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Matchroom Stadium
Leyton Orient v Preston North End
Saturday, November 16th 2013, 3pm
League One

 
Paul Willott
(Preston North End fan)

There is a certain added zip to any day when you go to cheer your team on against the league leaders, and this was just such an occasion; you know that there will be extra fans than normal, more atmosphere, and hopefully a cracking match to enjoy too.

The emotions are on the one hand tempered by the realistic notion that you will probably come away empty handed; the league leaders are there on merit of course. Yet you always go hoping for an upset to the form book, maybe a lucky smash-and-grab raid; its the reason why more fans will turn up and for me part of the eternal attraction of league football that no other professional sporting league system can boast, namely that on the day any team can raise its game and challenge the top sides.

From a personal standpoint too, being domiciled in the south-east, this is a "must-do" game and I have many happy, if ever so slightly hazy and inebriated memories of celebrating Preston NE's promotion from the basement division on the pitch at Brisbane Road in 1996.

The stadium itself has been rebuilt on three sides since that happy day and is almost unrecognisable from its earlier guise save for the old East Stand. On the plus side, by remaining at their established home, the ground remains an easily accessible one by public transport , surrounded by pubs/shops/cashpoints/cafes and the like that many of the more modern and somewhat soulless out-of-town stadia lack in abundance.

Hence I commenced my day on the London Overground at West Croydon, changing to the conventional tube at Whitechapel, changing again at Mile End for the last hop to Leyton. Given the unbeaten start in the league that the 'O's had enjoyed, I was somewhat taken aback by the downbeat assessment of the home team's chances by some of the natives before kick-off. Although once again it must be observed that it is so pleasant to be able to wear one's colours as an away fan and happily discuss the game in prospect with home fans before kick-off with total freedom; a far cry from the some of the unpleasantness of decades gone by. Quite what gave some of them though the impression that we were in for a "safe 3 points" seemed starkly at odds with the 'O's home form that stretched back to February since a defeat . . . . It caused me to comment to my companion  that some of them should be declared honorary North Enders for their negativity!!!

Thus we wandered down to the ground and without delay entered the old East Stand to choose our seats amongst the wooden variety on offer in the upper tier of the away allocation.  As is mentioned elsewhere in this guide, there are pillars to obscure the view, but the whole taste of watching football in a stand of such vintage with its old roof that amplifies the volume of the fans for me is one I'll happily take any day, pillars or not. As the minutes whiled away towards kick-off, that sense of excitement and anticipation slowly rose as the we watched the players performing their warm-up routines and the ground slowly filled up.

Before too long, the atmosphere was crackling as a healthy number of travelling supporters found their voice and started to raise the roof before the match kicked off, a noise that was to continue through half-time and long after the final whistle. Although I had no cause to really speak to any of the stewards on this particular visit; I feel it only fair to mention that on previous visits I have always found the stewarding at Leyton Orient very user-friendly and pro-active in dealing with scenarios such as finding alternative seats so that younger ones can see the action; which adds to the desire to keep returning to watch football at the ground whenever Preston are there. Not all grounds can boast such helpful sensible stewards, believe me

As the match kicked-off, I kept my fingers crossed that we did actually get to see a good contest; and that we tried to win rather than park the proverbial bus across the goal-line in the hope of snatching a hard-earned draw. Preston North End on this day did not disappoint and tried to play good attacking football, being rewarded with a cracking goal towards the climax of the first half which prompted one of the best eruptions of celebration amongst away support that I've experienced for quite a while.

As the contest continued, a real sense of belief seemed to spread through the team and supporters alike that we could actually push on and win this match with more goals, and given the quality of some of the passing moves in the second half, we were unlucky not to extend our advantage. The nerves and excitement of a 1-0 lead continued to the death, as it took a brilliant last ditch tackle from a defender , Bailey Wright, and then an unbelievable point blank save from the keeper to keep the league leaders from securing an equaliser.

And so the final whistle signalled jubilant celebrations amongst the Preston fans, courtesy of the single goal from Garner that secured a very memorable 3 points. I practically floated home; there are few perfect afternoons in football, but when they come, they are simply brilliant, and its why we keep coming back on as many saturdays as we can. I had no voice left, but quite frankly I was too happy and elated to care!!!


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