It was the chance to do a spot of Christmas shopping at Westfield Stratford, more than the chance to watch the Mighty Iron in action, that sent me London-wards. Lindsay, struck down at the last minute with some lurgy, said his presence in E10 was "as likely as three points", and Fluffy was too exhausted to even contemplate the trip. But Lego and Disney stores were a powerful motivator, and I decided late on Friday evening that it was worth making the trip.
Londoners would probably laugh at the way I treat the capital: with a fully-loaded Oyster card in my pocket, I consider anywhere with a station to be equally accessible. This earned me a raised eyebrow from a Wimbledon fan when I declared that I was going to Orient while sitting on a train bound for exactly the opposite corner of London. Heading out to Kingston ate up more time than I'd bargained for (although I did get some pretty fabric) and I arrived at Stratford around two o'clock. Buying the presents I'd set out to buy took only a few minutes, but locating the shops I wanted, and lining up in Christmas queues, took much longer, and it was ten to three before I returned to the station. A Leyton-bound train pulled out just as I got to the platform, and I realised without too much dismay that I would be missing the kick-off.
Walking up Leyton High Street along with a few other stragglers, I strained my ears for crowd noises that would tell me what I was missing. I quickly decided that the ground kept the sound in efficiently, and the only cheers I would be able to hear would be greeting an Orient goal. No such sound reached me, and once I was inside, Karen confirmed that the score was still 0-0. The only incident of note I'd missed was the assistant referee apparently missing a blatant offside; as I took my seat, a stray clearance knocked his flag out of his hand, which Karen and Dan hailed as justice.
Sitting just in front of us was Lindsay, who had rallied overnight enough to travel. I confronted him with his words about the likelihood of making the trip, and asked whether his presence was a sign that three points were likely. Trying to be clever, he pointed out that he hadn't said who would claim the points. Karen told me that Man City had won the lunch-time game; maybe those were the points he was thinking about.
The first half was goalless but moderately entertaining. We defended competently, although Orient made that task simpler by not attacking with any strong conviction. By half time, I'd concluded that they were about as rubbish as we were, making a 0-0 draw a perfectly achievable goal. This was a better prospect than I'd seen in some time, and as the second half got underway I remarked that I hadn't seen us go so long without conceding a goal all season.
Karen complained that we weren't seeing any Scunthorpe attacks on the goal nearest us. I said that there wouldn't be any: we had exhausted our meagre attacking chances in the first half. A minute later, we managed an attack that came to nothing. "There," I said. "That was our chance for this half." But the attacks kept coming, and eventually one of a crowd of players over on the other side somewhere stuck the ball in the net. Even as I stood to applaud, I was shaking my head, hardly able to believe it.
"I hate it when we score," I grumbled a couple of minutes later. Karen looked at me as if I'd grown an extra head, but taking the lead does do unfortunate things to me. I start dreaming of points, basking in the warmth of being ahead - and that only makes the inevitable equaliser hurt more. I checked my watch and wondered whether the Iron players could pass the ball back and forth for the remainder of the match. They quickly demonstrated that they could not, but Orient still weren't giving our defence anything they couldn't handle.
We were flying forward on one of our best attacks of the match when one of our players was fouled. He'd already released the ball, and the attack was still unfolding, but the referee, apparently suspecting a head injury, stopped play and gave us a free kick. I cursed him, knowing we'd lost the advantage, and said aloud that we were certain to waste the free kick. Karl Hawley proceeded to prove me laughably wrong by sticking it past the keeper. "Fucking well wasted," Lindsay mocked.
I relaxed enough to join in, not the song about our chances of avoiding relegation, but at least a chorus of "Oh what fun it is to see the Scunthorpe win away." But from one of Orient's increasingly rare attacks, the ball struck an errant Scunthorpe hand, and the referee pointed to the spot. Shouts of encouragement to Steve Mildenhall and of derision to Kevin Lisbie failed to prevent the latter from putting the ball past the former, and we were back to 2-1. I knew how it would go from here. We would let another goal in, and spend the rest of the match trying to prevent a third that would condemn us to utterly humiliating defeat.
But no. Before I could make too many complaints, we'd scored another. This time it was Damien Mozika - Firefox, as I've decided he should be nicknamed - who gave the ball a flick that left the Orient keeper staring stupidly as it sneaked past him and into the net. Firefox celebrated with great gusto - as well he deserved to, having put his heart and soul into his performance. "Can we play you every week?" asked the fans behind me. "Ooh, then I'd be able to shop at Westfield every week," I said.
Now there was no doubt in my mind. We were getting three points. Orient were sufficiently poor to make us look pretty good, and they definitely didn't have it in them to produce a fightback. I relaxed, joined in with Jingle Bells, and stuck my fingers in my ears every time the subject of relegation-avoidance came up. The Iron players passed the ball to each other as if they'd been doing it all their lives. I counted the remaining minutes nervously, because old habits die hard, but the final whistle came without testing my nerves.
Lindsay and I walked back to the tube station together. "Be honest, Lindsay," I said. "Did Orient score three goals before I arrived?" He told me the first half had been goalless. "So we scored three goals and only let in one?" He confirmed that this was the case. "So we got three points?" An Orient fan in front of us glared at me over his shoulder. I probably sounded annoying, but victories have been rare enough lately that I wanted to make sure.