Steed Malbranque’s low drive extinguished Leeds United’s hopes of reaching the Champions League whilst securing Fulham’s first win at Elland Road since 1966 and probably securing safety for Jean Tigana’s side.

The French under-21 international, easily the Cottagers’ most consistent performer during their first Premier League campaign, stunned Leeds – who had dominated the first period – by lashing a low drive throw a crowd of players and past Nigel Martyn after the home side had failed to clear a corner. Tigana’s assistant Christian Damiano proclaimed Fulham’s third away league success as ‘the result of the season’ – and it was difficult to argue with that assessment.

The Londoners had to absorb plenty of Leeds pressure as the home side had an overwhelming amount of possession from the outset. Danny Mills and Sean Davis swapped speculative shots as both sides felt each other out, but the hosts proved more dangerous in the final third. Robbie Keane spurned a great chance when he dragged an effort wide of Edwin van der Sar’s goal, but Fulham were rescued by Rob Styles three minutes later after the referee ruled out Robbie Fowler’s predatory finish because he deemed Lee Bowyer had taken out Fulham’s Dutch goalkeeper as he tried to reach Ian Harte’s cross.

The Irish full back was Leeds’ most regular source of chances all afternoon. Harte supplied another superb ball in just before the half hour mark but Keane contrived to miss the target from just yards out – when it seemed far easier to break the deadlock. At the other end, Louis Saha fashioned Fulham’s best opening when he drilled straight at Martyn after a give and go with Davis but the visitors ended the first half on the back foot as Keane skated away from Andy Melville to go one-on-one with van der Sar but the off-colour Leeds striker again failed to find the target.

Fowler did finally stretch van der Sar with a diving header but it was Fulham who took the game to their opponents after the interval. They got their reward when Malbranque’s eleventh goal of a superb season stunned the home crowd into silence with seven minutes played in the second half. The shock of going behind briefly raised Leeds from their stupor with van der Sar spreading himself to deny Keane from Fowler’s pass before both strikers again missed the target from promising postions.

Fulham have leaked goals in the second half of the season but their defence was excellently marshalled by the outstanding Alain Goma here. The French centre half read the game superbly, especially after picking up a yellow card, and kept Leeds at bay in the closing stages, much to the frustration of the Elland Road regulars. Alan Smith sent a shot right across the six yard box before neither Keane and Eirik Bakke could touch it home and Fowler’s spooned finish from ten yards as time ticked down rather summed up the profligacy of David O’Leary’s side.

Leeds are now seven points behind fourth-placed Newcastle United with only two games left to play, but Fulham could celebrate reaching the precious forty point mark after holding on for a surprise success. A nervous Tigana fiddled with his toothpick throughout, whilst Damiano described the season as ‘frustrating in many ways’ afterwards but the pair could consider this victory as a job well done.

LEEDS UNITED (4-4-2): Mills; Mills, Harte, Ferdinand, Matteo; Batty, Bakke, Bowyer, Smith; Fowler, Keane. Subs (not used): Robinson, Kelly, Wilcox, Johnson, Richardson.

BOOKED: Bowyer, Matteo.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma; Davis (Ouaddoh 87), Legwinski, Malbranque, Boa Morte (Goldbaek 9); Saha (Hayles 77), Marlet. Subs (not used): Taylor, Knight.

BOOKED: Goma, van der Sar, Legwinski.

GOAL: Malbranque (52).

REFEREE: Rob Styles (Hampshire).