Fulham cannot afford to spurn many more opportunities of this nature and the dejected faces at full time suggested they knew it all too well.
The significance of a hectic, frayed defeat to Leeds may become more apparent after Brighton and Newcastle have met on Saturday; the problem for Scott Parker’s side, though, is that they need to start fulfilling their own end of the bargain and capitalise when offered chances to climb out of the bottom three.
They did not play especially badly here but perhaps found themselves reeled into Leeds’ approach, which invariably seeks to ratchet up the tempo and trade punches. Their cohesion visibly suffered as a result. Weak defending did not help their cause but nor did the events of a half-minute just before the hour that in effect decided the game.
When Mario Lemina did superbly in wriggling to the right byline and cutting the ball back for the unmarked Ademola Lookman, Fulham looked likely to complete their comeback from one down and pull ahead. But Lookman miscued, seemingly attempting a more delicate finish than the situation demanded, and the punishment was brutal.
In the end Fulham could not call upon a forward as competent as Bamford, who looked unperturbed by his omission from the England squad. Bamford was struggling with a hip problem and made a point of thanking his teammates for doing “a lot of my running” during the game. He repaid them with a performance that showed why he is, if nothing else, a credible part of the national team conversation.
Leeds had already seen two goals disallowed, one through a wafer-thin VAR decision that denied Luke Ayling a fine headed opener, when Bamford swept in after Jack Harrison had run all too easily on to a throw-in and volleyed a low centre across from the left byline. It was a textbook Bamford finish, pulling away from his marker and clipping firmly beyond Areola at the near post; 14 Premier League goals is a fine return and it seems unfortunate that his prospects of replicating such form at Euro 2020 now seem slim.
Rarely does a Leeds game pass without a concession from a set piece so there were few eyebrows raised when Joachim Andersen was somehow allowed to hold off Ayling and level with a volley from Lookman’s deep corner. Bielsa referred to a “segment of confusion” in the ensuing minutes and, had Meslier not parried André-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s piledriver, Leeds could have gone in at half-time behind.
Lookman’s aberration aside, Leeds were by far the more threatening side thereafter. Areola denied Harrison within minutes of the restart and, with Fulham running out of legs and ideas, Leeds countered at will. Stuart Dallas should have scored a third after sharp approach work from Raphinha but Fulham, for whom Aleksandar Mitrovic had been introduced at half-time with the fanciful idea of battering away at their opponents’ defensive shortcomings, drifted out of contention. “A half with very few fluctuations in performance,” was how Bielsa described Leeds’ output after the break.
“We’ve given ourselves a really good chance and we still have a massive chance,” Parker said of Fulham’s survival prospects, looking beyond his evident frustration. They were pulled well out of shape here, though, and the nagging concern is that they will begin to run out of time.