SWINDON Town ran into a spot of bother at Brisbane Road on Saturday, as league leaders Leyton Orient showed their guests exactly what it takes to be credible promotion candidates.
Two clumsy challenges led to the two penalties which effectively separated table-topping Orient and Town, whose pursuit of a play-off place became tougher and more fanciful in defeat, though the home side could have won by double that margin and still felt the scoreline flattered the Robins, such was their total dominance.
Swindon were not helped in the build-up by a series of injuries and suspensions to key players, including the late withdrawal of number one goalkeeper Wes Foderingham due to a hip complaint in the warm-up, and once the game started they didn’t help themselves one iota either.
The central defensive partnership of Darren Ward and Troy Archibald-Henville had looked more and more resilient in recent weeks but in east London on Saturday afternoon their relationship appeared more haphazard than symbiotic.
Orient, spurred on by their dynamic front four of Dean Cox, Moses Odubajo, David Mooney and Chris Dagnall, ran criss-crossing lines across the Town back four almost endlessly for 90 minutes, creating space which the home side exploited with consummate ease.
Swindon, by contrast, were ponderous in possession, slapdash with their distribution and used sideways and backwards even when forwards appeared to be the best possible option.
They stood up with some credit to a first-half O’s barrage which saw Dagnall hit an upright and Tyrell Belford save well from the same player and, if they had managed to see the game through until the interval, perhaps it would have all ended differently.
But Jamie Reckord, in the midst of another unconvincing shift, slid in needlessly on Odubajo three minutes before the break, referee Gavin Ward pointed to the spot and Lloyd James sent Belford the wrong way.
This wasn’t just gift-wrapped by Reckord, it was tied up neatly in a frilly bow and presented on a silver platter by a nauseating sing-o-gram.
Trailing a team with a proven pedigree of holding onto a lead, the task was always going to be difficult for Swindon. It was made doubly so inside seven minutes of the second period when Archibald-Henville tugged back at Mooney and the O’s striker tumbled in the box.
The offence may have taken place outside the area at first but Ward was happy to award a second spot-kick. James went the other way with similar success.
Town lost their composure altogether. Passes went astray, the midfield became increasingly philanthropic with possession and, for whatever reason, everything seemed to go sideways.
The visitors adopted the elderly driver method to football - aimless, clumsy, meandering passages of play which more often than not ended with Orient narrowly failing to put the ball in the back of the Town net.
It was a wretched second-half display.
Dagnall had what seemed to be a perfectly good headed goal chalked off after Ward saw an indiscretion in the build-up and Orient were slapdash themselves as they sought to rub salt into Swindon’s wounds. Wounds that were self-inflicted.
When taken into perspective the defeat was nowhere near as bad as some of the post-match vitriol on social media would have you suggest but it certainly highlighted a material weakness in Swindon Town’s play-off credentials.
Mark Cooper made four changes to his starting line-up at Brisbane Road. Raphael Rossi Branco dropped to the bench in favour of Reckord, with Nathan Byrne moving to right-back, while Ryan Harley replaced the injured Louis Thompson in the middle of midfield.
Up front, Michael Smith returned to action after being cup-tied against Peterborough to fill the boots of Nile Ranger, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season, and Ben Gladwin came in for Dany N’Guessan – whose groin injury meant he was only fit enough for a place among the substitutes.
Orient quickly established a rhythm and fluency which they continued throughout the match and came close to opening the scoring in the eighth minute when Dagnall swivelled in the area but saw his volley saved at point blank range by Belford.
Cox then flashed a shot over the crossbar in the 15th minute before Archibald-Henville got in the way of the winger’s attempt from range as the O’s lay down a marker for the remainder of the game.
In the 20th minute, only the width of a post prevented the home side from taking the lead when James’s delicate, chipped throughball found Dagnall and he prodded beyond Belford, who watched relieved as the ball gently bounced back off an upright.
Mooney’s daisy-cutter was easily claimed by Belford nine minutes later before Odubajo burst into the box and sliced wide six minutes ahead of half-time, as Orient looked to be destined not to score in the first period.
However, with three minutes left until the interval, Odubajo wandered into the box and, though he appeared to be boxed in against the goalline, Reckord chose to slide in to win possession. Instead, the on-loan Wolves man took most of the man and referee Ward handed James the chance to score from 12 yards, which he gleefully accepted.
In the 52nd minute, Orient were given another opportunity from the spot. Mooney eased away from Archibald-Henville, who pulled the striker back. Though the offence took place outside the box, Mooney did well to tumble inside the area, Ward pointed for a penalty and James found the net again.
Cooper threw on Tijane Reis and George Barker as he tried to force an opening back into the game but, in reality, the door had long since shut.
It took until the 56th minute for the Robins to test Eldin Jakupovic in the O’s goal and even then only a deflection from Harley’s strike had the on-loan keeper anything resembling worried, while Reckord added to his miserable afternoon by taking the ball off his own player, Smith, inside the Orient area three minutes later, only to shoot straight at Jakupovic.
Dagnall saw his 69th minute header beat Belford only for Ward to call play back for a push in the build-up and Mooney curled wide from the edge of the box with 15 minutes remaining as Orient continued to dominate.
Belford made two more saves before time was up – from Shaun Batt and Cox – as the home side failed to manage what would have been a deserved third on an afternoon to forget for all those of a Swindon persuasion.
Cooper said after the game: “I didn’t think there was too much danger in the first half and a ridiculous tackle gives them a penalty just before half-time.
“Second-half, first 20 minutes we were not very good and then when it’s 2-0 and the game is over, we start to play a little bit. We didn’t threaten their goal enough but we have a way that we want to play.
“You can’t make two challenges like we did in the penalty area and give two penalties away and expect to win games of football.”