Almost exactly 24 years ago, four divisions separated these two sides when they met in the FA Cup and Leyton Orient narrowly triumphed 2-1… tonight the scoreline was reversed as the pair met on equal terms in front of the BT Sport cameras at The Kuflink Stadium.
Fleet were clinical in the first half, taking a two-goal lead into the break, and controlled all but the last five minutes of the second half until a superb goal by James Dayton set up a grandstand finish. The win moves Fleet into 11th place, just two points off the play-offs, and keeps the O’s mired just above the drop zone.
There were two changes for the home side with Jack Connors in for the suspended Chris Bush and Andy Drury replacing Jack Powell, whose trip to Slovakia in midweek meant he missed training sessions. The good news for supporters was the naming of Bradley Bubb on the bench after he scored two goals in Tuesday’s friendly v Sheppey United. The visitors were without leading scorer Macauley Bonne who was on international duty.
Orient attempted to apply some early pressure and Jake Caprice looked to test the Fleet’s left-hand side but twice found Jack Connors on hand to clear before James Brophy’s cross into the box was headed away, again by Connors. Alex Lawless received an early caution for a trip on Myles Weston but referee Adrian Quelch was otherwise happy to give players a warning and he kept the game flowing.
Fleet took the lead on six minutes when Drury and Myles Weston combined to slide Luke Coulson into space and his low cross from the right into the six-yard box was met by Drury who converted from close range.
The visitors looked purposeful when coming forward and they kept the Fleet defence busy. They were denied an equaliser on 13 minutes when Caprice’s ball into the box was left for Matt Harrold to fire goalwards. Nathan Ashmore diverted it on to the post and Dayton seemed certain to score but Kenny Clark pounced with a last-ditch goalline clearance as his keeper lay helpless on the ground.
Dean Rance had to block another shot on the edge of the box as Orient started to pass and move with a little too much freedom and Ashmore had to back pedal furiously to see Harrold’s looping header over the bar. At the other end, Weston showed some great skill on the counterattack to sprint into the box and past his marker before laying a shot across goal that was diverted away from the target.
But still the O’s pressed and they enjoyed sustained pressure in the final third for a spell. Fleet were left with a couple of Anthony Cook efforts that lacked any real threat and for 15minutes had to work hard to protect their lead. But McMahon’s men finished the half on a high as they found their feet again, Drury sending a dipping volley just over the bar after Connors and Weston had created the space for a cross.
Then, as the clock ticked past 40 minutes, skipper Danny Kedwell notched his 40th goal for the club. It was the Connors-Weston combination again that did it and the resulting cross was gobbled up by Kedwell who flung himself at it to send a header out of Charlie Grainger’s reach for 2-0
Ashmore had to monitor another looping effort, this time from Lawless, as it threatened to dip beneath his crossbar but the O’s went in at half-time trailing 2-0. They made a formation switch for the second half, withdrawing defender Dan Happe for midfielder Romauld Boco, but Fleet set about them from the whistle.
Cook enjoyed several incursions down the right flank as the half got off to a speedy start but the visitors had a threat of their own down their right side and Caprice’s pace got him clear to drive a low cross into the danger area but fortunately for the Fleet, his strikers were well behind it.
Cook then floated in a free-kick that Grainger came to meet and managed to push away eight yards out with Yado Mambo lurking before strong running by the impressive Coulson ended with a delivery that Grainger again saved.
Full of running and endeavour, Cook counterattacked on 58 minutes and sped into the box, falling just by the line with two defenders in close attention, but his protests were waved away by the referee. The home side were creating the bulk of chances and Weston got highest to an aerial ball, his header only denied by Grainger stretching to tip it around the post. The Fleet kept coming and on 74 minutes they looked odds-on to make it 3-0 when Orient’s defence went walkabout. Kedwell threaded a ball into Coulson who was one-on-one with Grainger but two defenders were hot on his heels and Mark Ellis made a superb tackle as the Fleet midfielder looked to unload.
With the game heading towards what seemed to be a straightforward climax, Orient found a new lease of life that had hardly been suggested after the break. Fleet survived one goalmouth scramble but with two minutes left, Dayton floated into space and with a small gap opening, he threaded an excellent shot towards the top corner that curled in off the post. Fleet suddenly looked a little vulnerable and David Mooney should have done better with a ball that fell at his feet but his shot was saved on the line by Ashmore. With three minutes added, a late free-kick in a dangerous position gave the O’s one last chance but Fleet saw that out to heed their manager’s call about concentrating for 90+ minutes and the points, deservedly, were theirs.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Connors, Mambo, Clark, Rance, Drury, Cook, Coulson (Powell 87), Weston (Shields 86), Kedwell. Subs not used: McCoy, Miles, Bubb
LOFC: Grainger, Caprice (Judd 79), Lawless (McAnuff 64), Ellis, Happe (Boco 46), Sendle-White, Mooney, Brophy, Harrold, Dayton, Westbrooke. Subs not used: Sargeant, Clay