Leyton Orient banished their Port Vale hoodoo to remain firmly in the race for automatic promotion from League One, stretching their unbeaten run to six games.
Goals either side of half-time – a fantastic strike from Dean Cox and captain Nathan Clarke’s first ever goal for the club at the 79th time of asking – were enough to make sure of Orient’s first win at Vale Park for 57 years.
The victory did not come without some nerve-shredding moments as play-off contenders Port Vale had two goals disallowed in the second period, as well as a host of chances that forced Orient’s Swiss keeper Eldin Jakupovic to be at the top of his game.
Orient manager Russell Slade made one change from the team which produced the O’s first 0-0 draw of the season against Notts County on Saturday. David Mooney returned after a two game absence with a rib injury to take the place of Kevin Lisbie, partnering Chris Dagnall up front.
The Valiants meanwhile made one change from the team which beat Carlisle at the weekend, with Adam Yates slotting in at right back ahead of Jack Grimmer, while Anthony Griffith started against his former side.
In a cagey start in which the ball refused to stick to either strike force, it was Port Vale who forced the first real opening after 12 minutes when Orient failed to clear their lines, the ball falling to Ben Williamson on the left hand side of the box who dragged his shot wide.
The next 10 minutes belonged squarely to Micky Adams’s side, who looked particularly impressive down the left flank with Jennison Myrie-Williams orchestrating every attack.
On the 20-minute mark Russell Slade was forced into a change as Romain Vincelot hobbled off after a typically robust challenge from Griffith, to be replaced by Marvin Bartley.
This seemed to galvanise the away side, who started to get to grips with the fantastic Vale Park playing surface, which was certainly far superior to what they encountered at Notts County on Saturday.
Leyton Orient in full flow
With every minute that passed, Orient looked more threatening going forward, as Dean Cox sent a low shot into the side netting after good build up play from Mooney and Dagnall. Lloyd James then forced Port Vale keeper Chris Neal into the first save of the match from the edge of the box 10 minutes before the break.
On the stroke of half-time, the O’s finally converted their dominance into a goal, and did so with a peach of a strike from Dean Cox for his 12th of the season.
Mooney gathered the ball on the right wing before playing it inside to Moses Odubajo, whose inviting ball found Cox waiting on the edge of the area to smash home a first-time effort off the crossbar.
The teams went into the dressing room with the score at 1-0 and after the break, Orient looked more fluid in attack, Dagnall nearly doubling the lead early on when he robbed Carl Dickinson and skipped around Neal but couldn’t quite turn it in.
However, Orient must have expected a Port Vale onslaught and they grew increasingly into the game with a series of Myrie-Williams corners, one of which was flicked on to skipper Doug Loft at the back post whose header was somehow kept out by the midriff of Lloyd James on the line.
After weathering the storm, Orient fought back, Dagnall narrowly heading wide on the 55-minute mark from a James centre before delivering the knockout blow moments later from an unlikely source.
Captain Nathan Clarke, who had waited nearly two full seasons to score his first Orient goal, met a James corner with a powerful header which Valiants’ keeper Neal fumbled into the net, sending the 224 Orient fans behind the goal into raptures.
A nerve-bitting finale
Port Vale hit back almost immediately and Jakupovic had to be at the top of his game to deny Chris Birchall one-on-one.
Orient fans had their hearts in their mouths as Vale hit the crossbar through Billy Knott before two goals were disallowed in quick succession, the first for offside following a goalmouth scramble and the second for a foul on Clarke.
With 10 minutes to go, Dagnall missed a glorious chance to kill the game after nicking the ball off Chris Robertson, but made a hash of the finish when clean through on goal.
Orient dug deep though, with Jakupovic making some more crucial saves to ensure a seventh clean sheet in 10 outings, as Slade’s men hung on for three vital points ahead of a much-anticipated televised home game with third-placed Brentford on Saturday.
Speaking after the match, Slade said: “I’m delighted again. We didn’t start well but we grew into the game, with a bit of quality the difference. This group will do whatever it takes and I’m delighted for Clarkey.”
Port Vale: Neal, Yates, Robertson, Dickinson, Loft, Myrie Williams (Hugill 84), Pope, Williamson, Griffith (Lines 61), Duffy, Birchall (Knott 61)
Subs not used: Johnson, Jones, Dodds, Grimmer, Hugill
Bookings: Duffy (65)
Orient: Jakupovic, Omozusi, Sawyer, Vincelot (Bartley 20), Cuthbert, Cox, James, Mooney (Batt 73), Odubajo, Clarke, Dagnall (Simpson 86)
Subs not used: Lisbie, Larkins, Lasimant, Ness
Goals: Cox (41) Clarke (57)
Bookings: Dagnall (35)
Referee: J Simpson
Attendance: 4,235 (224)