Two leagues apart but just one goal the margin at the end of this Emirates FA Cup tie and that was all that stood between the Fleet and a third consecutive 1-1 draw at the Breyer Group Stadium. A strong second-half performance from the visitors wasn’t able to haul back the only goal of the game, scored by the home side’s top scorer Aaron Drinan 24 minutes in.
Dennis Kutrieb’s side threw players forward towards the end in a last-ditch attempt to break the Orient back line but it wasn’t to be as Drinan’s solitary strike separated the teams.
The Fleet boss opted for Josh Gould in goal over Chris Haigh and with Tobi Adebayo-Rowling unavailable, back into the starting lineup came Ben Chapman. There were also recalls for Chris Solly and Dominic Poleon, while Sido Jombati and Kieran Monlouis dropped to a bench of eight.
Roared on from the start by the official count of 865 (but in all likelihood more) Fleet fans, the visitors were far from overawed by their surroundings and Jack Paxman pinged in an early cross towards Lee Martin that Lawrence Vigouroux gathered but the skipper’s effort might well have gone anywhere through a ruck of defenders.
Rakish Bingham’s partnership with Poleon is an increasing part of Fleet’s season and fresh from the No.9’s pass for the second goal against Braintree, Bingham tried to release his striker partner once more after four minutes here but on this occasion, Poleon just didn’t quite have the legs to reach the ball in behind.
Orient began to gather their range a little better from the 10th minute mark, with midfielder Hector Kyprianou the standout in the middle. But Fleet continued to ask a few questions of their hosts, Greg Cundle’s powerful burst down the left forcing defenders to back-pedal towards their goal but the end result fell short and ran behind for a goal-kick.
Gould made a good stop on 20 minutes, a solid push away of an effort from a red shirt, and then watched as Drinan curled another over the bar, Orient by now more confident with their passing game in the Fleet half.
But the Irishman, fresh from a hat-trick against Hartlepool last week, was not so wasteful with his next opportunity on 24 minutes. A ball threaded through the left channel by Shad Ogie was met by Drinan who had a head start on the speedy Chapman and although Fleet fans howled for offside, the run was perhaps dead level, Drinan advancing to fire past Gould from an angle.
Fleet might have let that affect their morale but they kept toe-to-toe with O’s, the chief threat coming down the left via Cundle and Joe Martin as the visitors probed for an opening. Neither side could quite find the quality of pass in the final third, however, but Fleet headed into the break with more than a foothold in the tie.
And after the break, it was the men in green who looked the more positive and assured going forward, although as they committed bodies in search of the equaliser, Orient found the odd pocket of space to keep Gould and his defenders busy.
Fleet’s commitment to the cause was embodied by Poleon’s strong run two minutes after the restart, finding the opportunity for a shot on goal down the right that headed towards the far bottom corner only to veer away and skip past the foot of the post.
And that Fleet pressure kept coming, another good move forward with Lee Martin releasing a ball into the box and the visitors claiming a penalty as Poleon went down, but the referee angered the East Stand as he pulled play back to award a free-kick for a foul seconds earlier.
Just on the hour mark, that East Stand was holding its head in its collective hands as Paxman’s cross beat the goalkeeper and Bingham’s header seemed like it might creep in but was just off target. Frustration with the referee and near-side assistant also crept into Fleet’s game, especially when Chapman was upended just by the Orient box for at least a corner but a goal-kick was the result and it wasn’t long before the Fleet No.22 found himself in the book.
Back came the O’s to remind the Fleet that it wasn’t all one-way traffic, Sefa Kahraman with one superb tackle on Drinan and Solly managing to clear another one. Gould pushed over another Drinan effort and was at full stretch as a venomous Tom James shot flew wide from outside the box.
Gould might have felt brief alarm when Dan Kemp tried to drop a shot over him but instead the disguised effort settled on the roof of the net. Kutrieb sent on his full complement of five substitutes, first Elliott Romain to rough up the Orient back line and Monlouis, who proved strong and full of running, supplemented by Michael West, Kresh Krasniqi and Alfie Egan.
But a physically strong Orient were able to blunt Fleet’s remaining attempts and did just enough to wind the clock down at the same time, the visitors unable to quite find the killer pass that they had threatened earlier in the half.
As time ticked down, Joe Martin and Solly joined the forward line for a couple of West free-kicks and even Gould’s pink shirt could be witnessed closing down his opposite number in the Orient box, but with the 90 minutes complete, so too was Fleet’s brave FA Cup run for another season.
EUFC: Gould, J.Martin, Kahraman, Chapman (Egan 72), Paxman, Solly, Tanner (Krasniqi 85), Cundle, L.Martin (West 88), Bingham (Monlouis 85), Poleon (Romain 72). Subs: Jombati, N’Guessan, Haigh
LOFC: Vigouroux, James, Clay, Smith, Kemp, Archibald, Drinan, Pratley, Beckles, Ogie, Kyprianou. Subs not used: Byrne, Wood, Happe, Smyth, Omotove, Sotiriou, Young, Papadopoulos, Sweeney.