Fulham 2-0 Leeds: Aleksandar Mitrovic on target as hosts keep pressure on Cardiff
Last Updated: 04/04/18 8:12am
Fulham kept alive their automatic promotion hopes and stretched a remarkable unbeaten run to 18 games with a 2-0 win over Leeds at Craven Cottage.
Kevin McDonald scored a freak first-half opener and Aleksandar Mitrovic - just moments after Caleb Ekuban had spurned a glorious chance to equalise - added a crucial second in the 63rd minute as the hosts closed the gap on Cardiff to five points.
Slavisa Jokanovic's side have played a game more than Neil Warnock's men but will look to their rivals' looming games against Wolves - live on Sky Sports - and Aston Villa, as well as their own continued hot streak as they seek to swerve the nerve-fraying finale of the play-offs.
Leeds - who have now won just two of their last 16 games - might long have been tucked in mid-table but Paul Heckingbottom vowed his side were out to upset those retaining ambitions and Stuart Dallas fired a first-minute warning, albeit into the crowd.
But Fulham soon settled into their rhythm. Familiarly slick build-up saw Mitrovic sweep wide and see a header smartly saved, as well as linking up with Ryan Sessegnon in a one-touch move that Floyd Ayite could only finish against a post.
Stefan Johansen had a chance of his own when Ayite darted down the right but the breakdown came in unexpectedly scruffy fashion in the 33rd minute when Matt Targett's corner, having been flicked on by Mitrovic, bounced off the back of an unwitting McDonald.
Leeds, who had carried only fleeting threat from set-pieces, might have gone further behind had Mitrovic not got in the way of Sessegnon's goalwards sweep, nor Bailey Peacock-Farrell stretched to deny the teen after a fierce drive with his right boot.
But Fulham did extend their lead during a minute that proved pivotal. Ekuban, set free by Gaetano Berardi, lashed straight at Marcus Bettinelli and, straight up the other end, Mitrovic served punishment by slotting low after exchanging passes with Tom Cairney.
The hosts continued to attack, Ryan Fredericks firing into the side netting, while Leeds had a penalty appeal rightly waved away after Dallas went down with a flourish under a challenge from Bettinelli.
Heckingbottom's side competed more gamely after the break but their night was summed up when substitute Jay-Roy Grot headed over from just yards out following Samuel Saiz's late cross.
Man of the match - Aleksandar Mitrovic
The on-loan Newcastle man took his tally to eight goals in as many games but his endeavour, clever lay-offs, and aerial threat made for a fine all-round performance.
"Link play, aggression, work rate... Fulham were missing a true centre-forward and he's filled the void brilliantly," said co-commentator Andy Hinchcliffe.
Slavisa Jokanovic: "It depends on [Cardiff]. We can do it, we can try and repair ourselves and be ready for our next game. It is our ambition to fight for three points every week. But everything depends on Cardiff, they must lose.
"They have five points and that is a big difference. We will try and do our job, it's a race, we will try and chase."
Paul Heckingbottom: "The big moments were the difference between the teams. We can take lots of things from that game: frustration, anger, pleasure, disappointment. Caleb needs to work
"Certain things went against us. Some pleasing things came out of the game but I'm getting frustrated. We more than matched them but they were good."
The gruelling Championship schedule continues as Fulham travel to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, before hosting Reading on Tuesday. Leeds welcome Sunderland on Saturday, before heading to Preston.