No capital gains on an evening to forget
Chris LakeyLeyton Orient 2, Norwich City 1: The Leyton Orient programme advertised an Evening of Comedy - City's defence gave them an early preview with a comedy of errors.Chris Lakey
The Leyton Orient programme advertised an Evening of Comedy - City's defence gave them an early preview with a comedy of errors.
The Canaries back four, which played such a big part in taking the team to the top of the table, collapsed at the most inopportune times last night to gift Orient two first-half goals.
Two free-kicks, both from around the halfway line, did for Paul Lambert's men - and the home fans were laughing all the way to the bank.
"We're going to win the league," the huge City contingent sang before kick-off. Two hours later as they trooped out of east London there was an uneasy feeling that things are becoming just a little too difficult for comfort at just the wrong time.
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There was no referee to accuse, no bad luck - just a self-inflicted wound.
Lambert has never been reluctant to attack at every opportunity, as his starting line-up confirmed. With leading scorer Grant Holt banned and Wes Hoolahan still injured, he recalled Stephen Elliott and Oli Johnson, who played just off the front two - and Anthony McNamee back among the subs.
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Goalkeeper Fraser Forster went straight back into the side after his two-match suspension, with Declan Rudd returning to the bench.
City had a vocal 3,000-strong travelling army backing them - packing a stand down one side of the Matchroom Stadium, which became a mini Carrow Road for the night.
Those fans were silenced within three minutes as a Ben Chorley free-kick from the left flank was nodded on by Scott McGleish, who got up ahead of Michael Nelson, and Sean Thornton controlled it well in the area before smashing it past Forster.
It was the worst possible start, and suddenly the bad memories of Tranmere on Good Friday - when City conceded two goals in the opening 12 minutes - re-emerged.
City were struggling to get anything going, but Orient didn't keep their foot down on the pedal, allowing them to rebuild.
Forster had to be quick off his line to deny former City man Ryan Jarvis as he chased a McGleish through ball, while Elliott saw a shot blocked at the other end moments later - the first real effort on goal by the visitors. Darel Russell gave away cheap possession to Adam Chambers, but recovered well and saw a long-range shot blocked as City grew in confidence. Chris Martin's long-range shot on 16 minutes was blocked following good work between Simon Lappin and Johnson - and City slowly began to gain the upper hand.
Orient were retreating and City were rewarded on 19 minutes when Korey Smith scored a beauty from the edge of the area. Chris Martin played the ball in from the left, Elliott laid it off perfectly and the youngster side-footed it into the bottom right-hand corner.
Martin almost put City ahead with a stunning effort on 27 minutes when he collected Adam Drury's throw on the left and, from more than 30 yards, hit a dipping shot that came off the base of the far post with keeper Jamie Jones stranded.
Martin held his head in disbelief - had it gone in he would have been making legitimate claims for the goal of the season.
And how they could have done with it because, within two minutes, they were undone by another free-kick from distance.
Charlie Daniels delivered it from the halfway line on the right and Thornton popped up at the far post to head it past Forster from close range.
The recovery had suffered a major setback, but City wasted no time in trying to reduce the deficit. Russell shot wide and Johnson was crowded out at a Lappin corner.
But danger was always around the corner and Doherty had to stretch to keep the ball away from Jarvis' head from Thornton's cross, while Russell was forced to haul down the dangerous McGleish on the edge of the box, Daniels stinging Forster's fingers from the free-kick.
Jarvis shot wide after a lovely move as Orient kicked again, with City's only response an injury-time header over by Doherty - leaving Lambert with plenty to think about during half-time.
City struggled to get into their stride when play resumed, and only a Nelson block denied John Spicer after a flowing Orient move.
Play was becoming more and more concentrated in the Orient half, but City were carving out few chances.
Too many simple passes were suddenly made difficult - and as Orient began to time waste the sense of desperation began to creep in.
Fouls throws weren't the order of the day, and when Russell Martin committed the sin he incurred the wrath of 3,000 people - repeated moments later when Elliott shot horribly wide.
Lambert made his first change on 68 minutes, McNamee replacing Lappin in a straight positional swap.
Forster had to clear off the boot of Jarvis as he chased Russell Martin's poor back pass, and with 15 minutes to go the picture looked bleak for City. Daniels could have made it worse when he was allowed to head for goal, only to see Forster save well. Forster then denied McGleish as Orient went for the kill.
Lambert brought on Cody McDonald and Stephen Hughes for Elliott and Johnson respectively, with Doherty moving up front leaving three at the back.
This was "go for it" time - and on 81 minutes it looked as if it had worked as Hughes burst clear, only to see a goalbound shot kept out by Jones.
City pressed hard and McNamee saw a clipped cross come back off he woodwork in time added on - but it was too little and too late.
Chris Martin had one last chance with just seconds remaining, but this time Orient kept out his free-kick, and the points went begging.
With Leeds winning 3-1 at Carlisle, the Canaries will now go into Saturday's trip to Charlton with a lead of just six points, with Millwall eight adrift in third after grabbing a late equaliser at Yeovil.
Swindon and Charlton are a further point adrift, with the Addicks in a position to close the gap on Norwich to six, with three games to play, were they to win at the weekend.