Off-colour Fulham lose their way against the Blades
Fulham (0) 0
Sheffield United (1) 1 Ndiaye 3
Fulham missed a golden opportunity to open up a five-point gap at the top of the Championship as they slipped tamely to a first defeat in 12.
It was only their second home loss – the September reverse against Reading being the other – and they could have few complaints.
The performance was as bad as can be. The Whites fell behind to a brilliant individual goal from Iliman Ndiaye after just three minutes and then subjected their frustrated fans to a litany of misplaced passes, over-hit free-kicks, frittered possession and feeble crosses.
The Blades, who, like the Whites, are trying to find a way back to the top flight after going down last season, are only a mid-table outfit at present but they were visibly buoyed by their early lead and fought like tigers to hold on to what they had.
Fulham lacked composure and incisiveness in trying to alter the narrative, although they came mightily close to salvaging their unbeaten record at the death when Aleksandar Mitrovic thudded a shot against the bar and Harry Wilson clipped the rebound just over.
What turned out to be the winner was a stunner.
Picking up the ball inside his own half, Ndiaye shrugged off the attentions of Jean Michael Seri before sidestepping Tim Ream and a back-tracking defence, then hitting a perfect low left footer beyond Marek Rodak’s right hand – just inside the post.
The uplift given to the Blades rocked the Whites and it was a while before they started to get their act together and we finally saw a flashing shot across the bows from Mitrovic.
Boss Marco Silva badly needed signs of an improvement and brought on Tom Cairney to try and add some science to a frenetic, error-strewn display.
But even the skipper struggled to make Fulham function as normal. Mitrovic came as close as anyone to resetting the scales with a low shot on the turn inside the box but it was no major issue for Wes Foderingham in the Blades goal.
He came even closer in injury time but a goal then would probably have been undeserved.
Fulham must now regroup for Birmingham City at the Cottage on Boxing Day when they will all of a sudden be anxious to end a sequence of five without a win.
Whites: (4-2-3-1) Rodak – Tete, Tosin, Ream, Robinson (Muniz 69) – Seri (Cairney h/t), Reed – Wilson, Carvalho (Decordova-Reid 61), Kebano – Mitrovic. Subs not used: Odoi, Chalobah, Muniz, Gazzaniga, Bryan
Blades: (3-4-2-1) Foderingham – Basham, Egan, Robinson – Bogle, Norwood, Hourihane (Fleck 76), Stevens – Gibbs-White (Berge h/t), Ndiaye (Osborn 78) – Sharp. Subs not used: Baldock, Burke, Freeman, Eastwood