There’s something special about Fulham and trips to Brisbane Road. For a start, the O’s are the capital rivals that we’ve faced the most across our lengthy history and the clashes have often been particularly memorable. There was the dreadful first-half display that promoted a dressing-room showdown that saw Don Mackay relieved of his managerial duties and a more uplifting occasion that saw an injured Terry Angus lead the fans in song during a crucial promotion fixture. The prospect of a first visit to E10 since that sunny Sunday afternoon in March 1997 was appealing enough before Friday’s fantastic opening win over Newcastle United.
Orient, a club of similar stature and likeability, have always seemed to have the potential to kick on in the manner that the Whites did when Mohamed Al Fayed rolled into town. Barry Hearn’s boxing, snooker and commercial interests seemed to this outsider perhaps to hinder the club’s footballing progression – and there’s no doubt that the encroachment of an enriched neighbour onto their catchment area hasn’t helped. The club that were so close to the Championship only two years ago find themselves plotting a course out of the Football League basement under former Gillingham midfielder Andy Hessenthaler, with many fans still trying to work out want to make of owner Francesco Becchetti.
Judging long-term prospects from a single game is fraught with danger – as the longer-suffering Fulham fans have been reminding everyone since Friday’s euphoria – but Hessenthaler seemed pretty pleased with several aspects of his side’s play in a keenly contested draw at newly-promoted Cheltenham Town on Saturday. Striker Ollie Palmer, who started at Whaddon Road in place of last season’s top scorer Jay Simpson – who is linked with a move to Southend – is certainly in confident mood, insisting ‘that there is no reason why we can’t take the game to Fulham and get a positive result’. Hessenthaler is likely to alter his starting line-up, with league points being a priority and illness potentially ruling out several players, but there should be a first appearance in ten months for club stalwart Dean Cox and an opportunity for Nicky Hunt in defence
Getting the balance right between rotating a small squad and avoiding the Orient Cup hoodoo that has dogged his predecessors may prove tricky for Slavisa Jokanovic. Orient have won all three of the most recent Cup meetings between the sides – including in 2006 when they won a famous FA Cup third round victory at Craven Cottage. The Serbian will have his eye on an important trip to Preston North End at the weekend, but won’t want to dent the optimism engendered by the win over Newcastle. He could offer a first senior start to Ryan Sessegnon at left back after an impressive pre-season provided the England youth international has shaken off the knock that ruled him out of contention against the Magpies. Richard Stearman may also come into the back four with Ryan Fredericks still a long-term absentee at right back, whilst Cauley Woodrow, who was omitted in favour of Matt Smith last week, might be given a run-out up front.
The experience of Scott Parker, who came on to shore things up as the clock ticked down against Newcastle, may bolster the central midfield area that Jokanovic will want to dominate as early as possible tonight. Lasse Vigen Christensen’s promising cameo from the bench might be enough to earn a start, but the shape of the side shouldn’t differ too radically from the one that was so disciplined last Friday. Following one convincing performance with another has been tricky for Fulham in recent years – signs of consistency at Orient would be another indication that Jokanovic’s team is heading in the right direction.
MY FULHAM XI (4-3-3): Joronen; Stearman, Sessegnon, Madl, Kalas; Parker, Christensen, Cairney; Ayite, Aluko, Woodrow. Subs: Button, Odoi, Malone, Tunnicliffe, McDonald, Smith, Humphries.