Last season’s demons returned to haunt Slavisa Jokanovic at Elland Road tonight as an injury-time overhead kick from Chris Wood preventing Fulham from extending their 100 per cent to the new season. The Cottagers conceded an alarmingly high number of late goals during their first two Championship campaigns, but looked set for a fourth straight win courtesy of a stunning strike from former Leeds midfielder Tom Cairney until Wood’s intervention in stoppage time.
Leaving Yorkshire with a point was harsh on the visitors, who largely dominated proceedings and should have been in front long before Cairney curled in his second sensational finish at Elland Road in as many visits from the right angle of the penalty area. Sone Aluko struck the base of the post after an intricate passing move shortly after seemingly being caught by Rob Green as he rounded the ex-England goalkeeper and former Leeds striker Matt Smith thumped a header against the near post from a corner.
Garry Monk, by contrast, will have been delighted with his side’s determination to drag themselves back in a contest that had appeared beyond them. Wood’s acrobatics will have eased the pressure on the new Leeds manager, whose side had lost their first two games, and given him something to build upon. Monk had selected a line-up packed with attacking intent, recalling Kemar Roofe and Stuart Dallas to play as advanced midfielders, behind Marcus Antonsson and Wood, who had been a target for the boo boys after a couple of unconvincing displays.
Antonsson spurned Leeds’ clearest opening in the first half, dragging his shot wide after racing through on goal following a dreadful mix-up between Tomas Kalas and Michael Madl. The on-loan Chelsea defender rolled a ball square towards Madl, but the Austrian’s untimely slip allowed Antonsson a clear run on David Button. Leeds, who been ponderous and pensive in the first period, increased the tempo after the break with Dallas driving a shot over and, in their first spell of sustained pressure, drawing two saves in quick succession from Button, who beat out a shot on the turn from Roofe and then thwarted Pablo Hernandez.
Fulham still looked the more composed in possession – they saw 61% of the ball over the ninety minutes – and their football was far more fluent. Floyd Ayite snatched a decent chance in the box and Ryan Sessegnon, who was outstanding on his league debut at the age of sixteen, also sent a shot wide as the composure that had characterised another mature performance just eluded him in front of goal. Jokanovic has already publicly called for August acquisitions to strengthen his squad – and Fulham’s profligacy in front of goal said more than any press conference quotes could.
They still should have taken all three points once a moment of magic from Cairney put them in front, however. He surprisingly allowed Aluko to take aim at a promising free-kick after a fine run from substitute Cauley Woodrow was cynically ended by Kyle Bartley, but profited after Aluko’s shot tamely in the wall. The ball found its way to Cairney, who was released by Leeds as a teenager after he was told he was too small to make it in professional football, and he bent a brilliant finish into the top corner with his left foot from the right side of the box.
Leeds pushed for an equaliser in a frantic final ten minutes which saw them force a hosts of corners, but their best opportunity came from open play. Wood somehow contrived to head an inviting cross from Antonsson into the ground and over the bar from four yards at the back post. That prompted more grumbles from the home fans, but Wood found the perfect riposte in injury time after Bartley had flicked on a high ball, swivelling to power home a bicycle kick that Button couldn’t keep out. The New Zealand international pointedly cupped his ear to the Kop in celebration – and Leeds had got out of jail.
LEEDS UNITED (4-4-2): Green; Ayling, Taylor, Cooper, Bartley; Phillips, Hernandez (Mowatt 72), Dallas (Vieira 58), Roofe (Sako 79); Antonsson, Wood. Subs (not used): Turnbull, Coyle, Bamba, Doukara.
GOAL: Wood (90+3).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi, Sessegnon, Kalas, Madl; Parker (Tunnicliffe 83), McDonald; Ayite (Jozabed 88), Cairney, Aluko, Smith (Woodrow 66). Subs (not used): Joronen, Malone, Ream, Christensen.
GOAL: Cairney (78).
REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire).