A frustrated Paul Heckingbottom bemoaned a “big 10 seconds” after a crucial chance missed by Caleb Ekuban condemned Leeds United to a 2-0 defeat at Fulham.
Ekuban’s failure to take a one-on-one opportunity with Leeds trailing 1-0 was ruthless punished as Fulham broke away to score for a second time and kill United off at Craven Cottage.
The striker’s moment came in the 63rd minute with Heckingbottom’s side controlling a match which Fulham had dominated before half-time but his shot was parried by goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli and Ekuban hid his face in his shirt as Aleksandar Mitrovic produced a decisive finish at the opposite end of the pitch.
Ekuban retained his starting place after scoring his first league goal for Leeds in a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers last Friday but he had been guilty of wasting a string of one-on-one opportunities before Tuesday's game.
Heckingbottom, who played him ahead of Pierre-Michel Lasogga, admitted that Ekuban’s finishing needed to improve, saying: “Definitely. In his defence they all seem to be falling on his left foot running away from goal but we win as a team and we lose as a team. That’s it.
“For me the only difference in the game was the big moments, four or five of them. I felt we were really on top at that moment and if we take that chance, we become favourites. There are lots of things to take from the game - frustration, anger, to be pleased and disappointed. There was everything in it.”
Fulham struck a post and created a series of openings before Kevin McDonald broke the deadlock with a deflection off his thigh in the 33rd minute.
Leeds were stretched by in-form Fulham prior to the interval, struggling against a side who are five points short of second place in the Championship and unbeaten in 18 matches, but Heckingbottom said: “I wasn’t concerned because they do that to everybody as it stands. They’re a team who can open teams up but when we started passing the ball we caused them problems.
“For me we more than matched them and the big moments cost us. They were clinical, they were good and that’s why they won the game.
“They’ve got some real top players who Premier League clubs would love to take, who Championship clubs would all have in their team. This might be the year for them.”
The passage of play in which Bettinelli denied Ekuban and Mitrovic found the net prompted an angry reaction from Leeds midfielder Samuel Saiz, who kicked United’s dug-out in annoyance.
Heckingbottom said: “We miss a golden opportunity and 10 seconds later they go two up. You could see other players sink to their knees and it hurts. We were going with everything at them and it was a big moment in the game.
“But you flip that and you have to be in control all the time. We want to be one of the teams at the top of the league and you have to play with that drive, that emotion and commitment but you tred a fine line. You want to be right at the edge.”