Dominic Matteo’s dramatic late header clinched all three points for Leeds after Fulham had fought back from 2-0 down at Elland Road this afternoon.
Eddie Gray’s side looked set for a comfortable victory in their battle against relegation after Michael Dubbery and a brilliant finish from Australian striker Mark Viduka suitably rewarded the hosts for their dominance of this contest. But the visitors were sparked into life by Louis Saha’s piece of predatory finishing when he drove a shot past Paul Robinson just seventy seconds after they had gone 2-0 down. Remarkably, Fulham – who had scarcely mustered a short in the whole of the game – were level with four minutes to go when the French forward lashed another improvised finish into the Leeds net when his 20-yard striker slipped through the hands of Robinson.
But the hosts snatched a late winner when skipper Matteo was left unmarked in the Fulham area two minutes later and he rose highest to plant a header past the helpless Edwin van der Sar. Leeds’ late victory means that Gray’s side have now picked up seven points in their last three games and are just a point behind seventeenth-placed Leicester City.
The Yorkshire side began brightly with Gary Kelly and Jermaine Pennant posing particular problems down their right flank. Former Chelsea defender Duberry, restored to the heart of the Leeds defence after Gray’s move to a 4-5-1 formation, opened the scoring four minutes before the break – although there was an element of fortune about the goal. Neale Barry gave a generous free-kick after Alan Smith went down under Luis Boa Morte’s challenge just outside the box and, although Edwin van der Sar did brilliantly to save Ian Harte’s set-piece, the ball bounced in off Duberry’s knees.
Leeds grabbed a crucial second within a minute of the restart thanks to another moment of magic from Viduka. The Australian striker collected a throw from James Milner, held off the attentions of Zat Knight as he moved into shooting range and thundered a fabulous effort beyond van der Sar’s desperate dive.
But Fulham were far from stunned by the equaliser. Saha gave them a lifeline when he fired home from 20 yards after being found by Sean Davis and the French striker almost brought them level with emphatic volley from a corner only to be denied by a magnificent reaction save from Robinson. The visitors then had three lucky escapes in quick succession as Jermaine Pennant twice struck the woodwork and Matteo stabbed over the bar after excellent approach play from Milner and Viduka.
Fulham seemed to have pulled off a stunning comeback when Saha lashed in a second with four minutes to play when another opportunistic finish had too much power for Robinson, but Matteo popped up just two minutes later to claim all three points for Leeds.
LEEDS UNITED (4-5-1): Robinson; Kelly, Radebe, Duberry, Harte; Pennant, Smith, Batty, Matteo, Milner; Viduka. Subs (not used): Carson, Morris, Bridges, McPhail, Richardson.
BOOKED: Batty, Smith.
GOALS: Duberry (41), Viduka (46), Matteo (88).
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz (Hayles 63), Harley, Melville, Knight; Legwinski, Clark, Davis; Malbranque, Boa Morte (Sava 77), Saha. Subs (not used): Crossley, Goma, Djetou.
BOOKED: Boa Morte.
GOALS: Saha (47), (86).
REFEREE: Neale Barry (North Lincolnshire).