Before a smaller than average crowd of 22,029, Charlton Athletic avoided becoming Leyton Orient’s second Premiership FA Cup scalp with a narrow 2-1 win at the Valley on Saturday.
The Addicks advance to the 5th Round came courtesy of a last-minute winner from Jay Bothroyd after Lee Steele had cancelled out a 7th minute opener from Jonathan Fortune.
The ‘O’s, a full sixty one places below Charlton in the Pkv pyramid at start of play, certainly did not disgrace themselves and although never looking like they would win the game, came within seconds of forcing a replay at Brisbane Road.
In the opening minutes the contrast in styles between the divisions soon became apparent, Orient announcing their visit with some meaty challenges and quick balls over the top characteristic of England’s lower leagues.
But for all the measured build up and superior movement of their Premiership hosts, the Os looked far from overawed, Shane Tudor getting a shot on target in the first minute and forcing a corner in the second.
What they and their 6000+ travelling fans (Orient’s average home gate is 4,500) surely did not want was to concede an early goal but they fell into that trap in the 7th minute.
Darren Ambrose far out on the right curled a free kick into the box where center back Jonathan Fortune, finding unaccustomed space between two defenders, stooped to nod past Glyn Garner in the Leyton Orient goal.
If the Os had an Achilles heel for the Addicks to exploit then it certainly looked to be in dealing with crosses.
After Fortune was granted time and space for his goal, Shaun Bartlett arrived scandalously unmarked in the box from another Ambrose center in the 17th minute, the South African guiding his header inches wide of the post.
Charlton were dealing with the Orient attack quite comfortably, Herman Hreidarsson looking particularly imperious in the air, but were far from fluid and rather error-strewn in midfield, Radostin Kishishev being a particular offender.
The home side threatened to double their lead in the 34th minute when top gunner Darren Bent whipped in a cross which Darren Ambrose connected with but could not keep from flying over the crossbar. Three minutes later Bent again turned creator, laying off to the onrushing Kishishev, whose shot flew high and well wide.
Orient were keen but toothless up front, while Charlton looked content to let their visitors play while staying threatening on the break. All seemed to be going to form therefore until a late flurry at the end of the 1st half gave the Os’ fans their voice back and Charlton supporters a reason not to rest on their laurels for at least another 45 minutes.
Four minutes before the interval Orient carved out their first real chance, Gary Alexander, scorer of 14 goals this season, meeting a Matt Lockwood free kick from far out on the left and steering his header inches wide of the diving Myhre and the goal frame.
Another sign of life came in the 44th as Alexander’s dipping shot from the edge of box dropped marginally over the crossbar.
In the last minute of the half Alexander’s shot on the turn flew dangerously across the face of the goal and there was still time for Lee Steele to spring the offside trap and pull it back for Joe Keith, whose sidefooted effort skimmed the bar as Orient finished the half the stronger.
Eight minutes after half time the East Londoners drew level. From a Joe Keith through ball, Lee Steele pulled free of Charlton right back Luke Young and shot straight at Myhre, the ball just seeping under the Norwegian’s body and over the line.
For a couple of minutes then it was all Orient, the visitors’ momentum whisking their team goalward towards their vocal fans and their ‘East, East London’ chants. In the brief onslaught, Steele and John Mackie had shots charged down by an anxious Charlton defence.
When danger man Alexander powered a header two yards wide in the 63rd minute, Alan Curbishley had seen enough and made a triple substitution, a radical move with half an hour to play.
The three players replaced – Kishishev, Shaun Bartlett and Brian Hughes were all cheered off with approval by the disgruntled home fans but luckily the gamble paid off as the three attacking replacements Alexi Smertin, Jerome Thomas and Jay Bothroyd all caused Orient problems and turned the match in Charlton’s favour.
While Bothroyd went up front to partner Bent, Thomas weaved his magic on the left wing with a display of feints, stopovers and shuffles that sold a showroom of dummies to the Orient right back Justin Miller while Smertin pitched camp in the hole just outside the Orient box as an irritant who would not go away.
Three minutes after his entry, Thomas proved his worth by turning inside Miller and Daryl McMahon and hitting the side netting. Then he drew a one handed save from Garner in the 72nd after collecting a lay off in the box from fellow sub Bothroyd.
Seconds earlier Bent looked to have won a penalty when hauled down by the backtracking Gabriel Zakuani but referee Alan Wiley ignored the appeals.
Orient had been forced to take second billing again, though roared back in the 77th when Keith picked out McMahon with a diagonal pass that the midfielder headed powerfully, but straight at Myhre.
The closing minutes were dominated by Charlton, Bothroyd, Bent and a deflection from his own player Michael Simpson all testing Garner and Ambrose seeing a goalbound shot blocked by Zakuani with a minute and half left on the clock.
The referee’s assistant had just replaced his board signaling three minutes added on when Charlton won a free kick in a dangerous position twenty yards from goal.
Matt Holland tapped the ball sideways to Bothroyd who let fly with a grasscutter that appeared to take a slight deflection as it bounced off Garner’s prone body and into the roof of the net.
It seemed harsh on Orient to have conceded only seconds from a money-spinning replay at Brisbane Road, but Premiership class, with a helping of lady luck, told in the end.
Post match, Addicks boss Alan Curbishley seemed relieved to have won through to the 5th Round of the Cup although paid tribute to his plucky visitors.
“It was a great game and Orient played fantastically well. I did not want another game so I am pleased to be through,” he told reporters.
Admitting his triple substitution was a gamble that paid off he added, “It nearly backfired on me because Matty Holland then took a knock.”
Opposite number Martin Ling felt the pain of a near miss after a gallant effort.
“It is heartbreaking,” he confessed after the match. “I do not like being a glorious loser but over two Premiership ties we will take a lot of credit.”
The East Londoners sit in fifth spot in League Two, four points behind leaders Wycombe and three divisions below their 3rd Round victims Fulham and conquerors Charlton. The Addicks, currently eleventh in the Premiership, resume their league campaign at home to 16th placed West Brom at the Valley on Tuesday night.