The National League title race is reaching its conclusion but there are still several teams who fancy their chances of winning the division and claiming the one automatic promotion place. Wrexham and Leyton Orient are two of the teams battling for top spot and they faced each other in an early kick-off live on BT Sport.
For Wrexham, they knew a win in East London would send them clear at the summit with only nine games remaining. However, a victory for the O’s would mean they’d leapfrog Wrexham and lead the division by a point with a game in hand.
The girlfriend and I grabbed an early train and headed for the capital to see who would seize the momentum going into the last few weeks of the season.
A whirlwind start
The 12:35 kick-off time made our journey down pretty intense. We had two long train rides to get to London, hopped on the tube across the city and then headed straight into the ground once we arrived in the suburb of Leyton. By the time the two teams were coming out, we’d only just managed to relieve our bladders.
All that rushing around felt invigorating, though, and the noise from the 900 travelling Wrexham fans as we took our place at the back of the East Stand only made us feel like the whole ordeal was worth it.
Having hardly eaten since departing for London, we were surviving on adrenaline alone and, luckily, there was enough first half action to provide that. Wrexham put in a decent showing with Ben Tollitt making Orient centre-half Marvin Ekpiteta look very shaky. An early booking for Ekpiteta came after a nasty foul on Tollitt and that allowed the young scouse to torment him further.
Away from the pitch, we were also entertained by the residents of the four flats which make up the corners at Brisbane Road. One man came out in his dressing gown to watch the game from his balcony and looked unphased by our chants that mocked his slippers.
The other raucous Wrexham chanting was aimed at Jordan Maguire-Drew. The winger scored three goals for us earlier in the season before moving back down south to join Orient in January. Our supporters booed and called him a ‘mummy’s boy’ whenever he missed an effort but he almost shut them up with a superb volley that flew just over.
Sudden chances like that made Orient look very dangerous but both teams went into the break deadlocked at 0-0.
Another Orient defeat
Sitting down at half-time was the first chance we had to catch our breath. We watched Orient schoolkids take penalties against their hyperactive mascot and wondered if they’d let us sub some of them on.
Despite having more possession, we struggled to create any chances. It felt like the same story as our two previous meetings with Orient this season, where we lost due to their more clinical edge. And sure enough, they punished us again in the second half of this encounter.
James Brophy came on for the O’s and began to tear us open. They won dangerous free-kicks and corners and we eventually wilted with 20 minutes left in the game.
After failing to clear our lines, Ekpiteta hit a shot from the edge of the area that took a deflection and just squeezed past Rob Lainton in goal. I couldn’t believe the man who looked so poor in the first half managed to score the winner. Orient shut us down for the remainder of the game and we failed to create anything else.
Surprisingly, despite all the abuse he received, Maguire-Drew came over to applaud us at full-time. Although I don’t know if he’d have done the same thing with the scoreline reversed… that takes some balls. But I guess he’s got a pretty good chance of gaining a National League winners’ medal for either club now, so maybe he was just thanking us.
The game was disappointing to lose but, in all honesty, I wasn’t really expecting much to begin with. Bryan Hughes was unbeaten as our manager since taking over in February and I knew a defeat would eventually come. What made the day so bad for me was what happened afterwards.
First, we went to get food in a local Sainsbury’s. When we waited in the queue, the man in front of us puked on the floor while purchasing a banana with his card. I have a phobia of vomiting so I got out of the store as fast as I could, declaring that I’m never going to Leyton again. It was a statement said through tiredness, hunger and panic. But one that I still might stick to.
Getting out of Leyton, further London sightings dragged me down, including a man yanking his old dog around by its lead and another geezer who pissed on himself whilst standing next to me at Euston’s toilets.
Normally I love visiting London but this particular trip left me eager to leave as fast as possible.
I had a lot of ill-feelings towards Leyton Orient when I left their ground and really hoped their celebrations at full-time would look premature in the next 10 games. But my bitterness could have stemmed from seeing another team with similar stature to us come down to the National League and make pretty light work of it.
Wrexham have remained in the fifth tier for over a decade now, while the likes of Tranmere, Bristol Rovers and Luton have made quick escapes. Orient look like their spell in this division will only be brief too.
I still hold hope in our season but the next two home games will have to yield six points if we’re going to be crowned champions. The emphasis is now on us to switch the momentum back in our favour and I feel Hughes has enough composure – and squad depth – to do that.