Fulham fashioned a feisty comeback to condemn Leeds United to a fourth consecutive league defeat that could well prove terminal for beleaguered boss Jesse Marsch. The American coach, who is still firefighting eight months after succeeding Marcelo Bielsa at Elland Road, got the boost of an early goal from Rodrigo but the Brazilian’s close range header failed to galvanise a struggling side – who quickly conceded the softest of equalisers as Aleksandar Mitrovic guided in a corner at the near post.
The visitors passed up plenty of chances to go in front before Bobby Decordova-Reid flicked a fabulous header home from Andreas Pereira’s cross and when the makeshift right back waltzed along the right flank to tee up Willian for his first Fulham goal, Marco Silva’s men had breathing space. The Londoners had to sweat through stoppage time after Crysencio Summerville poked in a second, but their first win in Yorkshire since 2018 could have serious consequences for Marsch beyond the immediate impact on the Premier League table.
Fulham headed to Beeston full of beans after a commanding win over Aston Villa in midweek. Silva sprung a couple of surprises in his starting line-up, recalling Tosin Adarabioyo at the heart of the defence and handing a first start of the season to Harry Wilson on the right. They had to be on their mettle as Leeds made a fast start with Marc Roca having an early effort blocked and Sam Greenford shooting over, but missed a glorious chance to open the scoring thirteen minutes in. Antonee Robinson’s deep delivery fell invitingly for Harrison Reed at the far post following Mitrovic’s flick on but the midfielder couldn’t squeeze a third goal in five games between Ilian Meslier and Roca on the line.
Fulham paid the penalty for Reed’s failure to convert when Leeds opened up their defence seven minutes later. Brenden Aaronson slipped a ball through the back four for Jack Harrison and, although Tim Ream blocked his cross, the ball ballooned up to the back post where Rodrigo nodded into the empty net. It was no surprise that he outjumped the diminutive Decordova-Reid, but Adarabioyo should have put him under more aerial pressure. Marsch elected not to exuberantly celebrate the goal, as has been his wont, and perhaps that is an indication of the toll he has been under of late.
Leeds were jittery even though there were in front – and the lead didn’t last long. Andreas Pereira produced the perfect near post corner and it was all too easy for Mitrovic to lose Luke Ayling and head in his ninth Premier League goal in eleven games. Pereira should have put Silva’s side ahead when he raced onto a wonderful defence-splitting pass from Willian but he should straight at Illan Meslier instead of squaring it for Wilson, who had the freedom of west Yorkshire inside the area. Where Leeds were once dominating the midfield battle, Fulham began to exploit the fact that Sam Greenwood – a forward – had been redeployed as a holding midfielder in the absence of Tyler Adams and the end-to-end nature of the encounter continued after the interval.
Pereira perhaps should have shot rather than take the ball across the box, whilst Aaronson drifted in from the left and curled an effort a couple of yards over the top. Leeds lacked penetration in the final third and Marsch summoned Patrick Bamford, scorer in all of his last four fixtures against Fulham, from the bench after Rodrigo and Ayling had shot wide. The former Chelsea striker quickly had a great chance to score his hundredth career goal but Bernd Leno sped off his line, alert to the danger posed by Aaronson’s perfectly weighted pass, and made a vital save.
Fulham attacked again with Mitrovic heading over and Reed, regularly arriving late into the area, seeing a shot deflected behind. Leeds didn’t clear the subsequent corner and, with their centre backs too preoccupied by the Serbian, Decordova-Reid darted towards the near post utterly unattended and flicked a clever header across Meslier from Pereira’s floated cross. The visitors always looked likely to add a third and Reed was creator of the clinching goal as he crept away from two white shirts to make space for Willian where none seemed available and the evergreen winger rolled a simple finish into the empty net.
Leeds’ fanatical support had lost faith in Marsch and their heroes by this point. That goal sparked an exodus with boos and chants against the board. Two substitutes, Summerville and Joe Geldhardt, linked up to reduce the hosts’ arrears in added time but they never looked like completing the comeback. Fulham’s flair and fortitude sees Silva’s stylish side move up to eighth: a position even the most ardent supporter would have scoffed at in the summer.
LEEDS UNITED (4-2-3-1): Meslier; Ayling, Strujik (Geldhardt 84), Koch, Cooper; Greenwood (Klisch 76), Roca; Harrison, Sinisterra (Summerville 64), Aaronson; Rodrigo (Bamford 64). Subs (not used): Robles, Firpo, Llorente, Kristensen, Gyabi.
GOALS: Rodrigo (20), Summerville (90+1).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno; Decordova-Reid, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Palhinha, Reed (Cairney 90); Wilson (Kebano 63), Willian (Duffy 89), Pereira; Mitrovic (Vinicius 90). Subs (not used): Rodak, Mbabu, Diop, Onomah, Harris.
BOOKED: A. Robinson.
GOALS: Mitrovic (26), Decordova-Reid (74), Willian (84).
REFEREE: Antony Taylor (Greater Manchester).