Fulham 2 Leeds United 1
Josh Onomah’s first goal in Fulham colours and a penalty from Aleksandar Mitrovic were just enough to hand the Whites a precious win at the Cottage.
Patrick Bamford’s equaliser early in the second half had threatened to derail the home side’s efforts but they recovered to produce their best football of the match and seal victory, thanks to their summer signing from Spurs being in the right place at the right time.
It was probably his best display since moving to west London and he repaid the faith shown in him by Scott Parker, who looked like a man under pressure after last week’s west London derby defeat to Brentford.
This felt like a big moment in Fulham’s season. Three defeats in a row had plunged them into a crisis of confidence and they badly needed a win to get back on track.
The gap between them and second-placed Leeds – who were protecting an 11-match unbeaten run in the Championship – is still a telling nine points but at least now they have steadied the ship and can dare to dream again.
Leeds created the first opening – a deflected Helder Costa drive comfortably being held by Marek Rodak - but the visitors suffered the loss of Pablo Hernandez to a hamstring strain in setting up the chance and that always seemed likely to help the home cause.
The Whites were in front after seven minutes from the spot – Mitrovic claiming his 17th goal of the domestic campaign after his penalty cannoned in off the right hand post via the glove of keeper Kiko Casilla.
The Serb played a part in earning the penalty, as it was his volley across the face of goal – following Onomah’s chip - which resulted in Ben White pushing Bobby Reid to the ground.
The Whites, for once seeing less of the ball than their opponents, reached half-time with that lead intact, but were grateful that Rodak snuffed out a good opening for Stuart Dallas with a leg block and there were palpitations when Mateusz Klich struck a post.
But Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa brought on Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah at the start of the second half and the striker’s cross-shot on 54 minutes was tapped in at the far post by Bamford for the equaliser – the ball having evaded Rodak’s despairing grope.
Ivan Cavaleriro almost restored the lead with a cut in from the left and rising shot which Casilla did well to tip over, but on 69 minutes, Onomah did restore the lead – picking up the pieces after the visitors failed to clear their lines at a corner – crashing home from 14 yards after an attempted bicycle kick from Mitrovic had not quite connected.
The match was pleasingly spiky in the first half, with two touchline tussles resulting in gatherings of feuding players from both side.
Luke Ayling’s unnecessary shove on Tom Cairney by the dug-outs caused predictable friction. Then there was a wrestle between Joe Bryan and Costa on the opposite side near half way which ended with both players being yellow carded.
In many ways it showed the desire of the home players to show they could mix it to get the result they needed and home fans will enjoy their Christmases much better because of it.
Line up: Rodak – Christie, Mawson, Ream, Bryan – Reed (Johansen 90), Cairney, Onomah – Cavaleiro (Knockaert 90), Reid (Sessegnon 90) – Mitrovic. Subs not used: Bettinelli, Kebano, O’Riley, Kamara.