Match report: Leyton Orient 1 Sheffield United 1

Conor Coady celebrates his goal at Leyton Orient
Conor Coady celebrates his goal at Leyton Orient
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In terms of stature and profile, Leyton Orient versus Sheffield United should be a footballing mis-match.

However, as a glance at the table demonstrates, reputation counts for nothing when it comes to accumulating League One points.

Hence George Long’s assertion that, having lifted themselves out of the relegation zone, the visitors must not allow egos to cloud their judgement.

“There’s a fresh mentality at the club now,” Long, praised by colleagues and opponents alike after conjuring a series of fine saves to frustrate Russell Slade’s side, said.

“Orient are on top of the division and we’ve come here and stayed with them throughout.

“That’s something, given the position we’re in at the moment, that the lads can take heart from. We’ve just shown that we’re capable of getting results against anyone in this division providing we are disciplined, stay solid and work hard. You don’t get handed anything. You can’t take things for granted.”

Long, returning to the ground where, 13 months ago, an injury to Mark Howard helped launch his career, marked the occasion by delivering a performance which underlines why he has blossomed into one of the division’s most respected young talents.

He denied Orient’s David Mooney on several occasions, and it took a remarkable finish from Dean Cox to break Long’s resistance after Conor Coady’s first goal following a loan move from Liverpool had edged United in front.

“It’s a different experience being down towards the bottom,” Long acknowledged. “We’re used to pushing for promotion but this situation requires different qualities and you discover new things about yourself.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something we enjoy, but I do think it’s bringing us closer to together. First and foremost, we’re looking to be solid now and that’s beginning to show in our results. We’re making progress.

“The new gaffer has come in and, although he wants us to express ourselves, he’s also underlined to importance of not giving anything away, of building back to front rather than the other way around.

“Training has changed. It’s very short, sharp and intense now. Hopefully the work we are doing during the week is starting to bear fruit.”

Nigel Clough inherited a team low on confidence, victories and goals when he was appointed as David Weir’s permanent successor two months ago.

Slade, his counterpart at the Matchroom Stadium, entered Saturday’s fixture with no such problems and, having now seen Orient score 55 goals this term, ordered them to overwhelm United from the start.

With Mooney spurning two excellent first-half opportunities and Shaun Batt an imposing presence in attack, the South Yorkshire club, emphatically beaten by Brentford in August, seemed destined for another afternoon of capital punishment.

United, though, are a different beast under Clough’s tutelage and, following Coady’s dramatic intervention, they were within touching distance of condemning Orient to only their fourth defeat of the season until Cox swept home from long range.

“Their equaliser was, to be fair, a special strike,” Clough said. “And, although we are disappointed to concede, I suppose if you are going to let one in then you’d rather it be like that than a gift.

“We’re unbeaten in three matches now and, even though two of those have been draws, it means we are slowly making progress.

“Getting out of the bottom four should, psychologically speaking, do us the power of good. But it is still very early days yet and this is just another small step.”

While United press ahead with their battle for survival, Orient continue disproving the idea that deep pockets are a prerequisite for success in England’s third tier.

Despite dealing solely with free transfers and previously unattached players, Slade has moulded a collection of disparate individuals into a formidable and effective squad.

If United thought Kevin Lisbie’s absence through injury would nullify Orient’s attacking threat - together with Mooney, the former Charlton Athletic marksman has been responsible for scoring nearly 50 per cent of the hosts’ goals this term - they were mistaken.

Batt’s surging runs caused them all manner of problems during the early exchanges before Jose Baxter, also making a rare start, enabled United to establish a foothold in the game.

“It’s been frustrating not being involved,” Batt admitted afterwards. “So it was a breath of fresh air to be in from the beginning rather than watching the first hour from the bench. I thought their goalie was absolutely superb. He gave them a real base to build from.”

Orient, who replace Wolverhampton Wanderers at the top of the table, began this encounter with the purpose expected of a team which had amassed 66 points from the 30 matches since their previous meeting with United in March.

Long gathered Nathan Clarke’s shot at the second attempt when Lloyd James’ corner fell kindly for the Orient captain before Mooney dragged wide from an acute angle.

Mooney should have claimed his 16th of the campaign and seventh in as many outings soon after, only for Long to smother.

Coady, benefiting from Michael Doyle’s growing influence in midfield and Baxter’s vision, gave Jamie Jones absolutely no chance when Chris Porter unselfishly squared rather than shot.

Long was also blameless as Cox scored the goal which ensured Orient secured the point which, a frustrated Slade insisted afterwards, was the very least their efforts deserved.

“It was a great goal to score and a horrible one to concede,” he said.

However, United also possess a durable streak and could have regained the lead when substitute Jamie Murphy forced Jones to block after dashing clear of two markers during the closing stages.

“A lot has happened since we were here last year,” Long said. “But I think we can get back to where we want to be.

“The main thing we are focusing on right now is building a solid base at the back. If we can do that, then that’s the platform for everything else.”