Leeds United and Fulham worlds apart in both off and onfield concerns - Graham Smyth's Verdict

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Fulham fans filing into Craven Cottage on Saturday for the visit of Leeds United could be heard voicing their disbelief at a recent off-field development at their club.

Earlier this month the Cottagers announced, to the outrage of supporters, that some tickets in the impressive new Riverside Stand next season will cost a frankly unthinkable £3,000. That sum is the most anyone will pay for English top flight football, without enjoying hospitality.

A week and a half after the pricing was revealed, fans in the Johnny Haynes Stand were still expressing concern over the cost of watching Premier League football from the mammoth structure still being finished on the opposite side of the ground. Owner Tony Khan has called the stand ‘a real gamechanger for Fulham Football Club, our neighbourhood, and all of London.’

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For a number of reasons Fulham and Leeds fans could be existing in different worlds – Whites supporters don’t know who their owner will be next season let alone when work will begin on Elland Road development - but when it comes to what's happening on the pitch when they go to the football, their respective gripes are worlds apart in gravity.

The visitors, packed into one corner of the Putney End Stand, spent much of the afternoon and the hours after the game expressing concern over their chances of watching Premier League football at all in person next season because right now it's not looking good.

Fulham, ninth in the table, are honing in on a target of 53 points, the tally accrued by Roy Hodgson's team in 2008/09. The 2-1 win over Leeds moved them to within eight points of Marco Silva's historic goal. Leeds are just trying to cobble together enough to be better than three other clubs. The defeat left them stuck on 29, one singular point above the drop zone.

Though the two teams were largely equal for most of the first half, the gulf in their ability and confidence levels made itself apparent after the break. One made costly mistakes and played like a team facing the firing squad, the other took full advantage of those errors and walked off the pitch without a care in the world.

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And while one set of fans rightly grumbled over season ticket prices before merrily making their way out into a mild spring West London afternoon, sections of the other vented their fury at the Leeds board and director of football Victor Orta and headed north to simmer and fret ahead of an increasingly consequential Tuesday meeting with Leicester City.

ANOTHER ONE - Leeds United have conceded 13 goals in three games, losing each of those ahead of a crunch clash with Leicester City at Elland Road. Pic: GettyANOTHER ONE - Leeds United have conceded 13 goals in three games, losing each of those ahead of a crunch clash with Leicester City at Elland Road. Pic: Getty
ANOTHER ONE - Leeds United have conceded 13 goals in three games, losing each of those ahead of a crunch clash with Leicester City at Elland Road. Pic: Getty

In the midst of it all, in the shadow of the Riverside Stand stood Javi Gracia, his head spinning at how swiftly and catastrophically things have gone awry.

His name was left out of the angry chants because the job he took was a hospital pass but while he initially dealt reasonably well with it and settled it all down, he has started to look in danger of losing control.

The nearest Gracia came to joining the board in facing the music was when, in the 80th minute, ironic cheers met his decision to finally deploy Willy Gnonto. That's Italian international Willy Gnonto who since his senior breakthrough has frequently been Leeds' brightest and most promising attacking talent.

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Gracia's decisions had already come under the spotlight, due in no small part to those 5-1 and 6-1 beatings by Crystal Palace and Liverpool, and the Fulham defeat has him facing full beam.

Sticking with Brenden Aaronson would have been brave had the youngster defied his season-long issue with the Premier League's physicality and his lack of goal contributions. He did not, casting Gracia's selection in a less flattering light.

Putting Liam Cooper back into the team proved to be the right call, for the captain was Leeds' best performer, yet it was the head coach himself who said at full-time such positives were not enough.

Elsewhere in the team Gracia is casting around for solutions to serious problems. Luke Ayling came out of the team to face Liverpool after a poor spell to be replaced by Rasmus Kristensen. The Dane couldn't live with Liverpool and had a full-on nightmare at Fulham. Willian, 34, rinsed the right-back and both goals came down that side. Who will Gracia next turn to?

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Both goals featured significant errors by Illan Meslier and the decision over whether or not to keep faith with the 23-year-old would surely keep even the sanguine manager awake at night. Dropping him, for what would be a first ever form-related demotion, to bring in Joel Robles would be a huge call. Taking the keeper out of the firing line might be a kindness. It might kill off his remaining confidence. It might cure the season. It might kill it.

Gracia's seat at Craven Cottage had the best view in the house and you couldn't pay most sane onlookers to sit in it right now.

From his vantage point, or any in the ground, the first half didn't look good - Leeds offered precious little going forward - but nor did it look bad. Cooper made a difference, blocking, tackling, heading and clearing danger, and Max Wober, preferred to Junior Firpo at left-back, was solid enough.

The Austrian made two key blocks in the area early on and Meslier clawed out a Tosin header that wouldn't have counted, not that the keeper was to know when he flew through the air.

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Bernd Leno equalled that stop when he dived to palm away a Marc Roca free-kick. That being one of just two shots on target all afternoon said much about Leeds' toothless attack.

Keeping the ball was a big problem, one to which Weston McKennie and to a lesser degree Roca contributed rather than solved. A lack of guile and heavy first touches all over the pitch deprived Leeds of fluidity. Almost every challenge sent Aaronson to the turf, Jack Harrison was anonymous on his 200th club appearance, Crysencio Summerville faded after a bright start and Rodrigo had nothing to work with.

At the break, however, Leeds were still in it at 0-0, keeping shots out, keeping Fulham at bay.

There was a moment in the early stages of the second half when Mateus Tete switched a quick free-kick out to Willian and he beat Kristensen with ease to shoot wide. It was a warning not heeded. When Roca gave the ball away in midfield, Fulham went down their left again, Willian was free to cross and Meslier inexplicably palmed it straight to Harry Wilson, who crashed in off the bar.

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Summerville hit the side netting, Andreas Pereira hit Leeds' crossbar and then Leeds hit self-destruct. With the midfield nowhere to be seen, Fulham marauded through the middle and went left, where else? Antonee Robinson crossed this time, Meslier palmed it straight to Pereira and he found the empty net.

On came Luis Sinisterra and Patrick Bamford and on 79 minutes they combined to force an own goal from João Palhinha. Cooper's cross was backheeled by Sinisterra, Bamford sent it goalwards and Palhinha deflected it into the net.

Then, at long last, Gnonto came on, along with Adam Forshaw, but there was to be no heroics. Willian's free-kick, palmed onto the post by Meslier, was as close as the match came to another goal.

"I'm worried about everything," admitted Gracia afterwards and with problems in just about every area of the pitch you can understand why.

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You can also understand why a season goes as badly as this one has for Leeds, because the club's only real source of consistency is found in the stands and not on the pitch. And unless Gracia finds the right team to beat Leicester and his players happen upon some form, then it will look ever more possible that Leeds and Fulham won't just exist in different worlds next season, but different divisions.