|Fulham 1 v 2 Leeds United|
Barclays Premier League
Friday, 19th March 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Triumph at Fulham as Leeds finally win a game in London
Sunday, 21st Mar 2021 13:11 by Tim Whelan
Londoners have been crying into their jellied eels at the news that Leeds have won a game in the capital for the first time since Dick Whittington was a mere slip of a lad. And more importantly, our win at Fulham has surely secured our Premier League status for another season.
Marcello Bielsa was able to field an unchanged starting line-up for this game, as the one doubt Patrick Bamford had recovered sufficiently from his injury. But by his own admission he was “struggling from the get-go” and his team-mates had to do a lot of his running for him. Amid all the outrage at him missing an international call-up, would he have been fit to play for England next week?
But even with our striker failing to fire on all cylinders Leeds were still able to come at Fulham at a great pace right from the kick-off, and the Cottagers struggled to live with us for most of the first half. And once again we had the ball in the net in the early stages, only to be denied by the dreaded VAR.
Roberts delivered an excellent cross to find Ayling beyond the far post, and our right-back sent a perfectly judged header looping over Areola into the far post. He was so delighted by the thought he’d scored his first Premiership goal he took his headband off for some celebratory air guitar, and god knows which long-haired rocker he was pretending to be.
Sadly his joy was short-lived, as it was ruled that Roberts was offside by the width of an armpit when the ball was played to him. How many goals have we now had chalked off by VAR? A few minutes later Raphinha also had the ball in the net, but he was more obviously offside, so no whining about that one.
But for all our pressure, Fulham nearly took the lead when Meslier came off his line to punch a free kick away, then had to race back to save from Maja after a fine shot on the turn from the Fulham man. Even then the ball might have spun back over the line, but thankfully Ayling was on hand to knock it clear.
Leeds finally took the lead in the 29th minute, and we can give thanks to the law that says you can’t be offside from a throw-in. Harrison collected the ball and sent over a low cross, with Bamford getting in front of a defender to guide the ball into the net. In his post-match interview he admitted it came off his shin rather than being the contact he wanted, but it certainly ended up in the right place.
But the lead was to last for only nine minutes, as a familiar failing was to let us down once again. No matter which personnel we have in our defence, and we’ve had a lot of different combinations this season, we are still vulnerable at set pieces, from which we have conceded three more goals than any other team the Premier League.
It’s gone on for far too long, and it’s high time it got sorted out. This time Andersen out-muscled Ayling during their wrestling match and stuck out a leg at the right time to score direct from the corner. Fulham were boyed by the goal and were to dominate the time that remained in the first half.
They were close to taking the lead when Meslier was exposed by a back header from Strujk and had to race off his line to scramble the ball partially clear. But once again our noble custodian was very quick to get back on his line and get himself set, so he was able to make another fine save, this time from Anguissa.
But Bielsa’s half time talk had the desired effect and we were able to re-establish our dominance after the break. From now on Llorente was to take care of Andersen at corners, though the amount of shirt-pulling he was doing was little bit risky in these days of VAR when there are limits as to what you can get away with.
We went close when Harrison went past a couple of defenders as he cut into the area from the right, though he fired his shot straight at Areola when he needed to try to curl it into the far corner. But there was a scare at the other end when the ball was crossed to in a good position, and Roberts had to move across very quickly.
I thought at first Roberts had blocked the shot, but the replay showed that in fact his presence had distracted Lookman who had completely miss-kicked. And a minute later we had broken down to the other end to get back in front, as we so often do. The move began with Phillips showcasing both aspects of what he brings to Leeds United, first a great tackle and then a great through ball to Bamford.
Bamford side-stepped a defender but at first I thought his pass to Raphinha was a little bit short. Yet the Brazillian controlled the ball well in the tight space between two defenders, before slipping it past Areloa into the net. And this time there was no let-up, and no more defensive slip-ups to let Fulham back into the game again.
Bamford had run out of steam by the 77th minute and was replaced by Klich, with Roberts moving forward to become the main striker. But the chances kept coming, with Dallas shooting narrowly wide of the far post, and Alioski being denied by a fine save by Areola after a cross from Phillips was partially cleared to him on the edge of the box.
Five minutes injury time were announced, and Koch replaced Roberts for two of them, which left us without any recognised strikers on the field at the end. Presumably Bielsa was anxious to ensure we secured the first win in London during his reign, as he spoke of his relief the game. “They talk a lot about this situation. We are glad it is resolved. We hope it doesn’t last that long again!”
And hold out we did, albeit with a harsh and annoying booking for Phillips for alleged time-wasting. This leaves us 13 points clear of Fulham, which surely must be enough now that they only have 8 games to play. And after Paul Parker was generous in his praise of us in his post-match interview, I can’t help thinking it would be much funnier if Newcastle went down instead.
We now have an international break that will allow Bamford and a few others to recover their energy before the next game. But surely Bielsa will feel he has the luxury to give the likes of Gelhardt a bit of game time in the remaining matches, as what can effectively become an extended pre-season for the next campaign.
We’ve earned the right to do that, and maybe by 2021/22 we can even dream of a few wins against the more illustrious clubs in London. It could happen.
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