Sublime strikes from Joao Palhinha and Manor Solomon fired Fulham past a luckless Leeds United and into the last eight of the FA Cup for the first time in thirteen years. Marco Silva’s side were far from their fluent finest and, on another night with better finishing their visitors could have made a real game of it, but their progress into the quarter finals still felt fairly serene on a cold evening at Craven Cottage.
The temperature might have been chilly and there could easily have been a frosty reception for Fulham’s decision makers after they opted to charge £40 for a midweek Cup clash that was available live on the BBC, but the peerless Portuguese midfielder Palhinha soon provided a moment to warm the cockles. The former Sporting schemer feels like the bargain of the summer at a touch over £17m and it was Leeds’ misfortune to be next to suffer after Palhinha had been banned for two league matches after picking up a tenth booking against Wolves on Friday.
Most opponents fear Palhina for his fearsome tackling, but he should be underestimated in the final third either. He produced a moment of magic to ease the nerves of the home crowd after Leeds had made the stronger start to this continue. Palhinha’s reading of the game allowed him to pinch possession off Marco Roca after a poor ball from Tyler Adams and the all-action midfielder then bent a brilliant shot around Ilan Meslier, with the Leeds goalkeeper well off his line, and in off the far post from 30 yards. It was a goal to remind everyone that Palhinha isn’t merely a ball-winner and definitely rivals his sensational strike at Nottingham Forest.
But Fulham were probably fortunate to still be in front come the interval. Javier Gracia felt the decision to deny Georgino Rutter a first goal for Leeds after a push by Weston McKennnneee at a corner was ‘soft’. The visitors were again denied by the offside flag when the irrepressible Wilfried Gnonto tucked home after Rasmus Kristensen had extended Marek Rodak. The Slovakian goalkeeper made a superb reaction stop to foil Roca just after the Whites had gone in front and, when Rutter did beat Fulham’s academy graduate custodian, his header bounced back into the danger zone off the post.
The visitors kept up the pressure in the second period. Rodak palmed away another Gnonto shot after Crysencio Summerville had led a lightning Leeds break and then smothered a shot from Rutter at closer quarters after Summerville had refused to give up on a lost cause along the byline. Fulham absorbed that spell of pressure and promptly doubled their lead through another Solomon special, his fourth goal in as many games. The Israeli retrieved a half-cleared Harry Wilson cross and ventured in field, just as he had against Wolves on Friday, worked a one-two with Mitrovic and curled a fabulous finish into the far corner.
Mitrovic was well into his celebrations having headed home a searching cross from Cedric Soares before he was correctly adjudged to have been offside. A couple of Leeds substitutes briefly threatened to fashion a route back into the contest, with Jack Harrison spooning an effort well over the bar and Brendon Aaronsen arguably going even closer with a volley. Fulham finished strongly with Meslier almost spilling a speculative strike from Cedric Soares into the path of the onrushing substitute Carlos Vinicius, but Silva’s side – now unbeaten in seven matches in all competitions – ran out comfortable winners.
Leeds will rue the fact that they rattled in sixteen shots, six of which were on target, and failed to score. Gracia will need sharper shooting at Stamford Bridge this weekend and preserving their Premier League status must be the new manager’s priority. Fulham, even well short of the high standards that Silva expects for his side, ground out another impressive victory, including a clean sheet, which is often-cited as the hallmark of a successful side. Another visit to Wembley, where the Whites have an impeccable recent record, is now tantalisingly close.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Cedric (Tete 90), A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Palhinha (Reed 81), Lukic; Wilson (Willian 82), Solomon (Decordova-Reid 81), Pereira; Mitrovic (Vincius 69). Subs (not used): Leno, Diop, Duffy, Harris.
GOALS: Palhina (21), Solomon (56).
LEEDS UNITED (4-3-3): LEEDS UNITED (4-3-3): Meslier; Ayling, Firpo, Kristensen, Koch; Adams, McKennie, Roca (Aaronson 74); Summerville, Gnoto (Harrison 64), Rutter (Bamford 63). Subs (not used): Robles, Diego Monteiro, Perkins, Gyabi, Fernandez, Gray.
REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh (Greater Manchester).
We definitely rode our luck this time. The disallowed goal would probably have stood nine times out of ten and better finishing from Leeds could well have knocked us out of the Cup.Yet again Tim Ream kept us in the game. Let’s hope that Mitro and Andreas can find their early season form again soon and that Silva can work out a way of playing Solomon and Willian in the same eleven. With luck Ivan Toney will be a trifle preoccupied on Monday night. Wonder if he’ll put a bet on how long he’ll be banned. COYW
We won – and that’s great, obviously. However, we didn’t just ride our luck we galloped. The ref. should have gone to Specsavers with that ludicrous Wilson dive, a feature of our game that seems to have increased recently: particularly true of Wilson and Mitro: why throw yourself around in an attempt to fool the ref. when applying yourself to what you’re supposed to be doing might well work to your advantage anyway! Obviously, we were missing Reed’s industry and tenacity and Pereira looked off the pace and anonymous for much of the game and simply bypassed by Leeds. Lukic is still acclimatizing so the jury remains out as far as he’s concerned. Soares is no Tete at the moment, which is fair enough because he isn’t Tete: so, again, the Jury’s out. Fortunately, he’s also no MBabu. Mitro still looks about 70% at best but had 60 minutes or so run out to get a bit of game time into his legs. Hopefully, he might be at least 90% by next Monday. And, finally, Tosin, who looked calm and assured for most of the last Championship season, is no Diop, which is why the management appears to be looking at further CB reinforcements: e.g. the bloke from Fenerbahce, Szalai.