The Fleet will travel to Leyton Orient for only the second time in 25 years with added firepower in the form of Southend loanee Norman Wabo, his signing this week having ended a long trawl by Daryl McMahon for a striker.
Whether the 19-year-old scoring sensation of the Shrimpers’ U23 side is thrust straight into the lineup alongside Danny Kedwell remains to be seen, but as another attacking option for a side in form, it’s been a timely boost for the Fleet.
The visitors enter the game fresher than their hosts, having sat out last Saturday’s scheduled fixtures following the big freeze. The O’s featured in the only game to survive the weather, at Dover, and that defeat was followed by a second at the other end of the country on Tuesday night, Justin Edinburgh’s side coming back from 2-0 down but ultimately exiting the FA Trophy at Gateshead.
McMahon, who returns to Brisbane Road – or the Matchroom Stadium as it’s now called – for the first time since turning out as an Orient player isn’t the only one in the Fleet ranks with experience of treading the East London turf. Jack Payne spent the 2015/16 season on loan with Leyton Orient while Aaron McLean came through the O’s youth ranks and got his first taste of League football at the club.
The Fleet boss has made no secret of the fact that this match was one of the first he looked out for in the fixture list and if he knew then that his side would be facing his old employers with an opportunity to inch nearer the play-off places, he’d surely have taken that last July.
The top seven is out of Fleet’s reach this weekend, largely due to Dover’s win against Leyton Orient last weekend, which means there is now a five-point gap to seventh place, though both ourselves and AFC Fylde have a game in hand on Chris Kinnear’s side. And McMahon knows this match will be a tough test of his side’s credentials. Having come away from big grounds like Wrexham and Tranmere with nothing, Fleet’s last game on the road – at Hartlepool – proved they have what it takes to challenge the ex-League teams on their own patch.
Lawrie Wilson’s hamstring injury will have been given another week’s rest following the Wrexham postponement so he will likely figure for selection, though McMahon might well be loath to alter a side that has delivered four wins on the trot.
For Fleet fans, this will be a big day out having only once before visited Brisbane Road when our clubs were three divisions apart and the O’s narrowly won an FA Cup tie in 1993.
After two defeats on the spin and no home win since Boxing Day, Fleet will need to beware of the wounded tiger mentality amongst the O’s. Their defeat at the Kuflink Stadium in November spelled the end of manager Steve Davis’ reign and new man Justin Edinburgh has steadied the ship to the extent that the club shouldn’t need to look over their shoulders and worry about relegation.
There was plenty of acrimony between Orient fans and players after that defeat to ourselves but Edinburgh has largely healed the rifts. He has brought striker Dan Holman in from Cheltenham Town and talented midfielder Sam Ling, recently a teammate of Corey Whitely, has made the short trip from Dagenham. Former Dartford youngster Ebou Adams is also on loan from Norwich, full-back Nathan Mavila from Wingate & Finchley, while the experienced Dean Brill has replaced Charlie Grainger in goal and new defender Marvin Ekpiteta played against the Fleet for East Thurrock earlier this season.. Fleet will also face hotshot Macauley Bonne up front, who was missing on international duty when last the sides met.
Edinburgh’s changes rendered some useful results, with the O’s seeing off the likes of Sutton, Dagenham, AFC Fylde, Maidstone plus Dover in the FA Trophy – but they haven’t quite hit the heights of their early season form when they climbed as high as second and Edinburgh will know he needs to turn around their home form at the very least.
George Elokobi, Jobi McAnuff, Charlie Lee and James Dayton (who scored at the Kuflink Stadium) are all carrying injuries while Craig Clay and Alex Lawless will be looking to return from illness.
Tickets for the game are available for Fleet fans on the day from the Matchroom Stadium at Leyton Orient.