Boothferry Park was packed to the rafters, with more than 13,300 in attendance on a hot and sunny afternoon, and the fans saw Brian Little’s Tigers enjoy the better openings in a keenly contested first half.
Rob Matthews shot wide from their first attack after a slip by Matt Joseph as Gary Brabin and Mark Greaves took control of midfield. But the visitors could have opened the scoring themselves when Ian Goodison’s fifth-minute attempted clearance was picked up by David McGhee but he could guide his effort off target.
Matthews went close only to be denied by Orient keeper Ashley Bayes with Kevin Francis just unable to connect with the loose ball. The best chance of the half came on 29 minutes. A teasing cross was flicked on by the giant Francis to the far post where Greaves fired against the bar.
Despite their lack of clear-cut openings, Orient still looked dangerous on the counter-attack with young striker Jabo Ibehre always a threat in the absence of suspended 19-goal top-scorer Carl Griffiths.
Eyre replaced the tiring Francis after 64 minutes and took just five minutes to make his presence felt on the pitch. Matthews’ corner bundled away by the Orient defence but the clearance was poor and went only as far as Eyre on the edge of the box and he steadied himself before lashing a low shot past an unsighted Bayes.
It was a sweet moment for the striker, who lived just a stone’s throw away from Boothferry Park, and such was the delight amongst the home crowd, the goal sparked a mini-pitch invasion from an over-exuberant minority but order was soon restored.
Orient refused to give up the fight as they looked for a route back into the tie and, although they came close with the final chance of the afternoon as Ibehre wasn’t too far away from grabbing a late equaliser, the home defence stood firm to ensure a fully-deserved win for the Tigers.