By Andrew Butterwick
Elland Road was in the grip of the first cold blast of the winter as the Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly arrived for our clash with Ross McCormack's struggling Fulham side. Despite last week's dismal showing at Portman Road Redfearn decided to keep the same starting eleven as Leeds looked to maintain their decent home form in front of a very healthy crowd of 27,000 inside the Theatre of Hope. The main talking point during our pre match refreshments was how Pearce would cope with the undoubted danger posed by the Fulham front two of McCormack and Rodallega. Suddenly my natural optimism started to fade as memories of last week's powder puff "defending" came flooding back.
Late drama forced Austin off the bench to be replaced by Dawson after an injury during the warm up put paid to any chance of the Jamaican contributing to the match. Even more dramatic was Silvestri's new bleached hair do.....weird! The game kicked with Leeds attacking the packed South Stand and just as last week they enjoyed the best of the opening exchanges. The mighty whites forced two early corners followed by Sam Byram latching onto a lovely ball from Mowatt only to see his rasping shot finish inches the wrong side of the post. Leeds continued to press the high spending Londoners and nearly took the lead on the half hour when Mowatt powered a header against the bar and back onto the scruffy Fulham keeper who turned it round for another corner. How it didn't go in was beyond me?
Leeds were shading a tense game that was high on energy but sadly lacking that bit of quality that turns ambitious approach play into decent chances. The impetuous Leeds had from the early part of the half faded the longer the half progressed with Fulham happy to sit back and try and hit Leeds on the break which they did with regularity the nearer we got to half time. Byram brightened proceedings though just before the break with a thumping shot that the scruffy Fulham keeper was glad to parry away. Half Time 0.0.
The urinal philosophers were not impressed. "we've no penetration" one fan moaned. Another thought "We're giving the ball away too easily, especially in our own half" whilst another just declared "I'm f****** frozen" and he wasn't referring to the film! Still we had another 45 minutes to snatch a goal and three much needed points from this eminently winnable fixture.
Leeds were now attacking the kop looking for the all important first goal. Adryan tried an impossible overhead kick after good work by Mowatt and Warnock down the left before Byram chose to shoot high wide and handsome when he had space to attack the Fulham back four. It was beginning to look like a frustrating pre Xmas game as Leeds stuttered and stammered against a very average Fulham side. McCormack had been largely anonymous whilst Rodallega had flitted in and out of the game but driven by the home side's lack of cutting edge the Londoners started to grow in confidence and went in search of the classic smash and grab goal as I started to fear this was going to turn into yet another of those "afternoons" I have endured in my long history of following the not so mighty whites.
On the hour the pit of my stomach felt as heavy as lead as inevitably Fulham snatched the opening goal. Christenson easily slipped Bianchi in the box...........Silvestri advanced to block his shot but the Fulham player simply turned the ball back to a grateful Rodallega who tapped the ball into the empty net. So easy and yet so very predictable. 1.0 Fulham and my hopeful White Christmas was suddenly turning into what Elvis Presley described as a Blue Christmas.
Stung by the goal Redders sent on Sharp for the ineffective Doukara as Leeds rallied to try and find an equaliser. Sharp made an immediate impact and was noticeably like his surname as he held the ball up and made incisive digs into the Fulham defence. Was it too little too late for Leeds though? The substitution seemed to have worked as Sharp jinked and turned out wide before hitting a perfect cross right onto Adryan's head who somehow missed from 6 yards with the goal gaping in front of him. What was needed was an Ian Baird type determination to head the ball not a Brazilian's rather delicate attempt to flick the ball in with one eye on the goalie? With the chance missed the blood drained out of the Leeds fightback. Dawson replaced Adryan but found it difficult to pick up the pace of the game. Rodallega should have doubled Fulham's advantage as Leeds pushed forward but blazed wide. The frustrated Leeds crowd turned their frustration on McCormack as the game headed for an excruciating finale to yet another disappointing performance from the mighty whites. Final score 1.0.
Boos accompanied the final whistle as the masochistic Leeds fans headed home contemplating more a bleak mid winter rather than dreaming of a white Christmas. The spark of hope that the victory over Derby had given had been well and truly extinguished by successive defeats to Ipswich and now Fulham. Difficult to pick any positives out of this showing other than Sharp's impressive cameo. Surely he will start in front of Doukara at Forest? Man of the Match was a toss up between my half time steaming mug of Bovril or the empty plastic bag that fluttered across the pitch near the end. Leeds are lacking that essential steel needed in the middle of the park that successful teams always have. Some of the tackling in 50/50 challenges today would have had the late great Billy Bremner turning in his grave.
Forest at the City Ground next for Leeds. On the evidence of today not much hope of improving our dismal away record there me thinks and with the January transfer embargo looming I'm afraid it's beginning to look a lot like a very bleak mid winter for us long suffering followers of the mighty whites. Mince Pie anyone?