Looking dazzled by a rare day in the spotlight without Premier League football, Leyton Orient suffered a first home defeat since February and with it lost their place at the top of League One yesterday. Until a late rally, the London side were outplayed by a Preston team organised and disciplined under Simon Grayson in an effective 3-4-1-2 formation.
That meant a personal victory for Tom Clarke, the younger brother of Orient's captain Nathan, with whom he shared eight years at Huddersfield Town before both moved on. Clarke and his colleagues in a three-man defence comfortably contained the prolific Orient strikers Kevin Lisbie and David Mooney, with 22 League goals between them so far this season.
Orient also lacked bite in midfield, mainly as a result of a piece of French cynicism. Romain Vincelot, who normally takes the enforcer's role, deliberately attracted a yellow card last week in order to trigger an automatic suspension and miss the less important Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie that Orient lost at Stevenage in midweek. The Football Association, wise to the ruse, handed him an extra ban for yesterday's game.
"He's the heartbeat of the team," their manager Russell Slade admitted. "We tried to overturn the ban and were quite shocked by the verdict." He would have greater justification for surprise at the manner in which his team froze, having come through impressively in previous games against leading opposition.
It was a hugely disappointing performance in front of the best crowd of the season of 7,123 – one that would still look horribly lost in the Olympic Stadium – plus those watching from the balconies of the flats at each corner of the stadium.
The home side had just wasted their only half-chance of the first 30 minutes, Elliot Omozusi cutting his cross back straight to a Preston defender, when the visitors broke upfield and scored. Keith Keane crossed and Joe Garner, the former Watford and Nottingham Forest striker, struck a superb volley past Jamie Jones for his fourth goal in three games.
One Orient substitute, Shaun Batt, added some vigour in the second half and another one, Robbie Simpson, making his debut, passed up their only real scoring opportunity when Declan Rudd denied him right at the finish.
"We were very, very good from start to finish," Grayson said. "When we had to we scrapped and battled and we played when we had the chance to. We've got the players to hurt any team on the day."
Leyton Orient (4-4-2): Jones; Omozusi, Cuthbert, N Clarke, Sawyer (Batt, 62); Odubajo, James (Baudry, 70), Bartley, Cox; Lisbie, Mooney (Simpson, 81).
Preston (3-4-1-2): Rudd; T Clarke, King, Wright; Humphrey (Huntington, 90), Welsh, Keane, Laird; Gallagher (Kilkenny, 83); Davies, Garner.
Referee Keith Hill.