In truth their victory was more comfortable than the 2-1 margin suggested, but it was not without its hairy moments – and not only a Luke Ayling goal celebration that proved to be for nothing.
Were it not for corners, Marcelo Bielsa’s side might be far higher up the Premier League table than they already are in this impressive first season back at English football’s top table, but even conceding from another could not stop them moving up to 11th.
With half-time approaching, things were looking pretty sweet for Leeds. Life is rarely that simple.
After two goals disallowed for offside – one a frustratingly tight decision, the other a frustratingly clear-cut one – Patrick Bamford had given them a deserved lead. Fulham were comfortably second best.
Then Leeds conceded a corner.
Joachim Andersen got in front of Ayling and flexed his muscles to keep him there before shooting past Illan Meslier.
Fortunately, though, this Leeds team had the appetite to come back and did so in style.
Granted, Ayling had cleared a Josh Maja effort off the line about 10 minutes earlier, but Andersen’s equaliser had not really been coming.
Leeds thought they had gone in front after just nine minutes. Having seen a cross fizz just in front of Bamford, Ayling got on the end of a deep cross from Tyler Roberts on the left and looped a header inside the far post, unfurling his mane of hair to celebrate a maiden Premier League goal, or so he thought.
Meanwhile, in Stockley Park, video assistant referee Robert Jones set about drawing the lines that would poop his party, and the goal was chalked off.
With the crowd stuck in their living rooms, you almost wanted to chant “It’s not football any more” for them. Players are able to move far further between camera frames than the width of the point of Roberts’s elbow, which is what the midfielder was adjudged to be offside by. Luckily the injustice was as much an irrelevance as it was an annoyance.
At least there was no debate when Raphinha found the net after 20 minutes, miles behind the back four.
Meslier produced a wonderful save in amongst an otherwise hugely scrappy piece of play as the ball bounced around the Leeds penalty area in the 27th minute. Even Ayling’s chest and clearance from Maja’s shot was not exactly clean, but Leeds’s sheet was at that stage.
So when a throw-in allowed Jack Harrison to thump over a cross Bamford put into the net minutes later, there seemed little prospect of the maroon-shirted Whites not going in ahead at half-time.
If there are two things this Leeds team do not like, though, it is London and corners. No Premier League team has conceded more set-piece goals this season and once Andersen levelled after 36 minutes, the relegation battlers took heart.
“Easy! Easy!” urged sporting director Victor Orta, sensing the need for calm from players who had just seen Meslier make an excellent low save from Andre-Frank Anguissa. His save shortly afterwards from Ivan Cavaleiro was less taxing, but still a sign of the turned tables.
Even so, Pascal Struijk might have done something about it before half-time, doing what Bamford was unable to and getting his boot to Raphinha’s drilled free-kick but turning it wide and away from Diego Llorente.
Leeds started the second period with another spell of pressure. Ezgjan Alioski had a shot deflected wide, Harrison was unable to make the most of some nifty footwork when he shot from a tight angle, although perhaps that was the best option he had.
It could and should have all been undone in the 58th minute but Ademola Lookman made a hash of converting a pull-back from the right and Leeds made them play, Kalvin Phillips winning the ball, Bamford manoeuvring it and Raphinha burying it. Like a child full of Smarties, Fulham refused to be put to bed, or rather Leeds lacked the firm hand to do it.
Having substituted Bamford, who had run himself into the ground, taking a few kicks along the way, Bielsa’s demand of “Energy please! Thank you!” kick-started them into a counter-attack which heralded the start of a 10-minute siege of the Cottagers’ goal, but no surrender. Alioski volleyed a Hollywood corner wide, Stuart Dallas pulled a shot beyond the far post, Ayling glanced a Raphinha corner past the far post, substitute Mateusz Klich missed the target and Alphonse Areola denied Alioski.
Leeds had a scare from a corner put wide at the very start of stoppage time but they were not to be denied. Not even in London.
Fulham: Areola; Aina (Tete 72), Andersen, Tosin, Robinson; Anguissa, Reed (Loftus-Cheek 64), Lemina; Cavaleiro, Maja (Mitrovic 46), Lookman. Unused substitutes: Hector, Odoi, Ream, Bryan, Kongolo, Fabri.
Leeds United: Meslier; Ayling, Llorente, Struijk, Alioski; Phillips; Raphinha, Dallas, Roberts (Koch 90), Harrison; Bamford (Klich 77). Unused substitutes: Casilla, Berardi, Jenkins, Shackleton, Costa, Poveda, Gelhardt.
Referee: D Coote (Nottinghamshire).
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