Scott Parker made four changes to the starting 11 that lost to Arsenal in the opening game. Joining the affray were: Alphonse Areola, Kenny Tete, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Aleksandar Mitrovic.
It seemed to me that Parker saw Arsenal as a free hit and a trial run for the players that were triumphant against Brentford in the play-off final. He would have looked at the game against Leeds as an opportunity to pick up points; he decided it was time to delve into the squad and utilise the players he has at his disposal.
This game was entertaining for the mutual but frustrating if you are a Fulham fan. Our defensive frailty reared its ugly teeth again as we conceded four at Elland Road. I think what will frustrate Parker the most is the type of goals that we are giving away. Some poor marking mixed with poor decision making is allowing the opposition to find the back of our net all too easily. In the Premier League, your mistakes are punished, and the fine margins can define your season. Despite being only two games in, we cannot shy away from the fact we have already shipped seven goals. If we are to have any chance of survival, we have to tighten up at the back; I believe we’ve shown enough promise going forward to still be optimistic. When speaking to the press Parker has not concealed the notion of us being in the market for a new centre back or two. Hopefully, we can conduct some more good business and bring in some quality in that area to bolster our chance of survival.
Only five minutes into the game and we found ourselves behind. Leeds swung in a corner and both Hector and Harrison Reed turned their backs when challenging for the initial ball, completely unacceptable at any level of football. When the ball found its way to the back post, Leeds winger Helda Costa seemed to have the freedom of Yorkshire before firing from an acute angle and finding the net. The response was positive, and we were controlling the game, around the half-hour mark we were awarded a penalty after Bryan was taken down by a rash challenge. Our talisman Mitrovic stepped up and did the business from 12 yards. Back level and still on top in the game, Bryan gives away a silly penalty with a blatant push in the back on Patrick Bamford. This presented Leeds the chance to go back ahead before half time which they gladly accepted. I believe this encapsulates our defensive naivety and lack of game management; we had a great chance to get to halftime level.
Leeds began the second half with an intensity that caught us out not once but twice. Identical to the first half, only five minutes in and Areola was picking the ball out of his net once again. A neat pattern of play from the home side saw Bamford released with a clever through ball and he finished smartly. Just seven minutes later and Leeds broke down the left. Bamford left Dennis Odoi in his wake, a very concerning moment in my opinion when you consider Bamford is not blessed with pace, he played the ball across the box and again Costa had so much time and space to pick his spot and dispatch the ball into the top corner. The next phase of the game was easily the most pleasing, being 4-1 down away from home we could have easily rolled over and accepted the drumming. The introduction of Bobby Decordova-Reid and Neeskens Kebano freshened things up for us. With virtually his first touch Decordova-Reid had the ball in the back of the net following some outstanding play from Anguissa. The central midfielder brushed the immensely popular Calvin Phillips aside with ease and threaded the ball through delightfully. Decordova-Reid took one touch to set himself and another to strike the ball into the bottom left corner; a glimmer of hope. Just five minutes later and we had pulled the deficit back to just one. Tete broke down the right and stood the ball up towards the back post, Mitrovic didn’t need asking twice as he attacked the cross and planted his header past the helpless Leeds goalkeeper. We had a few moments where we threatened an equaliser, unfortunately, we had left ourselves too much to do.
I have to say I thought Anguissa was exceptional all game in central midfield. He stood out immensely and was the best player on the pitch by a mile. The Cameroonian was strong both defensively and going forward, often being the driving force behind our attacks; I can see him being fundamental to our survival chances. Another positive take away was our new right back Tete, the fans were crying out for somebody fresh in this position and he has shown some great potential. The Dutch international loves a strong challenge and has already provided two assists for our main man Mitrovic. This point leads nicely on to the praise of Mitrovic, he is an old-fashioned number 9 who will score you goals if you can provide him with service. The more crosses we can put into the box the better, Mitrovic will get on the end of them and will win us football matches.
I have mixed emotions about the season ahead. One part of me is deeply worried about the number of goals we have already conceded and how easy it is for teams to cut through us. However, I do believe the team that was last in the topflight would have rolled over and it would have probably ended up nearer a cricket score. You need to show resolve and guts to survive and we certainly showed that in abundance. If we can add quality to our backline, I believe we have a real chance of staying up. Villa next week is a massive game and we have to pick up nothing but all three points.