Leyton Orient Women slumped to a disappointing 4-0 defeat against a strong Luton Town side at Mile End Stadium in the FA Women’s Premier League on Sunday.

A brace from Natasha Fensome, plus goals from Stephanie Gale and Lisa Nixon stunned Orient who put in an unusually lacklustre display on home turf.

The O’s could have moved within two points of league leaders AFC Wimbledon, whose match with third placed Milton Keynes Dons fell foul of the weather conditions.

Both teams had plenty of incentive for victory on the day. Second place Orient were looking to maintain their challenge for the title, whilst fifth place Luton needed to keep the pressure up on Ipswich Town and MK Dons respectively.

Original O’s Returning

Manager Chris Brayford set his Orient side up in a 4-4-2 formation for the second game in a row. With left-back Leyre Bastyr absent, Hannah Porter returned to the starting lineup for the first time in 2018. Midfielder Egle Trezzi overcame a hip injury to partner Lisa Holmback in central midfield, whilst striker Belen Ripoll Douton started her first game since returning from an ankle problem.

After the game, captain Danielle Griffiths spoke to Rising East about regular first team players returning to fitness: “It’s important to get as many of the squad back as possible. Obviously, it’s always good when we are getting starters back in the team. We want to continue growing, we’ve got good strength in depth in the squad but it’s always good to have the first team starters back.”

Despite this positivity, Orient began the game on the back foot with Luton breaching the hosts’ backline twice in the early stages. However, the O’s bounced back and began to take a foothold in the game. MacFarlane went close early on for the hosts, before Ripoll-Douton saw two chances go amiss after some good work from Hayley Barton on the right.

However, when Gale put the visitors ahead on 31 minutes the tone of the match dramatically changed. At half-time, the O’s would have welcomed the chance to regroup.

They began the second half brightly, with Sophie Le Marchand immediately bursting forward with pace and endeavour as Orient looked to improve on a disappointing first half.

Second Half; Not the Best Half 

Nevertheless, it turned out to be a second half to forget for the O’s who found themselves three goals down with 62 minutes played. Fensome was a constant thorn in Orient’s side, firing a crisp low drive beyond Orient keeper Naomi Ogunde before Nixon added a third with a fine long-range strike.

Griffiths believed Luton’s second goal impacted on Orient’s confidence saying: “It was a massive blow. We obviously came out with all good intentions in the second half to get a foothold in the game, but to go two behind it’s difficult not to let your head drop in those situations. I think it was very disappointing to go behind so quickly after the break.”

With Connie Montiel-McCann replacing Kathryn Canavan in Orient’s first change, the O’s switched to a 3-1-4-2 formation as they looked for a route back into the game. However, Orient were forced into further tactical changes, moving to a 3-4-2 when substitute Vanessa Wilson was shown a straight red card for handball in the area. However, Luton couldn’t capitalise as Joanne Rutherford’s penalty hit the crossbar sparing Orient’s blushes.

Although, Luton capped off a fine afternoon when Fensome grabbed their fourth with an audacious looping effort into the top left corner two minutes from time. In contrast to previous performances this season, Orient lacked cohesion, creativity and a clinical edge in front of goal. It was clear that with each Luton goal, Orient’s belief that they could salvage something from the game gradually faded as they fell to only a second home defeat this season.

Focus On The Goal

In a month where Orient face back-to-back games, they will need to put this disappointment behind them quickly and look ahead to the visit of Norwich City Ladies at home on Sunday.

Griffiths is still optimistic about the Orient’s next fixture: “I hope we’ll be even more up for it next week. Hopefully it will be an opportunity to get three points on the board, get a bit more confidence, and get back into our game quickly before we’ve got some difficult games coming up.”

There is no doubt that this defeat was a setback in Orient’s quest for the league title, with AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons having significant games in hand on the O’s. However, Orient are still to play both these sides at home before the season is out, and with the right results the title race might not be such a foregone conclusion.