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When Orient made a Boxing Day midday visit to Griffin Park in December 1994, they arrived struggling in the bottom five (yes five – remember that season when only one team was promoted and five went down?) and found Brentford in a run of scintillating form.

Ten days earlier the rampant Bees had dispatched Peter Shilton’s Plymouth Argyle in a 7-0 thrashing to set up a magnificent holiday programme which produced a run of five consecutive wins to propel David Webb’s team firmly into the play-off race.

Orient, under the unusual and unsuccessful joint management team of John Sitton and Chris Turner had failed to manage a single away win all season and their afternoon was to see no change in fortunes.

Midfield workhorse Paul Smith was missing from the Brentford line-up with a stomach strain but with Simon Ratcliffe playing the anchorman role in the middle, supported by the ever-adventurous Denny Mundee, Webb’s team tore into the East Londoners from the outset. It was Mundee who grabbed the opening goal in the 23rd minute when he stretched to force the ball into the net after a tantalising left-wing cross from Martin Grainger and eight minutes later, a peach of a goal doubled the lead.

A half-clearance fell nicely at the feet of the transfer-listed Ratcliffe and he rifled home a tremendous bullet-like shot from 18 yards, with the ball scarcely rising six inches off the ground on its journey from right foot to back of the net.

In the 38th minute Nicky Forster raced onto a ball through the middle and the majority of the bumper 6,125 Bank Holiday crowd would have put their mortgages on the young striker notching his twelfth goal of the season but an uncharacteristic moment of clumsy control saw him spurn the chance in his one-on-one with O’s ‘keeper Paul Heald. Forster was not to be denied though, and within 60 seconds Lee Harvey whipped over a corner, Jamie Bates got his head to the ball and Forster swivelled on the spot to lash in the third goal.

A 3-0 half-time scoreline had supporters wondering whether another seven-goal bonanza could be on the cards but, possibly heeding manager Webb’s interval warning, the second-half produced a more sterile affair with a ‘what-we-have-we-hold’ approach.

That was understandable with a long trip to Cheshire immediately after the game to face Chester less than 24 hours later and Webb confirmed his message in his post-match press conference.

“I just told them not give anything away in the second half, and we did exactly that. We’d done all the hard work and we didn’t want to give a goal away.”

Webb’s words had the desired effect and the trip north was rewarded with a 4-1 victory against bottom club Chester, being followed four days later with a New Year’s Eve home win against Oxford by 2-0 and a Bank Holiday win (3-2) at Cardiff 48 hours later.

If those were the days when footballers really did have to forgo Christmas and New Year celebrations, they certainly proved their worth with a maximum haul of points over the holiday period.

Whilst results were going well on the pitch, there was plenty of good news off the pitch too. Paul Stephenson, who had suffered a horrific fracture to his skull in a game at Bradford City eight weeks earlier had returned to light, non-contact training after keeping himself fit at Charlton’s training complex, near to his south London home, and had been welcomed back to the Bees’ own training ground by his team-mates forming an impromptu guard of honour, no doubt relieved to see their colleague again after witnessing the horror incident at Valley Parade.

The club was also delighted to announce that works to put a roof on the Ealing Road terrace should be ready to commence in March 1995 with a scheduled project plan of 16 weeks to completion in the hope of providing a much-needed ‘Home End’, under cover at last.

As Keith Loring said at the time, “Roll on March!”

… Fast forward twelve years!!

Mark Croxford