LEWIS COOK’S 35-yard stunner finally ended a long goal drought for Leeds United but the club’s winless run in the Championship extended to four games with a 1-1 draw at home to Fulham.
The Cottagers took a 17th-minute lead through in-form Tom Cairney and only a heroic header from Sol Bamba denied Ross McCormack a quick second as his stinging effort was diverted on to the crossbar.
But Cook levelled for Leeds with a 38th-minute stunner from about 35 yards, one minute short of United going six hours without scoring.
Both sides then had chances to win the game in the second half with Stuart Dallas missing a glorious chance for Leeds before Fulham finished the game with ten men when Fernando Amorebieta was shown a second yellow card.
Whites head coach Steve Evans made four changes to his team with Scott Wootton dropped after his own goal in Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Watford in the FA Cup. Wootton was replaced by Lewie Coyle who made his full league debut at right back, with Charlie Taylor again at left back. With Giuseppe Bellusci beginning a two-match ban, Liam Cooper came back into the side to partner Sol Bamba at centre-back. More surprising changes were the omissions of Liam Bridcutt - for personal reasons - and Stuart Dallas - seemingly just dropped. They were replaced by Tom Adeyemi and Alex Mowatt respectively. Lewis Cook and Toumani Diagouraga were again started in midfield with Souleymane Doukara and Mirco Antenucci leading the line up-front.
Fulham’s match-day squad featured five ex Whites players, led by captain Ross McCormack upfront, with Andy Lonergan in goal. Matt Smith was also named among the substitutes with former Whites youth players Luke Garbutt and Tom Cairney both starting.
Garbutt - on loan from Everton - was born in Harrogate.
As far as United’s bench was concerned, Gaetano Berardi returned for the first time since injuring ankle ligaments in December. The Swiss international sat alongside Dallas, Wootton, Lee Erwin, Jordan Botaka, Luke Murphy and Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
At an extremely quiet Elland Road, Leeds began quite brightly with Adeyemi faling to bury a difficult header from an early Charlie Taylor corner.
But it was from that corner that Fulham immediately broke clear with a right flank cross picking out Garbutt whose shot was deflected narrowly wide.
An early let off for Leeds who then enjoyed ten minutes of possession without getting anywhere before Bamba then saved United’s bacon by heading off the line and on to the crossbar.
A right flank delivery found McCormack in acres of space and his viscous volley was heading into the top corner but for the intervention of United’s centre-back.
At the other end, a curling Antenucci effort was easily dealt with by Lonergan.
But there was no let off for Leeds a couple of minutes later when another spritely Fulham attack ended with Cairney given too much time just outside the area and burying a decisive volley just inside Silvestri’s left hand post.
Elland Road sighed rather than groaned - almost expecting the goal such was Fulham’s early dominance - and just moments later the Cottagers should have made it 2-0 when Garbutt raced free behind the Leeds defence.
Instead, his weak effort was easily saved by Silvestri.
Leeds, meanwhile, offered very little threat in return - again seeming to lack ideas going forward - and Fulham again had the next chance with a whipped in left-flank cross from McCormack then eventually went out for a goal kick.
And United’s predicament was summed up just short of the half hour mark when Bamba was handed a great chance from a Cook corner but thumped a volley into row Z of the South Stand from close range.
Still, Leeds were certainly trying and two minutes later a long looping ball found Adeyemi who burst into the area and volleyed just over the crossbar.
But Fulham were soon back causing problems with a superb 35th-minute counter attack denied the goal it deserves when Coyle denied McCormack a tap in by clearing for a corner.
Seconds later, the lively Garbutt stung the hands of Silvestri with a fierce effort that was parried and a second Fulham goal looked imminent.
But from absolutely nothing, Leeds levelled with Cook’s absolute peach which came one minute short if United going six hours without a goal.
There looked to be little danger as the teenager received the ball some 35 yards from goal but the midfielder unleashed an absolute thunderbolt into the top right corner. Lonergan was close to the ball but such was the power of the shot, he had no chance.
Amazingly, it was Cook’s first league goal for Leeds and the wonder-strike gave United new impetus.
Just two minutes later, Doukara’s effort from the edge of the area was kept out by an outstretched foot from Lonergan. From the subsequent corner, Antenucci should have scored with a free header but directed his effort straight at Lonergan from close range.
After one minute of injury time, the interval came at the wrong time for Leeds who were suddenly dominant with the second half beginning in quiet fashion after neither team made any changes.
And six minutes into the second period United were again indebted to Bamba for making a wonderful sliding tackle on Moussa Dembele, just as the striker was about to pull the trigger as he raced clear and bore down on goal.
The subsequent corner was cleared with Cottagers boss Slavisa Jokanovic making two changes in swapping Garbutt and Jamie O’Hara for Alex Kacaniklic and Ryan Tunnicliffe.
Bamba then nearly undid his good work by being tackled by Cairney who looked dangerous but the defender recovered to get a foot in and clear.
Fulham then saw a penalty appeal waved away after Dembele went down under pressure from Bamba before Mowatt was in the right place at the right time to clear and prevent a tap in for McCormack from another flowing Fulham counter.
The visitors were looking the nost likely to bag the game’s next goal but the Elland Road crowd enjoyed McCormack blazing a 30-yard free-kick harmlessly over the bar.
Evans reacted by hauling off an ineffective Antenucci for Erwin with 22 minutes left - a decent chance for the Scot - but five minutes later Fulham missed a glorious chance to make it 2-1.
McCormack raced away down the right flank and his cross fell to Cairney who failed to find the bottom corner with a back-heel.
Leeds again needed some inspiration and Cook attempted to provide it with another effort from range that wriggled wide.
Evans then withdrew Mowatt for Dallas with 12 minutes left and Dallas should have put Leeds ahead within 90 seconds of coming but instead put a mesaured effort just wide after being picked out totally unmarked by Cook’s fine cross.
At the other end, Silvestri then produced a fine save to deny Kacaniklic as part of a grandstand finale.
With six minutes left, Fulham’s Ryan Fredericks became the first player to be booked after hauling down Taylor, after which he was subbed for Ashley Richards.
Evans then made his final change as Botaka entered the fray with four minutes left as Adeyemi was taken off.
And while Leeds raised home hopes by winning a couple of late corners, a winner never looked likely with a threatening move ended when Lewis Cook was booked for a foul on Fernando Amorebieta.
Ironically, seconds later, it was Amorebieta who was then shown a red card for earning a second yellow for handball.
But Leeds had barely one minute to capitalise on their numerical advantage and after five minutes of injury time the curtain was drawn on another game without victory at Elland Road.
Afterwards, Evans described Cook’s 35-yard strike as the best goal he has seen in the flesh.
“It was an absolutely stunning goal from a stunning young player,” Evans said.
“I’d go as far as to say it’s the best goal I’ve seen live in a game. If it’s in the Premier League, it’d be shown for the next five years.
“I’m very blessed to work with him. He’s a magnificent player and a magnificent boy as well.”
Evans added: “Fulham are blessed with attacking players. They’ve got (Moussa) Dembele, who’ll go to the Premier League in the summer, and the boy who played here for many seasons (Ross McCormack) and is a genius on the park at times, and they’ve not done much tonight.
“I think that’s credit to Sol (Bamba) and Liam (Cooper). I thought we did a good job.”
The result means Leeds remain 17th in the Sky Bet Championship table - a place and two points better off than Fulham - and have little to play for during the remainder of the season.
But former Crawley and Rotherham manager Evans was adamant the 2016/17 campaign will be a different story for the Whites.
“I’ve got a track record of taking sides to promotion or very close to it after being backed by the chairman,” he said.
“I have to be backed and I will be backed. I know the players I want. You don’t need to be the head coach of Leeds United to identify that we need to sign some strikers.
“Leeds United is going to build a squad to challenge for promotion in the summer.”
Like Leeds, Fulham have endured a disappointing season although their form has picked up in recent weeks.
Cottagers boss Jokanovic felt his side deserved all three points after spurning a host of first-half opportunities.
“I think we made enough chances to win the game but this is football and sometimes it happens,” he said.
“It was a good performance but we weren’t clinical in important moments.
“I’m trying to make some progress and step by step we are starting to make things better.
“They scored a fantastic goal but in my opinion we played better football and came closer to winning three points.”
Leeds United: Silvestri, Coyle, Cooper, Bamba, Taylor, Adeyemi (Botaka 86), Diagouraga, Cook, Mowatt (Dallas 78), Doukara, Antenucci (Erwin 68). Subs not used: Peacock-Farrell, Wootton, Berardi, Murphy.
Fulham: Lonergan, Fredericks (Richards 84), Burn, Amorebieta, Garbutt (Kacaniklic 52), Cairney, Madl, O’Hara (Tunnicliffe 52), Baird, Dembele, McCormack. Subs not used: Lewis, Stearman, Smith, Hyndman.
Referee: Kevin Wright.