Fulham, in Thomas Christiansen’s eyes, are as slick as any side in the Championship but the contrast on Tuesday between Slavisa Jokanovic’s team and his own was not unflattering.
There was one early spell at Elland Road in which Leeds backtracked and left themselves open to Fulham’s pace and surgical passing but a 0-0 scoreline reflected a night when the clubs shared two shots on target and fought each other to a standstill.
Christiansen was less enamoured with Saturday’s goalless draw with Preston North End, classing it as a “disappointment” after Preston lost Ben Pearson to a red card on the hour, but Leeds’ scrap with a Fulham side he labelled repeatedly as “one of the best teams in the league” cast his squad in a good light.
Leeds have business left to do in the transfer window and a faultless full debut from 20-year-old Conor Shaughnessy on Tuesday did not disguise the dearth of centre-backs at Elland Road. The club want another striker too, though their interest in Hamburg’s Pierre-Michel Lasogga is being tempered by the challenge of accommodating the German’s £50,000-a-week wage.
The next arrival at Leeds will be signing number 11 but Gianni Alioski, the winger who arrived from Lugano as part of that influx, believes the club are strong enough to hold their own in the Championship without any further additions.
Asked if he thought more recruitment was necessary, Alioski said: “No. We have so many players in attack and good players with quality. We also have players who are at home (injured).
“We make chances and we are playing very well. I’d say we are good with this team and good with the players we have now.”
United’s defensive issues are as much a result of injury as they are a result of recruitment. Gaetano Berardi and Matthew Pennington – Leeds’ loanee from Everton – were lost on the first weekend of the season and do not look like returning until the other side of the international break. Liam Cooper hurt an ankle in Saturday’s draw with Preston and his absence against Fulham brought Shaughnessy, a player released by Reading’s academy last year, into the firing line.
Left-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson also complained of a niggle towards the end of the Preston game and sat on the bench on Tuesday, Leeds’ only other available defender. United have had an eye on an additional centre-back for some time but reinforcements will come from the treatment room before long.
In spite of the absentees, Christiansen is unbeaten in four competitive games as head coach and has accrued five points from three league matches. Leeds set out this season with the stated aim of qualifying for the play-offs, but Alioski refused to draw any immediate conclusions, saying: “It’s too early to say which position we can get to.
“If I look at the team we have, we have so many players with quality and there are two or three players who are not 100 per cent. Like Cooper, he didn’t feel good but we have other players and we have a big team. For now we have to take points and watch it game by game.”
Christiansen described frustration in his dressing room after the Preston stalemate but said he was “satisfied” with a committed performance against Fulham. Ibrahima Cisse struck a post for Fulham early on and Felix Wiedwald pulled off a crucial late save from Sone Aluko but Chris Wood failed to put away a one-on-one opportunity and also saw a finish ruled out for offside in the first half.
“We played better,” Alioski said. “Maybe it’s because Fulham also played football but we mustn’t forget the last game (against Preston) either. It was 0-0 but we created chances, we played good and we were always pressing. It was only the goal that was missing.”
Wood, who has attracted two unsuccessful bids from Burnley, missed glaring chances against both Preston and Fulham but United’s intention was to be less reliant on the striker than they were when he weighed in with 30 goals last season.
No other player in United’s squad reached double figures and the club threw money at the likes of Alioski, Samuel Saiz and Caleb Ekuban in the hope of sharing the responsibility up front. Saiz marked his debut with a hat-trick in a League Cup win over Port Vale last week and Alioski is keen to replicate his impact at Lugano, where 16 goals and a flurry of assists helped the Swiss club qualify for the Europa League in May.
“I scored last year,” he said. “I had 16 goals and 14 assists and I think I can do that here. It’s not easy to say what I can do better because you can always do better in all positions. I work all day in training. The Championship is more quick, more physical, but if you have players who can play, who are intelligent, then you can have a good game.”
Sunderland, who host Leeds in a televised game on Saturday evening, are showing flickers of early potential despite the troubled 12 months behind them.
United will attempt to stretch their unbeaten run to a fifth match at the Stadium of Light and Alioski said: “Sunderland are a big team but we are a big team also.
“If we go there and play the game that we’ve been playing, I think we can get a good result and take three points. Why not?”