Patrick Bamford and Raphinha punished some sloppy Fulham defending to set Leeds’ season back on track as Marcelo Bielsea recorded his first win in London at the sixteenth attempt. The defeat was particularly damaging to the home side, desperate as they were to put pressure on their relegation rivals Newcastle and Brighton, who meet tomorrow night in a high stakes clash at the foot of the table, but Scott Parker’s side couldn’t make the most of a lifeline handed to them just before half time by Joachim Andersen’s first goal for the club.
The Danish defender’s instinctive finish from a corner – which exposed Leeds’ own vulnerabilities from set plays – gave Fulham hope after they had been completely outplayed in a frantic first half hour at Craven Cottage. They struggled to cope with the visitors’ relentlessly pressing and looked utterly bamboozled by the swift start made by Bielsa’s men. It was something of a surprise that it took until the 29th minute for Leeds to go in front. The Yorkshire outfit had two goals disallowed by the video assistant referee – Luke Ayling’s far post header was chalked off when the technology determined that Tyler Roberts had tiptoed beyond the Fulham defensive line before putting in a cross, whilst Raphinha was comfortably offside before firing home from the right angle of the box.
Fulham failed to heed those warnings and, in truth, this disorganised defensive display harked back to their horrific start to the season. Leeds finally grabbed the lead their dominance had more than merited when Jack Harrison fizzed in a low cross from a quick throw-in and Bamford fired his fourteenth goal of an outstanding campaign past Alphonse Areola after he had darted between Antonee Robinson and Tosin Adarabioyo. That the hosts had been denied the opening goal moments earlier when Illan Meslier’s instinctive reaction save and an Ayling goal-line clearance prevented Josh Maja’s shot-on-the-turn from crossing of the line only served to emphasise the fine margins that exist in the top flight.
Parker’s men are nothing if not resilient, however. They barged their way back into a contest that appeared to be well beyond them when Andersen won a tug of war with Ayling at a Lookman corner and guided a volley home from ten yards. Suddenly, the home side had the momentum and it took another terrific Meslier save to prevent Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa from firing Fulham in front. Aleksandar Mitrovic was sent on for the second half and the Whites began on the front foot, forcing a couple of corners, and then – after Mario Lemina had marauded his way along the byline – Ademola Lookman somehow contrived to miscue wastefully right in front of the target.
It was to prove a costly miss. Half a minute later, Leeds were back in front. Kalvin Phillips stripped Lemina of possession in midfield, Andersen sold himself by going to ground as Bamford brought the ball forward and his measured pass sent Raphinha into the penalty area. The winger didn’t have a lot of space in which to operate but he slipped between Adarabioyo and Robinson and sneaked his shot past Areola and the near post at pace. It was a poacher’s finish that could have huge ramifications at the foot of the table.
Fulham kept throwing bodies forward but they created precious little – with Lookman’s tame shot at Meslier their only serious chance – whilst leaving themselves open to a sucker punch. Bielsa’s side, whose sparkling approach play was impressive throughout, should have sealed the game on the counter-attack in the closing stages with the rapid Raphinha laying on good chances for both Stuart Dallas and Ezgjan Alioski, who was denied by a splendid save from Areola. The worry for Parker, who probably got his tactics wrong this evening, is that games are beginning to run out – however spirited Fulham’s fight against relegation has been so far.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Areola; Aina (Tete 72), Robinson, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Reed (Loftus-Cheek 63), Anguissa, Lemina; Cavaleiro, Lookman, Maja (Mitrovic 45). Subs (not used): Fabri, Hector, Odoi, Ream, Kongolo, Bryan.
BOOKED: Lemina, Loftus-Cheek.
GOAL: Andersen (38).
LEEDS UNITED (4-1-4-1): Meslier; Ayling, Alioski, Llorente, Strujik; Phillips; Dallas, Roberts (Koch 90), Raphinha, Harrison; Bamford (Klich 77). Subs (not used): Casilla, Berardi, Shackleton, Jenkins, Poveda, Costa, Gelhardt.
BOOKED: Bamford, Phillips.
GOALS: Bamford (29), Raphinha (58).
REFEREE: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire).