In the most compelling of finishes, the draw which would have been of no use to either side was transformed into the joy of promotion for Orient and relegation from the Football League for Jim Smith's Oxford United.
As the referee, Andy Woolmer, decreed five extra minutes should be played the score in this thriller was two goals apiece. Suddenly a massive roar from the side of the ground filled by Leyton followers was indication that their nearest rivals, Grimsby, had been pulled back to a draw by Northampton, and just in case that was not enough, Lee Steele surged through Oxford's defence seconds later to sidefoot the goal which set the seal on a great day for the London side.
"It's horrible," was Smith's reaction. "But what I said when I came here six weeks ago hasn't changed, I am here for the long haul." Still on a high after what he called "a mad five seconds", Orient's manager, Martin Ling, warned: "You might find me in the gutter later tonight."
Since defence was not an option for either side, the match was fast and open, with Oxford offering spirit, speed and raw aggression, while Orient were altogether more cultured. More dangerous, too. They would have been two goals in front inside the opening five minutes but for the excellence of Billy Turley, who repelled the best efforts of Joe Keith and Steele.
Instead it was Oxford who went in front. Andy Burgess bent in a left-footed free-kick from the right and Eric Sabin's foot managed the vital connection. Jubilation was short-lived, though. Neat work by Adam Tann and Wayne Corden set up Craig Easton for the equaliser, Mr Woolmer awarding a goal because in making the save Turley fell over the line.
Orient tightened their grip after the interval and went in front after an hour. Three Oxford defenders got into a tangle and Gary Alexander curled his shot round Turley. "We are going up," chorused the Leyton fans, but inside two minutes Oxford were level. Glyn Garner made a fine reflex save under pressure but the rebound was bundled in by Chris Willmott.
"We are staying up," chortled the home supporters. Sadly, they were not. Despite efforts so frantic that Willmott was sent off for dissent, Oxford are down, and there was the sad sight of mounted police on the pitch at the end to separate rival factions.Reuse content