Football: Orient finding comfort in safe keeping: Henry Winter watches two evenly matched promotion hopefuls share the points in a doughty Second Division duel

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the busiest corners of Brisbane Road is the physiotherapist's quarters. A notice pinned to his door reads '3 players only allowed in treatment room'. Such has been Orient's recent injury problems that one wag has added a '1' before the '3'.

The figure 13 may hint at a lack of luck but such is the O's positive approach, particularly on their exemplary home surface, where they remain unbeaten after 13 games, including Saturday's 0-0 draw with Hartlepool United, that the constant turnover of players - 23 this season - has not infringed their ambition to climb aboard the Football League's flagship.

Stoke City, seven points clear of the pack, are favourites to take the Second Division title, a feeling given further credence by their draw at Brighton on Saturday when Mark Stein confirmed his presence as the division's premier scorer. Stein's goals could decide the championship race - in October, Orient were within four minutes of victory at the Victoria Ground when Stein intervened twice.

With West Bromwich Albion rising to second by winning impressively against Bolton Wanderers, Orient dropped to third following the stalemate with Hartlepool, an industrious side who showed all the commitment that had seen off Crystal Palace in the FA Cup last weekend.

A tale of two keepers unfolded in the wind and cold at Leyton Stadium. Paul Heald, the 24- year-old Yorkshireman who replaced the experienced Chris Turner in Orient's goal in late November, has long showed promise and confirmed his reputation as one of the best young shot-stoppers in England with three expert saves in the space of a four-minute second-half spell when United threatened to force a way through.

Heald denied the visitors' two most eyecatching outfield players, Dean Emerson and Brian Honour, from long range, before diving bravely at the feet of the onrushing Paul Olsson. 'He made three fine saves,' said Turner, Orient's No 2 who was making his managerial debut in the absence of Peter Eustace, who had a bout of flu.

But the display of the day came from another goalkeeper. Frank Talia is a total unknown: the fourth choice at Blackburn Rovers, who have loaned him to Hartlepool. Talia is an agile Australian of Italian parentage. If his subsequent performances are as assured as his League debut at Brisbane Road, Kenny Dalglish has a real prospect on his books.

'He's very highly thought of at Blackburn,' Alan Murray, the Hartlepool manager, said. A crowd of 5,539 were quickly shown why, Talia thwarting Danny Carter after five minutes when the O's most purposeful midfielder had threatened to break United's net.

Talia's best moment came with 12 minutes left of an entertaining contest between two evenly matched promotion hopefuls. Ryan Cross, the Hartlepool full- back, brought down Carter, who had switched encouragingly to the left with the arrival of the influential Kenny Achampong.

Terry Howard stepped up confidently to take the penalty: it was low but poorly directed allowing Talia to drop to his right to push the ball out. The man from Melbourne threw himself forward to control the bouncing ball, received a whack on the head from Howard's outstretched boot, but still managed to save the day for Hartlepool.

Leyton Orient: Heald; Bellamy, Howard, Carter, Kitchen, Ludden, Taylor (Achampong, 68), Jones, Warren, Cooper, Harvey. Substitute not used: Benstock.

Hartlepool United: Talia; R Cross, P Cross, Gilchrist, MacPhail, Emerson, Johnrose, Olsson, Saville, Honour, Southall. Substitutes not used: Wratten, Gallacher.

Referee: P Vanes (West Midlands).