in the Co-op.
Best fans: the Bantams. Suitably grateful to the Co-op.