Fulham had to make to settle for a third successive draw at Elland Road tonight after an absorbing encounter between two potential promotion contenders ended in a goalless stalemate. Slavisa Jokanovic would have been encouraged by the fact that his side kept Leeds largely at bay – although in-demand forward Chris Wood missed a glorious opportunity to put the hosts ahead – as well as the way Fulham dominated the first half, but the visitors badly lacked penetration in the final third.
Leeds boss Thomas Christiansen had to pair youthful midfielder Conor Shaughnessy with Swedish colossus Pontus Jansson at the heart of the back four with both Matthew Pennington and Liam Connor ruled out with injuries. The home side looked vulnerable from the outset with Ryan Fredericks whipping a dangerous low cross right across the face of goal and, once Fulham had readjusted to cope with Tim Ream’s temporary absence after being clattered by Samuel Saiz, Jokanovic’s side began to seriously threaten Felix Wiedwald’s goal.
Stefan Johansen sent a low drive narrowly wide from outside the box in the twelve minute before Aboubakar Kamara saw an effect deflected wide and, after a flowing passing move that shifted the Leeds backline around around, Ibrahima Cisse beat Wiedwald with a wonderful strike from the edge of the area but the ball came back off the base of the far post. It would have been a perfect way for the Belgian midfielder to mark his league debut, but Leeds survived all of those early scares.
As Spaniards Saiz and the artful Pablo Hernandez grew into the game, Christiansen’s side began to put the Fulham rearguard under some serious pressure. A gorgeous through ball from Ezgjan Alioski released Wood into the inside right channel and the New Zealand international was clean through on goal. He tried to lift a finish over the advancing David Button but the Fulham goalkeeper was equal to the effort – and palmed the ball away to safety.
Jokanovic was then forced into an early reshuffle when a disconsolate Lucas Piazon, whose fabulous finish at Reading had been rewarded with a starting spot, was carried away following a robust challenge by Shaughnassy. Neeskens Kebano replaced the Brazilian who was taken straight down the tunnel with a suspected broken leg – and Fulham’s rhythm evaporated. Wood did put the ball in the net having expertly brought down a Saiz cross but was correctly flagged offside.
During the extended stoppage time played at the end of the first half, Fulham had a fortunate escape from a set play. Saiz’s delivery prompted panic in the box but Shaughnessy couldn’t muster a telling finish and the excellent Denis Odoi, who had an assured game at centre halve, cleared the danger. The second half was a tempestuous affair which saw Sessegnon booked for a high challenge on Alioski and Kamara and Jansson wage a running battle with one another in full view of the officials.
As time ticked by, the contest became more open amidst tiring legs. Leeds skipper Luke Ayling volleyed over from a half-cleared free-kick and Hernandez wasted a decent opportunity by sending a set-play just outside the box in a central position, before Fulham’s counter-attacks – usually utilising the pace of both full backs – began to deliver some openings. Stand-in skipper Sone Aluko screwed a shot wide before playing in Johansen, whose own effort was blocked, and Leeds surged straight up the other end, where Saiz shot across goal.
The visitors were looking lively on the break and perhaps should have gone in front when Johansen slid a delicious ball down the side of the Leeds defence sending Aluko through on goal. The Nigerian international was foiled at point blank range by a smart reaction save from Wiedwald, who made himself big. Jokanovic erupted in fury on the touchline after Shaughnessy appeared to bring down Kebano when the Congolese winger was through on goal. Kebano recovered his balance and shot towards goal, with the effort smothered behind by Wiedwald, although referee Darren Bond awarded a goal-kick and neglected to caution Shaughnessy.
Leeds also created good chances in a rip-roaring finale. Kalvin Phillips dragged a shot agonisingly wide of the far post and substitute Stuart Dallas nearly located Wood at the far post with a low cross that was deflected behind by Sessegnon. Right at the death, clever interplay between Cisse and Kebano created half an opening on the edge of box but the winger’s dipping shot cleared the crossbar. Jokanovic might have expected more than three points from Fulham’s opening three fixtures – but his side’s discipline and a precious clean sheet represent real positives to draw upon tonight.
LEEDS UNITED (4-2-3-1): Wiedwald; Ayling, Anita, Shaughnessy, Jansson; Phillips, O’Kane; Saiz (Dallas 82), Hernandez, Alioski (Roofe 63); Wood. Subs (not used): Green, Borthwick-Jackson, Bridcutt, Klich, Ekuban.
BOOKED: Phillips, Anita.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Cisse, Johnasen; Aluko, Piazon (Kebano 35), Kamara (Norwood 76). Subs (not used): Rodak, S. Sessegnon, Djalo, Deun, Woodrow.
REFEREE: Darren Bond.