Raphinha’s strike for Leeds piles relegation pressure on Fulham

Ademola Lookman’s glaring miss proves costly for London side

 Leeds’ Raphinha celebrates after scoring the winning goal during the  Premier League  match against  Fulham FC at Craven Cottage. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/EPA

Leeds’ Raphinha celebrates after scoring the winning goal during the Premier League match against Fulham FC at Craven Cottage. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/EPA

 

Fulham 1 Leeds 2

Fulham cannot afford to spurn many more opportunities of this nature. While defeat to Leeds is hardly terminal it goes down as a wasted chance to exit the bottom three, with Newcastle and Brighton facing each other on Saturday, and the frustration at full-time was clear.

They came out second-best in a thoroughly entertaining game against opponents who performed as insistently as ever, equalising Patrick Bamford’s opener through Joachim Andersen but being undone by a second-half winner from Raphinha. A glaring miss by Ademola Lookman shortly before that strike could yet be cause for regret, as may the loose defensive work that helped Marcelo Bielsa’s team to a vanishingly rare win in a London fixture.

This was a frenetic affair from the first whistle, in keeping both with Leeds’ style and Fulham’s moment of opportunity. Ivan Cavaleiro and Bamford had already seen openings snuffed out when, in the eighth minute, Luke Ayling appeared to have penetrated rather more successfully.

The Leeds right back directed a peach of a header past Alphonse Areola after Tyler Roberts had dug out a cross from the opposite flank, wheeling away in celebration. Not so fast: VAR showed Roberts had strayed beyond the defence with some combination of head, shoulder and arm when receiving possession. In other words, by the impossibly stringent measures that satisfy those who prefer studying vectors to the appreciation of outstanding football skill, he was offside by a country mile.

Raphinha’s offence was more clearcut when, having mistimed his run, he beat Areola as the half neared its midway point. At that point it was tempting to draw parallels with Leeds’ recent defeat against West Ham, when they similarly had two early goals ruled out with wildly differing degrees of blatancy.

Unlike on that night at London Stadium, they did not fall behind within minutes of those disappointments. Instead they made it count the third time around, although not before riding their luck. A combination of Illan Meslier and Ayling stopped Fulham drawing first blood, the goalkeeper half-saving Josh Maja’s shot before his defender hacked the ball away as it spun towards the line. The goalmouth scramble that preceded the chance reflected the levels of defensive composure at either end.

By comparison the move that bred Bamford’s goal was quick, clean and sharp. It was also far too simple for Fulham’s liking, with Jack Harrison able to let a throw-in run across him before volleying a centre from the left byline. Pulling away from his man and clipping precisely inside the near post with eight yards, Bamford executed what has become a trademark finish.

That was never likely to be the end of it. Andersen’s equaliser, seven minutes before half-time, was swept in with similar gusto although Leeds will wonder how he was able to hold Ayling off and convert Lookman’s corner on the volley from the middle of a packed penalty area. Had Meslier not then repelled André-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s piledriver, Fulham would have gone in ahead.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, a perennial substitute these days, replaced Maja at half-time. Perhaps the departed striker had picked up an injury although, given Mitrovic’s two top-flight goals this season had come at Elland Road in September, the switch stood up to scrutiny on its own. Proceedings picked up as they had left off, play oscillating between the boxes and Areola saving well from Harrison after the winger had slalomed too easily inside from the right.

Just before the hour came the costliest of half-minutes for Fulham. They should have taken the lead when Mario Lemina did brilliantly to wriggle to the byline and square for Lookman, who miscued his attempt from close range with the goal begging. Within seconds Lemina was dispossessed in midfield by Kalvin Phillips and Leeds could break with menace. Bamford ended up slipping the ball through to Raphinha, who resisted weak defending and adjusted his feet cleverly before poking past Areola.

Lookman shot at Meslier but Leeds defended their latest lead competently, while continuing to threaten through the effervescent Raphinha. The Brazilian teed up Stuart Dallas for a shot that fizzed wide when the game was there to be sealed. Areola then denied Ezgjan Alioski; as the clock ticked down Fulham ran dry of ideas and the fear is they will soon start running out of time. – Guardian

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