Fulham endured a tough afternoon at Elland Road on Saturday, losing 3-0 to Leeds United and slipping further out of the automatic promotion race.
Scott Parker’s side have endured a tough restart to the season, losing 2-0 to Brentford last week and then struggling to contain a rampant Leeds side relentlessly chasing automatic promotion.
Patrick Bamford opened the scoring on 10 minutes and, despite Fulham bossing things in the opening 45 minutes, two swift breaks in the second period carved the West London outfit open and secured the points for Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
Defeat leaves Fulham 10 points adrift of Leeds with seven games to play. There’s seven points between them and West Brom, but the automatic promotion race is beginning to drift away from Parker on the back of two costly defeats.
Here, we begin to break down what went wrong for Fulham on their visit to West Yorkshire…
Too much reliance on Mitrovic
The first-half was a good one for Fulham and, barring the goal from Bamford, Parker will have been pleased with how his side imposed themselves on the game.
Mitrovic was at the centre of everything early on; he should’ve been sent off for an elbow on Ben White, who watched him closely throughout, with Leeds clearly wary of the threat the striker offers.
He’s cruised past 20 goals this season and threatened in the first-half at Elland Road, volleying tamely past Illan Meslier’s near post and also testing the young Frenchman’s gloves.
The best chance he had came from a Joe Bryan corner, but he headed wide.
Despite those chances, White watched him closely throughout and stepped that up a gear in the second period. It completely threw Fulham and they had no answer to Leeds’ second-half performance.
Simply, there’s no Plan B for Parker, it’s Mitrovic or bust.
A problem left side
There’s no denying that Joe Bryan is a quality left-back and his seven assists this season have underlined just how important his influence is.
However, there’s risk bringing that attacking threat to Elland Road and all three goals for Leeds came as they pierced his side of the pitch.
Helder Costa picked up a loose ball on 10 minutes and drove into the space Bryan had vacated before squaring for Bamford, who made no mistake to fire Leeds into the lead.
Bryan showed flashes of his quality going forward, but he missed Ivan Cavaleiro ahead of him; his absence from the starting XI continues to raise eyebrows.
Bielsa switched things up for Leeds in the second-half to combat Fulham’s threat, with Jack Harrison tormenting Bryan and abusing the space the full-back left on 56 minutes.
A blistering counter allowed Harrison in-behind, with the winger squaring for Ezgjan Alioski to finish. 15 minutes later, it was the 23-year-old doing the damage, holding off Bryan and crashing the ball under Marek Rodak for 3-0.
Four minutes later, Bryan was hauled off.
A long break has helped some, but hindered others. Unfortunately for Fulham, they’ve been slow out of the traps and automatic promotion is starting to look out of reach.
Parker will get the cushion of the play-offs as he looks to guide Fulham back to the Premier League, but heading into that lottery in this sort of form is a worry; defensive frailties are being exposed, with Mitrovic carrying the weight of the side at the other end of the pitch.
Picking up some momentum in the coming seven games is vital. It might not be enough to secure promotion automatically, but it’ll give Parker’s side some confidence heading into the play-offs.
A lot of these players know what it takes to come out of that three-game burst with promotion, but on the evidence of this weekend, they are miles off the required level.