AN afternoon of frustration saw Leeds United suffer their first home defeat of Neil Redfearn’s reign as full-time head coach as Fulham claimed a pre-Christmas bonus.
A poor game was settled on the hour mark when Hugo Rodallega tucked away his ninth goal of the season to hand Fulham just their third away success of the campaign.
Leeds, whose best moment arrived just before the half hour when Alex Mowatt’s header struck the woodwork, produced a low-key performance to slump to their second consecutive defeat with Redfearn’s side too close to the relegation zone for comfort.
Too often, Leeds lacked the requisite quality in the final third, with their main attacking players having an off-day, which slowly but surely boosted the confidence of a Fulham side, who were dismantled in their previous league match eight days earlier by Watford.
A rank-bad day at the office descended even further just before the end when captain Stephen Warnock left the fray with a hamstring injury.
The final whistle was the cue for boos from many home fans in the 27,264 crowd following an abject afternoon.
Fulham’s skipper for the day was Ross McCormack, making his first return to Elland Road since his £11m transfer in the summer and while the Scot had a largely quiet afternoon, victory belonged to him and his Fulham side.
Despite the severity of last weekend’s 4-1 loss at Portman Road, Redfearn elected to name the same side who started that afternoon in Suffolk, with Giuseppe Bellusci, whose partner gave birth to a baby daughter this week, again sidelined with a hamstring strain.
Casper Sloth gained a place on the bench, as a reward for his midweek performance for the development side, while a late change saw Chris Dawson step in for Rudy Austin.
Fulham made three changes from the side who were humiliated 5-0 at home to the Hornets. last time out with Gabor Kiraly, Shaun Hutchinson and Emerson Hyndman all starting, with former England midfielder Scott Parker missing from the Cottagers’ line-up.
With a truly abysmal goals against record on the road so far in the Championship, with their tally of 27 goals against representing the worst in the entire Football League, Fulham arrived at Elland Road with a reputation for giving.
But while they suffered a scare or two in the first half, the pressure they had to withstand was sporadic, with Leeds failing to hit the heights of their peerless home performance against Derby last time out.
On too many occasions, Leeds gave the ball away far too cheaply, although at the other end, Marco Silvestri was not troubled at all, with McCormack - who received boos from home fans whenever he touched the ball - not bringing too much to the table.
Leeds’ most threatening moment arrived just before the half-hour when Sam Byram sent over an inviting cross, which was latched onto by Mowatt, whose thumping header struck the bar and then hit the back of keeper Gabor Kiraly before the ball was cleared.
Kiraly, in for the suspended Marcus Bettinelli, also denied Byram just before half-time, gathering his rising shot at his near post at the second attempt.
Byram also produced one of the hosts other’ more decent moments, early in proceedings, with a neat passage of play saw Adryan display silky skills in midfield before finding Mowatt, whose lovely reverse pass found the United right-back, whose low shot whistled just wide.
It was a half in which Fulham rarely threatened, although they grow into proceedings after a tentative start, with the fact that Leeds kept a clean sheet representing the main bonus given the previous week’s defensive aberrations at Ipswich.
While United could reflect on having the better of it at the interval, equally they will have not needed telling twice that they needed to produce some sustained pressure against a side whose back four have succumbed on numerous occasions this term.
A break early on in the second period hinted at an opener with Warnock manufacturing space down the left before sending over a cross which found Adryan, whose overhead kick flew wide with the playmaker unable to get a clean connection.
At the start of the second half, Seko Fofana, one of the Cottagers’ brighter performers, did force Silvestri into a save of sort when he held his low shot in routine fashion.
But with their first clear-cut chance, Fulham did not prove so wasteful on the hour.
Leeds momentarily switched off from a throw-in down their left, with Lasse Vigen Christensen finding time and space to pick out Rodallega, who steered the ball home from close range.
Straightaway, Billy Sharp was thrown on for the ineffective Souleymane Doukara, but despite plenty of possession, they struggled to find a path through, to the increased frustration of the agitated home support.
With something to cling onto, Fulham defended in numbers to protect Kiraly.
Adryan’s shot from twenty yards was comfortably saved by the visiting keeper, who then pressurized the same player following a great cross from Sharp, with Adyran failing in his attempts to send a header past Kiraly.
It was increasingly looking like one of those days for Leeds, with Fulham looking the more threatening.
Rodallega missed a golden chance to wrap things up with Leeds stranded with bodies upfield, when he fired wide with the goal at his mercy following Christensen’s pass.
With few attacking options on the bench and increasingly bereft of conviction going forward, the net result was the game petering out for Leeds, with their performance a worrying one ahead of the festive programme.
A bad day was made even worse late on when Warnock exited the fray with a hamstring injury.
Leeds United: Silvestri, Byram, Cooper, Pearce, Warnock (Berardi 89), Mowatt, Cook, Bianchi, Adryan (Dawson 76), Antenucci, Doukara (Sharp 60). Substitutes not used: S Taylor, Tonge, Sloth, Del Fabro.
Fulham: Kiraly, Stafylidis, Bodurov, Hyndman, Grimmer, Hutchinson, Fofana, Christensen, Ruiz, Rodallega (Woodrow 82), McCormack. Substitutes not used: Zverotic, Roberts, Williams, Kavanagh, Burn, Rodak.
Referee: Scott Duncan.