Fulham 1 (Andersen 38)
Leeds United 2 (Bamford 29, Raphinha 58)
Phew! That was another tense one wasn’t it? We looked a class apart for half an hour but once they pegged us back we seemed to start over thinking it and every time we gave a corner away there was little room left behind the sofa, certainly in our house anyway! BUT, that was a huge win in the context of ensuring our Premier League security and we again showed that we have spirit and heart to spare. The stats suggest there wasn’t much between the sides by the end but I think we shaded it in chance-quality and overall nous. Perhaps more important than all that though is… we’ve only gone and won in London!
For half an hour, maybe even longer, Leeds bossed this game and, but for the thickness of a Tyler Roberts shirt sleeve, we’d have been in front well before Paddy Bamford eventually stabbed that ball home at the near post. We can only bemoan our luck that VAR once again intervened to prevent what would have been one of the best-celebrated goals of the season, if maybe not the best goal! To see ‘Bill’ unfurl that swishing mane again brought back all those wonderful memories of the Huddersfield game last season. Had that ‘goal’ counted then who knows how the game may have gone.
The same should have applied when we did eventually get on the board in the 29th minute but, strangely, Fulham seemed to finish the half stronger and with Bamford clearly struggling and one or two others also looking in need of a rest, we were under the cosh up to the break. The finish from Bamford at the near post was another one in his sublime portfolio though! Throw-in to Harrison, first-time cross, and Bamford meeting it perfectly on the half volley to steer it inside the post.
We had to rely on the magnificent reflexes of Illan Meslier again twice, one either side of the Fulham equaliser which, so disappointingly, came yet again from a corner – the 11th corner we’ve conceded and the 14th set-piece this season. Fulham would win 13 corners tonight and a quick look at social media will tell you I don’t think we defended a single one of them well. The way Andersen reacted much quicker than Luke Ayling is so frustrating and suggests there is still lots to improve in these situations. Andersen was basically just too clever for Ayling.
Those Meslier saves were out of this world; firstly somehow getting his hand to a Maja shot from 12 yards that he had no right to get close to, and then an amazing double save first at the feet of a Fulham striker and then down at the foot of his right hand post. The lad must be well up there for Player of the Season in my estimation.
I thought second half we gradually got the better of a clearly tiring, and maybe dispirited, Fulham side that probably had as many chances but, other than those set-piece crosses, never really troubled Meslier again. At the other end, Leeds fashioned a few decent efforts but the final ball seldom came off. Alioski was closest with a rasping left-footer that Areola saved well.
The winning goal when it came was another Bielsaball move from one end to the other. Lookman should probably have scored for Fulham but we have Tyler Roberts to thank for at least putting the Cottager off as he could only scuff the ball out towards the touchline. Luke Ayling won his usual ‘flop’ free-kick and Leeds swiftly moved up the other end. Phillips with a chunky tackle getting the ball to Bamford, Bamford a funny little wrong foot pass through the back line to Raphinha and the Brazilian showing his close control to nick it between two defenders with his left foot and then prod it home with his right; gone in 20 seconds!
Overall it’s churlish to pick too many holes in this performance; to win in London against an in-form side that knew it probably had to win tonight to save its Premier League life has to be considered a great achievement. We cannot avoid however the fact that defensively we didn’t look strong tonight once the ball got near or into our penalty area. Our non-defending of corners is now legendary and it has to be improved; it’s been going on too long now and with all sorts of different personnel in there. Maybe it’s just a matter of finding the right center-back pairing, but I think there are question marks against all of the back four we saw tonight from a defensive standpoint and while we now have a goodly selection of centre-backs to select from, I’d be hard-pressed to say which pairing is the best. Is the corner issue one of organisation or personnel or both? I have no idea, but solve it we must. We’ve cracked the London Curse now we must solve the corner conundrum.
Fulham Leeds United
Possession 52% 48%
Shots 13 13
On Target 6 4
Corners 13 7
Fouls Committed 13 12