IN THE aftermath of Tom Cairney’s dead-eye equaliser at Craven Cottage, Leeds United’s players and staff were surprisingly philosophical. Garry Monk called a 1-1 draw a “very good point against a very good team”. Kemar Roofe expected to wake up yesterday morning thinking the same.
Cairney’s 96th-minute goal – a very late but deserved goal on the basis of Fulham’s performance – was a kick in the teeth at the end of an exhilarating game on Tuesday night but one that Leeds were willing to accept. It did not take long for Monk’s squad to remember that avoiding defeat at Craven Cottage was the foremost aim in London.
Leeds’ play-off place is protected still by an eight-point advantage over Fulham and the fixtures appear to fall in their favour this weekend as Monk’s side host Queens Park Rangers while Fulham travel to league leaders Newcastle United. Fulham’s away schedule might be their undoing in the run-in, taking them to Norwich City, Derby County, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday before the season is out.
Roofe, all the same, believes seventh-placed Fulham will make the play-offs and it was one reason why Leeds tried to see a draw at Craven Cottage in a positive light, despite Cairney levelling Tim Ream’s own goal with the last meaningful kick of the game. It was a reversal of the clubs’ meeting at Elland Road in August when United’s Chris Wood nicked a point with an overhead kick in the last minute of injury-time.
“We all went in very frustrated but the gaffer has made it clear that we’d wake up on a positive and realise it was a good point,” Roofe said. “They’re a good team and I won’t be surprised if they make the play-offs. They’ll probably deserve it.
“They’re fighting for the play-offs for a reason and even when we had them at home we thought they were probably one of the best teams we’ve played against. But we set up really well and did a job. We’re a bit disappointed not to come away with three points.”
Tuesday’s match was an occasion when fortune ebbed and flowed for both sides. Leeds lost Wood, the Championship’s top scorer, to a minor calf injury ahead of the fixture and were aggrieved to see midfielder Kalvin Phillips sent off for a second bookable offence – a robust tackle on veteran England international Scott Parker – at the closing stages of normal time.
Fulham, meanwhile, conceded a strange own goal after four minutes when Ream sliced a clearance past his goalkeeper, David Button, and were denied a first-half equaliser after referee Lee Probert and his assistants failed to spot that a shot from Neeskens Kebano which struck the crossbar has also crossed Rob Green’s goalline.
“We scored a legal goal but the referee didn’t see this situation very well,” said Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic, who called Cairney’s late goal “some kind of compensation. As we conceded one and scored two, I believe we deserved three points.”
“Everyone dug in,” Roofe said. “Obviously we got a lucky goal but when you’ve worked so hard, to come off the pitch one-all and with a sending off that was questionable, it’s disappointing.”
Goalline technology is an established tool in the Premier League and the EFL plans to introduce it to the Championship next season. Asked about Kebano’s strike, Roofe said: “To be honest I was in the middle of the pitch so I couldn’t see myself. I suppose you need to be more to the side to see it but we don’t have goalline technology so who knows?
“We got lucky twice maybe but then we got a decision (Phillips’ red card) which was probably more favourable on their side. That’s football.”
The inclusion of Roofe at number 10 at Fulham was one of five changes made by Monk, three of them tactical and two enforced after Luke Ayling joined Wood in missing the game. Ayling became a father for the first time on Tuesday and was given leave to be with his partner ahead of the birth of his daughter Maisie. He and Wood are both expected to be available for the visit of QPR.
Monk moved Gaetano Berardi to right-back to cover for Ayling and had Charlie Taylor waiting to step in at left-back but compensating for the absence of Wood has never been so simple. Souleymane Doukara was asked to play as a lone centre-forward but the position is one where Leeds look light without their leading striker.
Despite that, the club have taken four points from the two league games Wood has missed this season, including a 4-1 rout of Preston North End on Boxing Day.
“It was a massive disappointment that we didn’t have him but we’ve played without him before,” Roofe said. “We nearly got the (win) without him but he is a loss. The amount of goals he’s scored for us – he’s a massive player.”
Roofe came to Leeds from Oxford United last summer with a price tag similar to that paid by United to sign Wood from Leicester City in 2015.
Roofe, who was League Two’s player-of-the-year in 2016, has been in and out of Monk’s line-up all season, starting 21 games and scoring twice. Monk preferred him to Pablo Hernandez on Tuesday and Roofe was responsible for creating the chance which Alfonso Pedraza drove against a post while United led 1-0 in the second half at Craven Cottage.
The 24-year-old insisted that Leeds are still to see the best of him, saying: “I believe I’ve got a lot more to come. This season is my first (at Championship level), getting used to everything.
“But I’m enjoying it – and hopefully we’ll be in the Premier League next season.”