A TRIP to high-flying Fulham was always going to provide a telling assessment of Leeds United’s current standing.
Despite plenty of effort and endeavour, the glaringly obvious was confirmed: that Leeds remain some way off the pace both from a performance and points perspective compared to the Championship’s leading lights.
And United’s season was summed up in a swift 30 seconds after the interval when clever football created a superb opening for Caleb Ekuban, who fluffed his lines before a clinical Fulham side countered to score their second goal to cement a deserved victory.
The defeat left United in 13th spot and 10 points off the play-offs with third-placed Fulham quite possibly on their way to the Premier League.
After fluffing a host of chances, the Cottagers took a deserved lead but in fortunate circumstances in the 33rd minute when Mitrovic’s header took a deflection off Kevin McDonald’s back and squirmed past Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
And within 30 seconds of United’s Ekuban squandering a gilt-edged chance in the 63rd minute, Fulham swiftly broke to double their lead as Mitrovic blasted home Tom Cairney’s cut back from close range.
The calibre of the opposition facing United was highlighted by the news that both 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon and former Leeds player Tom Cairney had been shortlisted for the EFL’s Championship player of the year award, along with Wolves striker Ruben Neves.
Fulham had not lost since Halloween at Craven Cottage and United themselves had only enjoyed their second victory of 2018 on Good Friday when beating relegation-threatened Bolton Wanderers at Elland Road.
United initially began the brighter of the two sides, but Fulham squandered an opening in the fifth minute when Mitrovic swept the ball just wide from Matt Targett’s cross.
The Cottagers then went even closer six minutes later when Floyd Ayite was picked out by Sessegnon’s cross but smashed his low effort against the post before Leeds cleared.
It was difficult to fault the commitment and endeavour from United. But, once again, the necessary quality was lacking when compared to their hosts – something that badly needs addressing this summer.Lee Sobot
From the resulting corner, only a fine save from Peacock-Farrell kept out Mitrovic’s header.
After United had lost Eunan O’Kane to injury, they had another narrow escape when Stefan Johansen’s flick was diverted narrowly wide by Pontus Jansson.
But, from the resulting corner, their luck finally ran out.
The dangerous Mitrovic was afforded too much space to win a header from Targett’s kick, with his touch taking the luckiest of deflections off the back of an unsuspecting McDonald, leaving Peacock-Farrell with no chance.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side rallied, however, and went close shortly before the break when Gaetano Berardi flicked an effort over the crossbar.
United again looked to press after the interval, but they were not helped by some questionable refereeing decisions.
The home side came close to doubling their lead in the 57th minute when a goal-bound effort from Sessegnon took a deflection off Mitrovic’s head, this time thankfully flying wide, with Peacock-Farrell then producing another fine save shortly after when tipping away a stinging drive from Sessegnon for a corner.
But United’s entire season was typified by events in the 63rd minute when a lack of quality again cost them dearly.
Ekuban was cleverly played in by Berardi leaving him with just Marcus Bettinelli to beat but – as was the case in Friday’s win over Bolton – the striker again squandered a one-on-one, the Fulham goalkeeper saving well before his team-mates launched a swift counter-attack.
Within seconds Leeds found themselves back-tracking in their own penalty area, where Cairney squared an-inch perfect pass to Mitrovic, who neatly buried his chance.
Ekuban was taken off soon afterwards along with Gianni Alioski as Heckingbottom threw on strikers Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Jay-Roy Grot.
But Grot then missed a glorious chance himself when putting a free header over the bar from inside the six-yard box.
In the dying minutes, Pablo Hernandez was inches away from curling home a free-kick into the bottom left-hand corner.
It was difficult to fault the commitment and endeavour from United, who finishing the game with 10 men after Matthew Pennington was forced off injured.
But, once again, the necessary quality was lacking when compared to their hosts – something that badly needs addressing this summer.
Fulham: Bettinelli, Fredericks, Ream, Odoi, Targett, McDonald (Kalas 88), Cairney (c), Johansen, Sessegnon, Ayite (Norwood 67), Mitrovic. Unused substitutes: Button, Christie, Piazon, Kebano, Kamara.
Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell, Berardi (c), Jansson, Pennington, Dallas, Vieira, O’Kane (Phillips 22), Alioski (Grot 72), Hernandez, Saiz, Ekuban (Lasogga 72). Unused substitutes: Lonergan, Anita, Pearce, Cibicki, Lasogga.
Referee: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).