Javi Gracia's defence of Illan Meslier backfires as Championship moves closer following Leeds United's defeat at Fulham
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A third successive defeat and a lack of fight at times has left Leeds looking certainties for relegation unless there is a dramatic turnaround beginning with the crucial game at home to Leicester City on Tuesday night.
Leicester won 2-1 against Wolves to close the gap to one point behind the Whites who lost by the same score in another fruitless visit to London.
And the Foxes must be licking their lips about playing this Leeds team next with Gracia's men worrying short of confidence, form and ability in every department.
In their shocking recent run they are defending like amateurs, the midfield is going missing and the attack blunt. Gracia seems powerless to turn things round, his attempts to tighten the team up are clearly not working and Championship football is looking increasingly likely.
With Fulham nowhere near their best it was another golden opportunity missed for the Whites and although they kept the game scoreless for nearly an hour there was never really the feeling they were ever going to bring something back with them.
Defensively, different players are lining up to make calamitous errors in every match and this time it was the goalkeeper.
Illan Meslier has looked bereft of confidence in recent weeks and although he made one decent save to keep out a free-kick he was at fault for both of Fulham's goals with poor flaps at crosses when he was nowhere near decisive enough.
Gracia defended Meslier in the build-up to the game, but he was left regretting not taking his young keeper out of the firing line for a little spell.
Publicly he did not have a go at Meslier, nor any of the other non performing players in the game.
He said: “I prefer not to speak individually about players because all of them are trying their best.
"Of course sometimes all the players make mistakes but I prefer to keep the strength of the team, of the squad and try to compete with our best 11.
“I'm worried about everything. It's our third defeat in a row and we have to improve, all the players, the level of the players.
"We have to recover their best level because we have to play a very, very important game in three days and we need to be ready in all the different positions.
“The first half was equal, we didn't create many chances but we didn't suffer a lot.
"In the second after conceding the first goal it was tough for us, both goals coming from the same side, two crosses.
"After that in this moment it’s hard for us to manage, coming from two defeats. It's not easy. The team kept going and we scored the goal but it was late."
After a quiet start with Leeds settling into their new counter attack style there was little for either set of fans to enthuse over.
Crysencio Summerville did look lively, however, after being recalled to the side and earned a free-kick just outside the box with a good run that ended with him being cynically brought down. Marc Roca stepped up and fired in a good shot that was well saved by home keeper Bernd Leno.
Another good run from Summerville set up Rodrigo, but the United top scorer attempted to flick the ball instead of putting his foot through it and his effort was easily blocked.
Another player recalled, Liam Cooper, made a good block to deny Willian at the other end while Meslier made a routine save from Andreas Pereira from the edge of the area.
Fulham upped their tempo after the break and Willian's shot was defected wide after he swept past Rasmus Kristensen with ease.
The deadlock was broken when Meslier seemed to misjudge Willian's overhit cross and his weak palm out saw the ball fall at the feet of Harry Wilson who smashed a shot in off the crossbar.
Soon after Meslier watched and hoped as Pereira's free-kick hit the crossbar and Leeds this time avoided conceding a quick second goal as they had done in their previous two games.
Fulham did make it 2-0 in the 71st minute as Antonee Robinson's cross was only pushed out by Meslier straight to Pereira who had an open goal to blast the ball into from close range.
Leeds at least made a spirited effort to hit back with Leno out quickly to deny Summerville after good play by substitute Luis Sinisterra and Roca seeing a shot saved by the keeper.
Several corners came to nothing before Summerville kept the attacking going after another set piece was only half cleared and Cooper delivered a good low cross. Sinisterra's initial backheel was blocked then another sub Patrick Bamford poked a shot towards goal. It looked to be missing, but went into the net off Fulham's Palhinha.
However, United could not keep up their momentum and it was Fulham who came closest to another goal when Willian's free-kick was pushed onto the post ny Meslier who then did well to claw the rebound away.
(Wilson 58, Pereira 72)
(Palhinha 79 og)
Saturday, April 22, 2023
Fulham: Leno; Tete, Tosin, Ream, Robinson; Reed (Lukic 82), Palhinha; Wilson (Solomon 86), Pereira (Cairney 86), Willian (Kebano 90+3); De Cordova-Reid (Vinicius 82).
Leeds: Meslier; Kristensen, Koch, Cooper, Wober; Roca, McKennie (Forshaw 80); Summerville, Aaronson (Sinisterra 65), Harrison (Gnonto 80); Rodrigo (Bamford 65).
Referee: Peter Bankes