Davis serves bad medicine to Leeds in terminal decline

Fulham 2 Leeds United 0
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The Independent Football

One patient may be recovering, but for another it's not looking so good. Fulham manager Chris Coleman returned to work after the serious case of septicaemia in his leg which required two weeks in hospital to inspire his players, following a tepid, scruffy first-half, to their first League win since January. But for Leeds the prognosis is poor. This was a match - against a team whose confidence has been questionable - that they could have won. Instead they slid towards another sickly and deserved defeat which leaves them four points adrift of safety.

"We cannot afford to let this result get to us," said caretaker manager Eddie Gray, displaying the body language of someone who has just been so affected. The result - through two late goals - stamped out the small shoots of recovery Leeds have been clinging to after three encouraging performances. "We need to go on more than a mini-run now," said Gray. "We have to go out and win." Unsurprisingly he maintained he had the players to do so but judging from the capitulation in the second 45 minutes - when they faced wave after wave of Fulham attacks with diminishing resistance - that appeared overly optimistic. But who could blame him.

For the first period both sides were simply shocking. Fulham may have had their manager back but lost their captain. Lee Clark broke down in training with a recurrence of a calf injury - although it's not as bad as feared - and in his absence Coleman shuffled his formation. For a time it left his team surprisingly unbalanced with Mark Pembridge pushed out to the left flank, yearning to move inside to do the "horrible things" (Coleman's words) which he eventually did and to effect.

Neither the ruinous state of the pitch, nor the disorientating strength of the wind - both highlighted by Coleman - improved matters although Leeds were, for a time, understandably more direct. Mark Viduka's presence was to be exploited and he almost fashioned a breakthrough with a delayed pass inside the defence. Jermaine Pennant's wasteful cross just rose above Alan Smith who, moments later, was denied another header by Zat Knight's intervention.

Following the departure of Louis Saha, the onus for Fulham has fallen further on Luis Boa Morte to provide pace and power. Here he had a slow burner of a game. He wasted several chances - lifting the ball over from six yards, failing to connect properly when clear on goal and crossing wildly after stealing in front of Paul Robinson. The warning signs were there. But they went unheeded.

After the break a bouncing half-volley by Didier Domi was deflected wide but then Fulham dominated. "I thought it was a matter of time before we scored," Coleman said professing himself delighted with the win, and the "desire", which rekindled his thoughts of qualifying for Europe.

Pembridge's header was smartly parried as was a volley from Sylvain Legwinski before Barry Hayles wasted a header from no distance at all. Finally the dam burst. Sean Davis picked up a return pass from Steed Malbranque, charged into the penalty area and drove the ball low into the net. The relief was palpable. Within 60 seconds Malbranque had dipped a volley just over, rather than under, the bar but Boa Morte - by now running riot - finally made a decisive contribution. The impressive Knight calmly lofted the ball back across goal and the Portuguese striker stooped to head home.

Any chance of a rally was stifled by the weakness of Seth Johnson's shot while another effort, in injury-time, from substitute Simon Johnson came back off the bar. Time ran away from them. With 10 games left, it could be the story of Leeds' season.

Afterwards Coleman dismissed suggestions that his illness was more serious than had been suggested. "There's been a lot of rumours about me being on my deathbed but that is a lot of tripe," he said. Leeds will hope that predictions of their own demise are equally premature.

Fulham 2 Leeds United 0
Davis 71, Boa Morte 83

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 17,104