In a week of chaos at Elland Road, it was sometimes easy to forget Leeds United had a match of football to play.
Just as Massimo Cellino dominated the headlines, Leeds dominated the game at Craven Cottage on Steve Evans’ first match in charge. The Whites were unlucky to only take a point after 90 minutes of high-tempo football that often saw them camped in Fulham’s half.
However, before the game could begin, the sideshow had to continue, as the travelling fans made it clear how they viewed the owner, singing, ‘Massimo, it’s time to go’. The rendition continued throughout the match. Opposition to the Italian owner is now open among the club’s faithful supporters.
A high-tempo opening minute saw both sides push forward. Fulham broke after a Lewis Cook cross failed to meet a Leeds player in the box, but Ross McCormack put his shot wide of Marco Silvestri’s net after cutting in from the left.
Evans spoke prior to the game about the rejuvenation he’d seen in Sam Byram, who was restored to the starting line-up. Byram showed the effect the new manager was having on him early on, combining well with Stuart Dallas down the right before cutting inside, but his cross was just about cleared by the Fulham defence.
Leeds forced Fulham into mistake after mistake in the opening quarter, pressing them well and high up the pitch.
The first clear sight of goal of the game for Leeds fell to Stuart Dallas, who fired a shot from just outside the box. However, his attempt was straight at the on-loan Joe Lewis and the Fulham stopper palmed it clear. Minutes later, a free-kick landed at Wood’s feet in the area, but his low strike was blocked by Lewis.
Suddenly and against the run of play, Fulham went a goal ahead. Moussa Dembele charged past the Leeds defence, leaving a ponderous Sol Bamba for dead, and fired low at the Leeds net. Silvestri got down to meet it in the middle of his goal, but the Italian goalkeeper could not stop the shot going under his body. The man who provided the assist? Former Leeds hero McCormack.
After the goal, the game settled down slightly with neither side putting together any real chances. Leeds had the better of it, with Stuart Dallas hooking a left-footed strike well over the Fulham bar.
Leeds built up the pressure once again, and there was a real shout for a handball in the Fulham area. Photos circulated around the press box at half-time showed a clear connection between Dan Burn’s arm and the ball, but no decision was given.
Towards half-time, Dallas combined well on the edge of the area, drawing a foul to win a free-kick. Leeds were stopped from taking it early by the referee. Murphy then lined it up, whipped it in, and it was Leeds captain Bamba who met it, but he was unable to convert from yards out.
The second half continued with the same pattern of play, Leeds pressing forward from the off. Dallas had an opportunity to cross, but his delivery was cleared before Wood could meet it. The Whites had another shout for a penalty turned down shortly after, Adeyemi steaming into the area before being bundled over by Jamie O’Hara, but the referee was unmoved.
Cook then almost crafted an opportunity for himself, bringing the ball down before releasing Dallas on the right. The Northern Irishman played the ball into the area, but Cook, stretching, could not meet it before Fulham cleared.
Dallas, moved over to the left by the introduction of Jordan Botaka, then won a corner for Leeds. Botaka’s corner was popped into the area, Cooper flicked it on, but no one in a yellow shirt could meet it.
Then, suddenly, justice for United. Another Botaka corner floated in, yet another scramble in the area, and this time Ben Pringle was penalised for handball. Wood then stepped up from the spot, firing it low to the right. Lewis got a touch, but could not keep out the Kiwi’s effort. A deserved goal for an away side who had more than matched the hosts.
With quarter of an hour remaining, Leeds came close to going ahead. Cook, once again brilliant in midfield, danced past a series of statuesque Fulham defenders before releasing Antenucci. The Italian could only fire his low shot straight at Lewis, and his rebound cross back into the box was dealt with.
There seemed to be a late scare for Leeds, as Cooper charged into Ryan Fredericks in the area. However, the referee said no. Fulham then ramped up the pressure, and after Silvestri flapped at a cross, Tunnicliffe had another opportunity to shoot from the edge of the area. The former Manchester United man leaned too far back, striking the ball straight over the bar.
In the last minute, Antenucci almost crafted a winner, spinning on the edge of the box before curling a left footed shot. Lewis was once again his equal, tipping it round the post.
However, it was not to be for Leeds, who more than deserved their point. An impressive display on Evans’ bow, from a side representing a club that seemed set to fall apart only two days before.