Leyton Orient - A final day fairytale

HITC Sport 92

As part of our HITC Sport 92 series, Vincent Ralph points our attention to East London side Leyton Orient.

Football clichés are a dangerous dalliance for writers, but on occasions they are unavoidable; Sometimes, it really is a funny old game.

That was exactly the case when Leyton Orient visited Oxford United on May 6, 2006, both clubs desperate to win for very different reasons.

Orient needed to better Grimsby’s result to win automatic promotion from League Two, while the hosts needed three points to maintain their league status.

It was a game built for the neutral: 90 minutes of torture with ultimate heartbreak for one set of fans, and elation for the other.

Oxford took a surprise early lead through Eric Sabin, before Craig Easton’s equaliser. And when striker Gary Alexander chipped the home ‘keeper for the Os’ second, it seemed the inevitable had thwarted the unlikely; only for Chris Willmott to head his side level two minutes later.

With two sides so desperate to win, a draw condemned both to their own version of failure. And as the minutes lessened, so the attacking intent increased.

As news came through that Grimsby were ahead against Northampton, Orient pushed forward in search of a winner. While their opponents, only a goal away from safety, did the same.

For a time, both sides were playing five up front, because in a sport where the next goal so often wins, this was a different win entirely.

When the final whistle eventually blew, two divisions would separate that day’s opponents.

Only on the last day of the season can a terrace-roar spread across a field that doesn’t prompt it.

And this particular roar was caused by an act over 100 miles away, as Northampton’s last-minute equaliser sent Orient back into the automatic promotion places.

Not that they knew that, as they continued to surge forward before former Oxford striker Lee Steele sealed the win – and promotion – in the 90th minute.

One last-minute goal was ultimately enough to condemn Russell Slade’s Grimsby side to the play-offs. But just for good measure, there were two.

Slade’s side would go on to lose in the final and he would leave shortly after. And now, because football has a habit of conjuring up such things, he manages Leyton Orient.

And as for Oxford – their league status was taken by Accrington Stanley, the team United replaced back in 1962.

So yes, sometimes you do have to use a cliché, because there are times in football when there is no other way to describe it.

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