A big day for Leeds United youngsters at Fulham, Victor Orta's encouragement, Marcelo Bielsa's fury, Dan James' special welcome and off-camera moments

The performance was average but Leeds United's penalty shootout win over Fulham will live long in the memory for a number of Marcelo Bielsa's squad.

By Graham Smyth
Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 9:13 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 9:14 am
SPECIAL DAY - Daniel James celebrated the birth of a son and a Leeds United win in the Carabao Cup in Fulham. The winger scored a lovely penalty to boot. Pic: Bruce Rollinson
SPECIAL DAY - Daniel James celebrated the birth of a son and a Leeds United win in the Carabao Cup in Fulham. The winger scored a lovely penalty to boot. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

For the first time since the Argentine's 2018 arrival, Leeds are in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup, having overcome the Championship Cottagers on spot-kicks after a goalless draw.

A makeshift side were unable to produce sparkling Bielsaball, yet they did create chances and should have been ahead long before the full-time whistle. Fulham also had chances, however, too many for Bielsa's liking.

It was a special night, though, particularly for the younger members of the visiting team.

Good day

Joe Gelhardt

Fresh from his own Goal of the Season contest in the Under 23s' 4-0 win at Liverpool on Sunday, Gelhardt must have felt his time was finally coming and a debut was near. Those spectacular goals will have helped show Bielsa just how high the 19-year-old's confidence is, but it will much more likely be his progress in training over the past year that earned him a substitute appearance at Craven Cottage. His time on the pitch was fairly unremarkable until the shootout, when he put penalty misses as recent as Sunday out of his mind, shut out the Fulham crowd and roofed the ball brilliantly from 12 yards. His composure was remarkable. Gelhardt could have a big future in the game and this wasn't a bad way to get going.

Stuart McKinstry

The young Scot could be forgiven for feeling a little overlooked when the conversation turns to Leeds' exciting prospects. Ever since the arrival of Gelhardt, Cody Drameh, Sam Greenwood and Crysencio Summerville they have dominated the Under 23s headlines, but McKinstry has kept plugging away, quietly going about his business without a great deal of external fanfare. His reward was a debut at Fulham, in which he looked bright and hungry for the ball. Like Gelhardt he showed sky-high confidence with his penalty, a lovely low effort right into the bottom corner. His celebration as Illan Meslier saved the decisive spot-kick was fantastic too, turning to charge towards the away fans as his team-mates ran to their goalkeeper.

Illan Meslier

That we're already running out of superlatives for Leeds' 21-year-old goalkeeper says it all. Made big stops and then having come agonisingly close to keeping out an early penalty, produced the necessary heroics to send them into the fourth round. Tried to keep it cool after his big moment but a smile as wide as the Thames soon broke out on his face when his team-mates reached him. He received a deserved ovation as he approached the away end at full-time, Kalvin Phillips ruffling his hair in a good natured bit of big-brothering that went down a treat with the supporters. Another good night for Bielsa's number one.

Charlie Cresswell

It is still very early to be making big predictions but on the basis of his development with the Under 23s and his performance at Fulham, it's not difficult to imagine him alongside Pascal Struijk as the future of the Leeds backline. Used his size well, wanted the ball and used it well for the most part. Can be delighted with his big night in the cup alongside Kalvin Phillips. What was encouraging to see was just how supportive his more senior team-mates were - if his passes went astray they ensured he knew he had picked the right option and just needed to find his range. Some of his diagonal balls out of defence were excellent.

Adam Forshaw

Forget the missed penalty, any time on the pitch is still a bonus for Forshaw. The recent calf niggle was met with the inevitable collective groan from Leeds fans but he's shown that he's over it and back on the road to full fitness again. What's more Leeds need him fully fit. Andrea Radrizzani has taken a lot of flak for what wasn't the most sensible use of Twitter, when he responded to a question about the lack of new midfielders with Forshaw's name, but in the absence of reinforcements in that area, Forshaw's presence will be important this season.

Daniel James

A new arrival in the family, a helicopter ride and a better performance than some of those we've seen since he arrived, with a fantastic penalty to boot. What a day. One he'll never forget.

Bad day

Adam Forshaw

I know I said forget the penalty but he'll admit himself it was a shocker.

Tyler Roberts

The Welsh international looked decidedly unhappy as he came off early in the second half. It has been said too many times but Roberts needs to make much more of an impact. He needs to make something happen in the final third. It's all very well talking about a lack of service, and Leeds have not been at their fluid best going forward this season, but sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns and make your own luck. Rodrigo showed real hunger to go and get the ball and do something, Roberts should be doing the same.

Off-camera moments

Victor Orta, as he so often did during football's period behind closed doors, provided entertainment when the game failed to do so at Craven Cottage. His inability to watch a Leeds game without getting heavily involved is almost endearing. Crysencio Summerville had him up off his seat with a first half slide tackle that halted a Fulham break down the flank nearest to the main stand. Then Junior Firpo's decision to pass instead of shoot brought the director of football's anguish to the fore. He then spent a good 20 seconds trying to attract the attention of the man he signed from Barcelona, without success. He saved his most vociferous outbursts for Charlie Cresswell, however, offering vocal encouragement to the teenager as he grew into the game.

Marcelo Bielsa' s body language suggested he really wanted to win this. He earned a yellow card for the anger he displayed towards the officials when they failed to get Stuart McKinstry onto the pitch as a second half substitute in a timely enough manner and he paced like a caged tiger as the penalties went on. By the time he arrived for his press conference he was the picture of composure but it's difficult not to get the sense that he is hungry for a cup run. The team selection for both rounds so far almost says that in itself.

Daniel James was in Manchester for the birth of his baby boy, then jumped on a helicopter to take him to London for the Fulham game. He arrived at Craven Cottage around the same time as his team-mates and was greeted by a delighted trio of dads. Stuart Dallas, Liam Cooper and Adam Forshaw made a point of coming back out of the changing room area to welcome the new dad in the squad and congratulate him. It probably wasn't the right time to fill him in on just what a difficult job parenting is, but someone can take him aside at Thorp Arch this week and give him the full brief. Bielsa might even wheel out a powerpoint.

Liam Cooper received a friendly shove in the back from Luis Boa Morte, now on the Fulham backroom staff but previously a team-mate of the Leeds captain at Chesterfield. The duo played together at the Proact in the 2012/13 season, before Boa Morte moved on and Cooper joined the Spireites on a permanent basis. Cooper went along for the ride to Fulham as moral support, a non-playing squad member. The sight of him sitting behind a clutch of teenage team-mates on the Leeds bench gave him the look of a youth worker taking a group of excited youngsters on a day out.

Leeds United packed the away end with fans who didn't stop singing all night, adding atmosphere to what was otherwise a quiet and sparsely populated Craven Cottage. Evidently there was a shed load of Whites in the main stand too judging by the number of autographs and conversations Tony Dorigo was involved in. The YEP columnist and LUTV commentator was beseiged by fans, one of whom opened with 'I used to love you when I was a kid.' You can read the thoughts of Dorigo, who celebrated becoming a grandad this week, on the current state of play at Leeds HERE.