Leeds United’s hopes of avoiding relegation from the Premier League were dealt another blow as Fulham condemned Javi Gracia’s side to a third successive defeat at Craven Cottage.
Harry Wilson heralded the victory over Leeds United as “a massive three points” for Fulham.
Second-half goals from Harry Wilson and Andreas Pereira proved enough to earn victory for the hosts, who reinforced their bid to seal a top-half finish and climbed one place to ninth.
But for Leeds the loss, accompanied by victory for Leicester City and a point for Everton later on Saturday, means they are just one point above the relegation places in 16th.
A quality first-time finish by Wilson, after Illan Meslier had got an unconvincing hand to Willian’s cross, broke the deadlock after 58 minutes.
Pereira then slotted in after Meslier again failed to effectively deal with a cross on a difficult afternoon for the Leeds goalkeeper.
Somewhat belatedly, the two goals eventually sparked Leeds into action, and Joao Palhinha’s own goal, after Patrick Bamford had redirected the ball with an outstretched leg, offered Leeds hope with 11 minutes remaining.
But despite a late rally and 10 minutes of stoppage time they were unable to force an equaliser.
“I’m worried about everything,” said Gracia, whose Leeds side face a crucial game against relegation rivals Leicester on Tuesday.
“We don’t have time, in this moment we can’t have doubts. We have to believe and try to do it together.”
Meslier errors leave Leeds in perilous position
Leeds desperately needed a response at Craven Cottage after a damaging 6-1 thrashing by Liverpool on Monday, which followed a similarly concerning collapse in a 5-1 loss to Crystal Palace a week earlier.
Gracia’s side arrived in London having lost all five of their league games in the capital this season – and fully aware of the importance of a result before their rivals played later in the day.
Having watched his side concede 16 goals in four games so far in April – letting in at least four in their three defeats during that run – the Leeds boss said prior to kick-off that his side had reached a “crucial moment”.
However, the visitors were initially tentative in their approach before Fulham forced their hand.
Meslier gave his confidence levels a boost after a torrid night against Liverpool with a superb early save from Tosin Adarabioyo’s – albeit offside – header, while Liam Cooper underlined the role he could yet play this season with an assured performance.
However, Meslier’s position will come under further scrutiny after the 23-year-old failed to deal with two crosses.
He first misjudged Willian’s lifted cross, allowing Wilson to crash in an emphatic strike off the underside of the crossbar, before pushing Antonee Robinson’s pass into Pereira’s path for an easy finish.
Meslier did make an impressive save to prevent Willian’s whipped free-kick finding the top corner, but Leeds’ revival proved too little, too late against a Fulham side who have earned a rare comfortable finish to a top-flight campaign.
The hosts, not burdened by relegation pressure and with manager Marco Silva back on the touchline after a two-match ban, made the more purposeful start but struggled to create any clear-cut openings before the break.
That changed in a far more clinical second-half performance which ensured Fulham remain on target to achieve the club’s best Premier League total, with them now eight points away from their record tally of 53 in 2008-09 with seven games to play.
“We could have scored even more goals. An own goal gave them belief, but overall we were the best team,” said Silva.
“It was a great game for us and we didn’t suffer too much in the end. We were the best team and the players deserved it as a group, to win again at home at the Cottage in front of our fans, and we have to keep going.”
Victory moved Fulham up to ninth and on 45 points, while leaving Leeds just a point above the relegation zone, and Wilson admitted it’s pleasing not to have to be looking over our shoulder heading into the business end of the season.
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