Patrick Bamford and Raphinha powered Leeds United to a 2-1 victory over relegation-threatened Fulham at Craven Cottage on Friday.
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The defeat — Fulham’s third in four Premier League games after a resurgent run — leaves Scott Parker’s side stuck in 18th place with only eight games left to play. The gap between themselves and safety isn’t growing (yet), but Fulham are very quickly running out of time to save themselves.
Leeds, on the other hand, are up to 11th in the Premier League table without a worry in the world as their first top-flight season since 2003-04 winds down.
3 things we learned: Fulham – Leeds
1. Fulham fight falling flat: Not only do Fulham trail 17th-place Newcastle United by two points, but the Cottagers have now played two more games than the Magpies, who have the pleasure of playing 16th-place Brighton & Hove Albion (just a point above them in the Premier League table) this weekend. Fulham’s worst-case scenario come end of day on Saturday would Newcastle beat Brighton to go five points clear of the relegation zone, with Brighton falling into 17th while remaining three points ahead of Fulham, at which point both sides will still have played just 29 games to Fulham’s 30.
2. Leeds start quickly once again: For the second time in three games, Leeds scored twice inside the opening 20 minutes yet neither goal counted on the scoreboard. Few teams in the world look to drive the game at the opposition like Leeds do, and they do it from the very first whistle. West Ham United didn’t appear prepared for that challenge two weeks ago and Fulham appeared wholly unaware of the same possibility on Friday.
3. Raphinha an under-the-radar, inspired signing: The 24-year-old Brazilian was signed late in the transfer window for $19 million, and he required a bit of time to adjust to life in England and at Leeds. Six months later, Raphinha is proving a stellar pickup for Marcelo Bielsa and Co., with his six goals, five assists and the constant threat he could make a moment of magic at the drop of a hat. For proof, look no further than his first touch and finish to score the winning goal on Friday.
Leeds looked like breaking the deadlock after just eight minutes as Tyler Roberts floated a delightful cross to Luke Ayling, who placed his header back across goal ever so perfectly inside the post, but the goal was taken off the board by video review. Roberts was caught leaning offside prior to receiving the pass before his cross.
11 minutes later, Leeds were denied for another offside infraction — this time, Raphinha was at least miles offside and flagged without the need for video review. Stuart Dallas held the ball far too long before playing the Brazilian in behind. It didn’t count, but Raphinha was pinpoint with the strike anyway.
Fulham had a half-dozen chances to go ahead in the 26th minute, if not for a series of desperate blocks and one fantastic save by Illan Meslier. Four Fulham players saw efforts at goal blocked or scuffed before Josh Maja unleashed a solid strike on target, but Meslier dove to his left to make the save and Ayling cleaned up the leftovers as the ball bounced along the goal line.
At long last, Leeds finally scored a goal deemed legal by the Laws of the Game in the 29th minute. The throw-in came in quickly to find Jack Harrison in a dangerous area just wide of Fulham’s penalty area. Harrison quickly crossed the ball to the near post, where Bamford was playing possum to lull his defender to sleep. As soon as the ball was in play, he darted to the exact spot it would arrive and hammered it past Alphonse Areola.
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The lead lasted just nine minutes, though, as Fulham’s fighting spirit was on full display to round out the first half. Ademola Lookman served a corner kick into the middle of the penalty area and Joachim Andersen met the ball with a strong right foot to slot it past Meslier for 1-1.
Lookman had a seemingly un-missable scoring chance in the 57th minute, but he somehow managed to nearly send the ball out for a throw-in with his wayward finish.
Seconds later, Raphinha raced down the other end of the field, got on the end of a through ball from Bamford with a brilliant first touch under duress, and slotted it under Areola to make it 2-1.