Orient produced an incredible second half comeback to secure an unlikely point after an eleven minute hat-trick from Matt Lockwood rescued the O`s from another embarrassing defeat. Orient`s longest serving player scored three times as the home side came back from 3-0 down to clinch a point against Gillingham after goals from Mark Bentley, Ndumbu-Nsungu and Ryan Jarvis had put the visitors ahead.
With the O`s seemingly out of the game with just 13 minutes remaining, Lockwood stroked home a penalty to give Orient what was surely no more than a consolation goal. Yet, just minutes later, the O`s left back had pegged Gillingham back even further with a left footed piledriver which flew past Flinders in the visiting goal. Brisbane Road was suddenly awash with anticipation and Lockwood did not disappoint, this time finishing from a tight angle inside the penalty area after as superb pass from Daryl McMahon. It was a truly amazing moment and a moment that seemed nearly impossible considering what had gone before it.
Orient started with a 4-3-3 formation which saw Paul Connor in attack alongside Lee Steele and Gary Alexander. It was to prove disastrous as Orient`s midfield was overrun by some fast and fluent Gillingham passing as the visitors looked to press home their numerical superiority in the middle of the field. The O`s were finding it difficult to deal with the pace and movement of Jarvis as the young striker caused Orient all sorts of problems as the visitors looked to open their account.
It was Jarvis that created the first opportunity for his side as the youngster found space to cross the ball in and although it was blocked by Brian Saah, Garner had to be alert to block the follow up effort from Andrew Crofts with Jarvis wasting the rebound.
Gillingham`s pace and movement was starting to pay dividends as the constantly looked quicker and more accomplished in their play whilst Jarvis was a constant menace in the final third. Furthermore, when Orient did attack, the visitors looked more than capable of taking advantage on the counter attack with Bentley, Easton and Crofts all getting forward from midfield. Yet, Orient did have chances although Scott Flinders in the Gillingham goal was rarely tested. Paul Connor saw his header easily saved whilst John Mackie`s header sailed harmlessly over the bar following a Lockwood corner.
With the first half seemingly petering out, the visitors struck. A short corner on the Gillingham left allowed Danny Jackman all the time in the world to pick out Mark Bentley`s powerful run and the former Southend man didn`t need a second invitation, coolly heading past Glyn Garner. It was a sucker punch for Orient as they had conceded yet again in that crucial period just before the break.
Yet it was to get worse for the home side just minutes later when in the second minute of stoppage time, Matt Jarvis managed to find space inside the O`s box before squaring for Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu to slot the ball home.
Orient suddenly found themselves staring down the barrel of another thrashing, however, unlike other occasions this season; they were simply being outclassed rather than playing poorly.
Martin Ling made a change at the break replacing Paul Connor with Wayne Corden as the O`s went back to their traditional 4-4-2 with Daryl McMahon occupying the left hand side whilst Corden took up the wide right position. The switch seemed to have little impact at first as Gillingham searched for the goal that would surely see them take all three points back to Priestfield.
With just five minutes of the second half played, Jarvis, who was extremely impressive all evening, turned Mackie inside out before the O`s skipper recovered to block the striker`s effort. However, Jarvis was not to be denied and he claimed Gillingham`s third goal on 57 minutes. This time the youngster turned Brian Saah and although the O`s defender got a touch to the effort, he only managed to deflect the ball past Garner and into the net.
The Gillingham players and management celebrated as the visiting fans were sent into raptures. It was no more than the visitors deserved having outplayed Orient for the first hour of the match as a mood of gloom once again fell upon Brisbane Road. The task looked hopeless and Martin Ling`s decisions to replace Steele with Ibehre seemed more intent on giving Ibehre some match time rather than having any tactical reason behind it.
However, football is nothing but unpredictable and so begins thirteen minutes of mayhem that could eventually change Orient`s season. With less than quarter of an hour remaining, Adam Chambers rampaged forward on the right hand side and was taken out by Flinders in the penalty area. The linesman on the far side awarded the penalty as the referee who has possibly enjoyed better evenings, was too far from the action to decide accordingly. Matt Lockwood stepped up and coolly sent Flinders the wrong way to score his third goal of the season with all three coming from the penalty spot.
Most O`s fans inside Brisbane Road failed to stand and cheer as the night had an all to familiar and depressing feel about it. Yet the O`s who had lost eight out of their last nine before tonight refused to give up and so began a quite incredible comeback. Jabo Ibehre won a corner on the O`s right after a strong run and having seen Lockwood in space on the edge of the penalty area, Corden found the O`s left back who in turn rifled the ball past Flinders from eighteen yards.
It was a terrific strike from Orient`s longest serving player and set the tone for a manic last few minutes. The O`s were rampant and with the Brisbane Road faithful at last given something to cheer about, the home side flew forward in search of an equaliser. Gillingham, having looked so classy and composed earlier in the game were now rocking as the O`s suddenly looked a side reborn.
The O`s continued to press and finally got that elusive goal, when McMahon played in Lockwood on the left side of the area and having taken a touch, Lockwood drilled the ball past Flinders from an acute angle.
It was an incredible ending to a fine comeback after the O`s had found themselves 3-0 down with only 33 minutes remaining. Yet, having come back to level the game, the O`s were now striving to score a fourth and Michael Simpson came so very close flashing a drive just wide of the Gillingham goal.
The final whistle signalled the end of a pulsating period of football, one that will live long in the memory of all that were at Brisbane Road. Orient came back from the depths of despair to gain a point that they had no right to gain. Yet once again, Martin Ling`s side showed resilience and character, two qualities they will need in abundance if they are to survive in League One this year.
Orient`s comeback was an incredible achievement considering their awful run of form in recent weeks. The character that was on display was quite simply immense as the home side refused to lie down and die against an impressive Gillingham side. It could have been so very different and indeed the headlines had already been written with Orient surely falling to their ninth defeat in their last ten games, but it was not to be on this occasion. Inspired by Lockwood and McMahon, the O`s drove forward showing little sign of fear as they plotted a great escape. Surely this will now give them the belief that they can compete at this level and go on to record a much needed victory at Blackpool on Saturday.
Despite the fabulous comeback, Orient once again let in three goals for the seventh time this season. Martin Ling will be all too aware that his team`s porous defence is the source of his problems whilst the O`s strikers look completely out of form. The pace and movement of the Gillingham side threatened to cut the O`s to ribbons as the visitors looked a class apart at times. Ling will need to settle on his first choice eleven and return to basics in the art of defending if his side are to make any progress this season.
This remarkable comeback for Orient could provide the O`s with a real turning point in their season. Having gained a point from an encounter where they were all but dead and buried, the O`s will take confidence in their ability to score goals at will whilst seemingly out of the game. Although Martin Ling will emphasise to his players that they don`t have to fall 3-0 behind before they start to play, he will be justifiably proud of their character and resilience. With a vital game against Blackpool on Saturday, Ling must hope that his side can muster their first points away from home against a Tangerines side that have yet to win at home this season. If the O`s show the same drive and commitment as they did late on today, then the O`s could yet take all three points.