Fulham midfielders Sean Davis and Luis Boa Morte showed their forwards how to finish as the Whites eventually put relegated-threatened Leeds United to the sword at Loftus Road this afternoon.
Chris Coleman was bug in the dugout having undergone a fortnight of hospital treatment for septicaemia but for large parts of this game, it appeared as if the Fulham boss was in for further frustration. Fulham dominated the contest but couldn’t find the finishing touch with Boa Morte, Barry Hayles and Steed Malbranque all spurning glorious chances. Just as it looked as though it wasn’t going to Fulham’s day, Davis broke the deadline on 70 minutes and Boa Morte made the points safe with ten minutes to go. Coleman breathed a huge sigh of relief on the final whistle – content that his side had secured their first win in six weeks.
Boa Morte managed to shoot straight at Paul Robinson when played clean through by man-of-the-match Sylvain Legwinski in what Fulham’s clearest chance of the first half. Hayles did no better after the interval missing a free header from five yards out when it seemed simpler to score. The home fans’ frustration grew when Malbranque dragged an effort wide midway through the second half, but the late strikes from Davis and Boa Morte pushed Leeds further towards the drop.
Coleman shuffled his pack as promised after being disappointed with Fulham’s finishing in their FA Cup defeat at Manchester United last weekend. Brian McBride made way for Hayles, who proved a physical pest for Leeds’ defence but wasn’t any more accurate in front of goal. The Jamaican international did at least unsettle the visiting defenders enough to ensure Boa Morte got a shot away in a crowded penalty just after the half hour mark but the Portugese winger’s awkward effort was always flying over the bar.
Ian Pearce snuffed out a rare sight of goal for Alan Smith before Boa Morte pounced on a short back header from Gary Kelly to nip around the stranded Robinson but he failed to roll the ball into an unguarded net. Leeds were largely operating on the break but come close to an unlikely opener early in the second half when a powerful volley from Didier Domi was pushed away by Edwin van der Sar.
Fulham continued to play most of the football but Eddie Gray’s rearguard action kept them at arm’s length. Mark Pembridge tried his luck twice from distance but was denied by Robinson, before the Welsh international’s corner had the England goalkeeper flapping only for Hayles to inexplicably head wide from close range with the goal gaping. Boa Morte then lost control of the ball when he seemed certain to score for twelve yards and Malbranque thrashed unconvincingly wide as Leeds began to believe they might hold out for a point.
Davis eventually ended the stalemate with twenty minutes left. The Fulham academy graduate strode forward from central midfield, swapped passes with Malbranque and, as the visiting defenders stood off stroked a drive into the bottom left corner from sixteen yards out. Leeds resorted to pushing men forward in search of an equaliser and it proved to be their undoing in the final ten minutes. The away side failed to properly clear a free-kick which was cleverly recycled by Pembridge, allowing Knight to cross for Boa Morte who headed past Robinson with his team-mates lining up alongside him.
Leeds threw caution to the wind in the closing minutes but couldn’t engineer a way back into the match. Seth Johnson drilled a shot straight at van der Sar whilst youngster Simon Johnson struck the crossbar from five yards out right on the final whistle.
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz, Green, Knight, Pearce; Legwinski, Davis, Pembridge; Malbranque, Boa Morte, Hayles (McBride 86). Subs (not used): Crossley, Djetou, Inamoto, Petta.
BOOKED: Legwinski, Inamoto, Djetou, Petta.
GOALS: Davis (71), Boa Morte (83).
LEEDS UNITED (4-4-2): Robinson Kelly, Caldwell, Matteo, Domi; McPhail, Seth Johnson, Milner (Simon Johnson 76), Pennant; Smith, Viduka. Subs (not used): Carson, Harte, Olembe, Richardson.
BOOKED: Pennant, Domi, Caldwell.
REFEREE: Steve Dunn (Gloucestershire).