fulham 1-1 leeds united: do it like thisBack
For a big game, a really big game, you don’t want any of this. Not a promotion decider, or a game that would settle the play-offs, but a big old influencer of fates for Fulham and Leeds United, of which Leeds United’s is our concern here.
Chris Wood’s calf was our concern, because it stopped him from playing, and he’s the one who scores all the goals; Luke Ayling’s baby was also our concern, and while this game wasn’t going to be decisive or final, Luke’s absence to care for his partner and their child still prompted inhumane thoughts. That baby was born hours ago, surely Luke could be at Fulham, instead of cluttering up a hospital corridor? And what footballer plans a baby for spring time? Surely soccer schedules strongly suggest summer sons (and daughters)?
We wouldn’t think that way about an ordinary human, obviously, and we don’t really think that way about Luke Ayling — congratulations, Luke, and good health and happiness to everybody. But, ah, argh, why did it have to happen now?
It wasn’t only Ayling. When Leeds United’s teamsheet arrived, you wanted to flip it over to see if there was anything written on the back. Not only was there Souleymane Doukara for Chris Wood, but Kemar Roofe started instead of Pablo Hernandez, apparently Garry Monk’s choice. Kalvin Phillips’ excellent end to the game against Birmingham City earned him a start in midfield, although we know he can be a bit hot and cold, that lad; and Ayling’s absence meant Charlie Taylor on the left hand side, and on the less than match fit side, suddenly back in action after being out so long with his heel.
For a big game, a crunch clash, a perilous play-off for the play-offs, you didn’t want any of this. Blue shirts, white shorts and blue socks, too? Listen, if it’s working for Garry, and it was his birthday yesterday, so whatever.
Fulham, officially The Best Team Seen At Elland Road So Far This Season™, combatted the Leeds takeover of their away end, tourist area, cottage, old crone’s hovel, club offices, walk-in wardrobes and boat store by distributing those clacker things to anybody who didn’t have a conspicuous Yorkshire accent. Then they gave Leeds an extremely generous introduction to the game. I know they’re supposed to be a hospitable club but this was ridiculous.
For the first ten minutes Leeds played as if they’d never heard of Chris Wood, or rather, as if they’d never heard Chris Wood was out and it was Doukara up front; that same ball from Birmingham, played by Kyle Bartley this time, was probably going to come to nothing until Tim Ream clipped it over his own keeper, Wood style, to open the scoring for Leeds. It wasn’t Leeds’ only chance; it was as if Fulham were letting us get some free hits in, before they started playing. Leeds had some corners, but Kalvin Phillips was taking them, so they were all scuffed towards the front post; Berardi turned a couple of them into shots on goal, the mad bastard.
From Fulham’s corners, once they started playing, Leeds allowed shots to be taken from the edge of the box almost every time; you’d have thought it was a tactic, but if it was, then Berardi and Jansson are taking being maniacs too damn far. One shot, by Sone Aluko, flashed past the United defenders and goalkeeper, crashed off the bar, and about five yards over the line. No goal, said Lee Probert, who is apparently a referee.
You could see why tourists go to watch Fulham. It’s hard to pick out one of their constantly moving midfielders and attackers as the best, because they all move so quickly, flicking the ball to each other and controlling it as if it was coated in special glue that only works for poshos. At times their movement was almost impossible to track, although they did seem to be struggling with the dimensions of their own tight stadium, taking the ball over the lines and into the advertising hoardings again and again.
Leeds remained dangerous, though, hassling Fulham everywhere and responding quickly when the ball was theirs. A defence shattering pass by Phillips sent Alfonso Pedraza through on David Button in the Fulham goal; Pedraza’s shot was saved, and as the ball rolled across the box, Doukara’s late appearance was almost too frustrating. Fulham broke, taking the ball straight up the other end and into our penalty area, where only a sliding tackle on the edge of the six yard box, by Doukara, stopped them from scoring. Thanks, Douk! Erm, I think? Wait, did this really happen?
The main change in the second half was that Pedraza replaced Phillips on corners, and now they were all scuffed towards the front post. The amount of possession Fulham had was ridiculous, the number of corners they had was silly; five or six of them ended up with Leeds players in heaps around the ball, praying somebody would give it a hefty hoof clear. That someone was usually Berardi, who put in an unbelievably thorough do-nowt-wrong performance. Jansson was of course more demonstrative, Bartley calmer, Taylor looked knackered; they all played their part, as did Robert Green.
Pedraza also played his part, through on goal with another chance, this one late enough that it could have settled the game; he whacked it low, smacked it against the near post, and it bounced straight back behind him. He chased it; the ball went a good yard over the touchline and, although Probert looked at his linesman for answers, play was allowed to continue; United couldn’t take second advantage of Mr Probert’s relaxed attitude towards pitch markings.
That was the cue for Pedraza, who played well and looked more committed and up for the fight than a comparatively new loanee might, to be substituted, and Stuart Dallas to come on. Dallas also replaced Pedraza on corners, and now they were all scuffed towards the front post. Ronaldo Vieira came on in midfield for Roofe, who had also played well, changing the shape of the attack so it wasn’t always clear whether he and Doukara were a front two or one behind the other, which usefully bamboozled Fulham’s defenders whenever we were in their half.
It looked as though Leeds would withstand, even after Lee Probert looked at Kalvin Phillips winning the ball on the edge of his own penalty area, and gave him a second yellow card for it. There wasn’t enough time left for Leeds to dig in and properly organise, so there were big Kalvin-shaped gaps across the back four where players were looking at each other to fill in, but desperado defending felt like it was going to be enough. When Green got down like Banks or Lukic to stop Cyriac’s header from going inside the bottom of his post, it looked like a matchwinning save.
Five minutes of scheduled stoppage time and then another minute for Fulham to equalise in followed; that ex-Leeds trainee Tom Cairney hadn’t scored already meant no surprise when it was he who netbusted, topbinned, tekkered the ball right into our goal, for a goal. Off he went into the Fulham crowd, where I’m sure he will have inadvertently dragged an undercover Leeds fan into his celebration; and then at full time on to the pitch came the Leeds staff, James Beattie leading the charge towards Probert, Monk hanging around mainly to stop Bartley from chinning the ref. Not so calm anymore, Kyle.
Fulham could rightly point to their perfectly good first-half goal being ruled out, and to their thousands of corners upon millions of shots, and say that their point was the least they deserved. Those are technicalities, though. For the grit of their defending, for the odds that were against them due to absent players, for the audacious way they took advantage of the lucky breaks they got, for the death-or-glory drama of Pedraza’s missed chances, for the heroism of Green’s late, late save, Leeds United’s was a moral victory. A moral victory, in an immoral sport. That’s where we’ve been going wrong!
Soon after the game came the qualifiers. This result was okay; we’d have taken a point before kick-off; after seeing the way Fulham came at us, we should be happy to have a point at the end. All perfectly, all perfectly valid. I’m not sure I care about that yet, and it certainly hasn’t gone to the front of my thoughts, yet. And I can’t even say I’m unhappy to have lost all three points, really. Because if you’re going to lose two points, in fact, if you’re going to do anything, you might as well do it like this.