Leeds find Fulham sandwich and can’t cut the mustard Graham Smeaton December 14, 2014 Match reviews 34 Comments After last Saturday’s debacle where Ipswich rolled through us with an ease not seen since Hitler took the Czech Sudentland in 1938, you’d forgive us poor Leeds fans for fearing the worse when Fulham trundled up the M1 from that there London. The stage was set, the capital of the country ready to meet the capital of the North. It’s at this point that my mind starts to go all manic, thoughts everywhere and then there’s the twitching, the uncontrollable twitching. How will we perform, who will be nominated ‘Defensive Chuckle Brother of the Day’, will we stand off them and let them attack, why do I do this every week; pretty standard questions I am sure that all Leeds fans ask themselves. Thing is, it wasn’t actually that bad. The first half was one of those hustle and bustle affairs, each team scrapping to gain the upper hand. In the 3rd minute Leeds won a free kick after ex-Leeds man, and ‘I-love-kissing-the-badge’, Ross McCormack fouled Leeds’ bearded wonder Mirco Antenucci. In the 4th minute, with Leeds pressing, Stephen Warnock put in a cross; this was one of 42 crosses that Leeds attempted which is a record for the season so far by a long way. Leeds were having much better possession in the opening exchanges and this led to a number of passes into the box from the likes of Antenucci and Sam Byram and corners such as the one taken by Adryan in the 10th minute. I was impassively calm at this point, things didn’t seem to be going wrong and we looked tight all over the field. That isn’t to say that Fulham sat back and said “play all you like son”; they were creating their own chances and making their own inroads into the game. In the 17th minute Fulham’s Grimmer (a word that sums up a lot of Leeds’ performances week-by-week) put in a cross that was cleared by Alex Mowatt and a shot from the Cottagers’ Hyndman was blocked by Leeds’ midfield anchor Tommaso Bianchi. Leeds were holding their own and didn’t seem to be suffering those jittery performances that seem to typify passages of play in our game. Leeds were getting the ball into dangerous areas from the likes of Bianchi and Byram and it was from one of these that Leeds almost took the lead. In the 29th minute, the impressive sam Byram sent over a ball that Alex Mowatt headed against the woodwork. If that had have gone in, Leeds might have pressed on and they have won 60% of games this season when leading 1-0 after 30 minutes. Both teams continued to press and Fulham’s Christensen had a goal-bound shot blocked by Stephen Warnock which gave rise to a period of concentrated pressure from Fulham leading to clearances being made by Warnock and Liam Cooper. In the 38th minute, the impressive Alex Mowatt had a shot attempt from outside the box that cleared the goal. Leeds continued to press and in the 43rd minute Sam Byram had an attempt at goal which parried by Gabor Kiraly in the Fulham goal. This galvanised Fulham who continued to press and a Fofana shot was blocked at the other end by Mowatt. This was the last action of a pleasing first 45 minutes for Leeds United fans, pleasing in the fact that we hadn’t capitulated and were more than holding our own. Bolstered by the first half performance, you could have forgiven Leeds fans for our optimism; Fulham have been bad away from home and have a poor track record at Elland Road…maybe, just maybe we’ll get something out of this. Fulham opened the second half with the first chance on 47 minutes when the lively Fofana forced Marco Silvestri into a smart diving collect. Leeds pushed on and on 52 minutes Adryan had a shot attempt that missed, followed a minute later by a 35 yard shot from Byram that was high and right of the goal. The game had a mini-spike of action in the 56th minute when Tommaso Bianchi had a shot that missed the target. The quietly-impressive Adryan had a 58th minute shot from a free kick, awarded for a handball by Fuham’s Christensen, saved by the impressive Kiraly in the Fulham goal. There’s an old saying that you shouldn’t poke a sleeping bear and it was the previous spurt of Leeds pressure that finally woke up Fulham. On the hour mark, just as Leeds fans were likely thinking ‘looks like at least a point’, Fulham scored the opening goal. Hugo Rodallega was played in by Lasse Vigen Christensen and his [Rodallega] right-footed shot found the low right portion of Silvestri’s goal. Being 1 goal in arrears after 60 minutes is not a good position for Leeds fans as they have gone on to lose 63% of games from this position this season. At this point, teams tend to lose shape for a passage of the game, but it didn’t happen. Billy Sharp was brought on for Souleymane Doukara and Leeds actually regrouped very quickly and began to press. AN immediate response was needed and Sharp crossed the ball on 61 minutes forcing a clearance and Sam Byram also delivered a ball into the danger zone. Leeds continued to press for the equaliser, and a series of passes and balls in were cleared by Fulham’s Grimmer, Hutchinson and Bodurov. On 65 minutes, Adryan had another chance when his shot was saved by Kiraly, Leeds were scrapping and pushing and showing signs of real pressure. On 67 minutes, Billy Sharp headed at goal that was blocked by Fulham’s Bodurov; the resulting corner being cleared by Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz. It wasn’t all one-way traffic and Fulham were still creating chances with goalscorer Rodallega forcing a standing save from Leeds’ Silvestri on 73 minutes. On 76 minutes Adryan was substituted out and replaced by young midfielder Chris Dawson for the last 15 minutes or so of action. Fulham’s Rodallega had another shot attempt that missed the target. As the game petered out towards a Fulham victory, Fulham gained a couple of corners but the game began to tail off. The last significant piece of action was the substitution of Stephen Warnock in the 88th minute to be replaced by Gaetano Berardi who got 2 minutes of game time; this is usually enough time for him to be sent off. To round up, it was a much better performance as a team and each unit played their part in this; it was nice to see better cohesiveness. Defensively, we looked much better than the ‘Disaster Show Special’ against Ipswich with 3 Leeds players (Jason Pearce, Sam Byram and Stephen Warnock) not missing a single tackle attempt. This ‘tackle-first’ approach was mirrored in midfield with Alex Mowatt (4) and Tommaso Bianch (7) also tackling well; Bianchi’s 7 tackles making him the Championship’s #1 ranked tackler. Mowatt impressed further in midfield with 41 general play passes and 9 crosses which created 4 shooting opportunities for his teammates. Attack-wise, we didn’t do enough to bring Mirco Antenucci into the game; Antenucci is a player with a high volume shot frequency per 90 minutes (3.15 shots) and a high shot accuracy of 51% but we didn’t get the ball to him enough – hence the 1 shot attempt he made. This ‘not getting them quality ball’ also applies to Adryan who is a playmaker not being given the ball to create plays. Adryan brings something special, asks questions of opponents and that is something that we need to develop further. Before I go, I want to give Souleymane Doukara one mention; on his substitution on 60 minutes he had made 22 passes with 100% completion accuracy.