If Patrick Bamford was understandably dismayed to miss out on Gareth Southgate’s England squad, he channelled his frustrations in the best way possible. The 27-year-old’s goal and assist at Craven Cottage secured a 2-1 win to take Leeds United up to 11th and robbed Fulham of the chance to climb out of the relegation zone for the first time since December 20th.
The work of Bamford on a crisp Friday night was a snapshot of his best traits. Amid the willingness and sleek touches were the bits that matter most. The perception of space and opportunity that saw him control a left-foot half-volley into the near post to put Leeds ahead after 29 minutes. Then the touch and smart release to thread Raphinha for the winning goal after Joachim Andersen had drawn Fulham level in the first-half.
Remarkably, it ends a winless run of 16 consecutive matches in the capital for Leeds, including five London leaue defeats this season. Perhaps it came as no surprised that Bamford, a man ribbed for his refined ways, would be the one to find a way in this swanky borough. Of more worthwhile importance is that, now, only Harry Kane has more than his 17 goal involvements (15 goals, five assists) that do not include penalties.
There was real hope in west London that things would be different. Going first this weekend ahead of Brighton-Newcastle tomorrow – three and two points ahead, respectively – offered the carrot of time out of the bottom-three and perhaps an international break of looking down and not up had they emerged with the three points. Alas, they remain two points off safety but having played two more games. Even though that ticks back down to one by 10pm tomorrow. Scott Parker’s side have just eight games remaining to save their skin. Another season of Premier League football is still within reach, but that little bit further away.
Calling this fixture before it took place felt even more foolish than usual. The first meeting back in September was a 4-3 thriller, but their respective form across the last month suggested a repeat was not on the cards. In fact, both found the net more that day at Elland Road than they had in the previous five games: Leeds the more “profiling of the two” with three goals to Fulham’s two.
Yet that didn’t prevent the players engaging in the kind of opening usually found on an NBA court. Within the opening 10 minutes, forwards on both sides had made eye contact with their respective opposition goalkeepers. Barely 15 seconds were on the clock when Ivan Cavaleiro pounced on a loose ball within eight yards of the Leeds goal after Ezgjan Alioski headed a clearance off teammate Pascal Struijk. A corner was the best Fulham could muster.
A couple of minutes later, Bamford was set free through the middle, and were Tyler Roberts 10 yards further forward he would have received a clever backheel into his path with a clear sight of Alphonse Areola. Alas, the ingenuity went begging.
Roberts, though, looked to have manufactured the opener after dextrously creating a window for a cross for Luke Ayling to head into the far corner. Alas, Roberts was in an offside position when he received the initial ball from Jack Harrison and VAR did the rest.
The start of the 10-minute period of the first-half that mattered most began with Bamford’s strike. A throw-in deep in the Fulham half was helped on its way to the near post by Harrison. Depending on your point of view, Bamford’s finish was the product of smart movement or dopey defending from Antonee Robinson to let him go and Tosin Adarabioyo to not realise he was coming.
But it was a Fulham defender who cancelled out the mistake: skipper Andersen strong enough to hold off Luke Ayling at a corner and volley Ademola Lookman’s corner beyond Illan Meslier. With that, Leeds had conceded their 15th set-piece goal of the season, four more than anyone else.
The equaliser seemed to inconceivably knock the visitors into disarray. Fulham could and probably should have gone ahead a minute later as Struijk’s tame header back to Meslier went to a white shirt. An immediate attempt on goal was not in the offing, but a reworking gave André-Frank Zambo Anguissa a look from the edge of the box. A side-footed effort was kept out by Meslier’s firm right hand.
The break offered Marcelo Bielsa a chance to regroup while Parker made the only change: the physicality of Aleksandr Mitrovic called off the bench to replace a willing but ineffective Josh Maja. Yet the game followed a similar pattern, with neither team looking to settle. And for that reason, the manner of Leeds’s second was of great frustration to the hosts.
An unofficial count of 27 seconds came between Lookman scuffing a byline pull-back from Cavaleiro and Raphinha neatly taking Bamford’s through-pass with his left and finishing low inside the near post with his right in a devastating two-touch shuffle. The fleet-footed subtlety of the finish at odds with Kalvin Phillips’ crunching tackle inside the Fulham that left them so susceptible to such brisk devastation.
That vulnerability became more pronounced as Fulham risked their solidity in search of a point. Raphinha, with a taste for blood, was the chief mischief maker.
A dart from the left-wing and chop into the edge of the six-yard box was snuffed out by a despairing but well-timed palm from Areola. Dallas then fired wide after overlapping the Brazilian on 81 minutes. Another save from Areola - pushing an Alioski volley wide of the far post – with just three minutes of normal time, as 3-1 began to look a more likely final score than 2-2.
Perhaps most damning for Fulham was that the five minutes of additional time held no jeopardy for Leeds. An Anguissa header at the near post that did not quite fall to Mitrovic was the best they could muster in the final moments. It barely warrants mention as a “chance”, to be honest: arguably one break short of being an ironclad opportunity. It was In keeping with an overall performance that was neither here nor there and, ultimately, undeserving of anything from this match.
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