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Three talking points from Fulham’s 2-0 win over Leeds United

Fulham increased their chances of Championship promotion on Tuesday evening.

Max Cohen

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Photo: Getty Images

On Tuesday evening Fulham dispatched Leeds United 2-0 at Craven Cottage, closing the gap on second-placed Cardiff City and extending their club-record unbeaten run to 18 matches.

A fortuitous first-half goal from Kevin McDonald and a goal from the red-hot Aleksandar Mitrovic gave Fulham the victory, condemning Leeds to a fourth defeat in six matches.

Here are three takeaways from the Tuesday night Championship clash…

Fulham have a chance at second place 

It’s official: the race for second place is well and truly on. On Monday night, Cardiff City threw away precious points and drew 1-1 with Sheffield United. Combined with Fulham’s win over Leeds, the gap between second and third is now whittled down to just five points.

Perhaps most telling was not the result at Bramall Lane, but Cardiff’s performance. The Bluebirds were well off the pace all match long, decidedly second-best. The Welsh side deserved to lose, and would have, if it wasn’t for some lax finishing by the Blades.

And the fixtures don’t come any easier for Cardiff, with consecutive matches against Aston Villa and Wolves, two of the best teams in the division. Fulham suddenly have increased momentum and a far easier run-in.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Leeds are falling apart… again

For a second straight season, the Yorkshire club has failed to live up to high expectations.

The listless defeat to Fulham left Leeds in 13th, ending their chances at finishing in the top-six. A promotion push will have to wait yet another season, marking a fourteenth consecutive season spent out of England’s top flight.

And worryingly, it seems that there has been little to none improvement under boss Paul Heckingbottom. Since the ex-Barnsley manager took over, Leeds have lost six out of ten matches, hardly a new manager boost.

It certainly seems to be a dismal time at Elland Road.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Bettinelli proves his worth

Fulham’s unbeaten run has now stretched to 18 matches, but the revelation truly occurred just one week before the start of the undefeated spell.

On December 9, Slavisa Jokanovic handed goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli his first start of the season, dropping the often-criticised David Button to the bench. Bettinelli’s return has coincided with Fulham’s tremendous return to form, and the young Englishman has contributed countless massive saves in that spell.

On Tuesday night, Fulham’s ‘keeper again stepped up in a vital manner, saving one-on-one from Leeds’ Caleb Ekuban when it looked certain the striker would score. That superb save led directly to a Fulham counter-attack, which Aleksandar Mitrovic dispatched clinically.

Simply put, Bettinelli won the match for Fulham; his importance to the Cottagers cannot be understated.

Max is an 18-year-old football journalist studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Max specialises in English football, is an avid follower of Fulham, and co-hosts a weekly Fulham podcast. He is also a politics reporter and deputy news editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Fulham

Why Aboubakar Kamara will be vital to Fulham’s play-off final success

The 23-year-old could prove Fulham’s secret weapon at Wembley.

Max Cohen

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Aboubakar Kamara
Photo; Getty Images

Although Denis Odoi and Ryan Sessegnon stole the headlines in the aftermath of Fulham’s 2-0 play-off semi-final win over Derby, perhaps the standout player that night was right winger Aboubakar Kamara.

The 23-year-old Frenchman was drafted into the starting lineup for the first time since January, and produced an all-action performance that was filled with power, pace, and trickery.

And in the Cottagers’ upcoming play-off final, the winger will be vital to Fulham’s success if he can replicate his semifinal heroics against Aston Villa.

Kamara joined Fulham last summer after gaining promotion to Ligue 1 with French side Amiens, and divided opinion early on during his stay at Craven Cottage. There was no doubting his natural gifts and ability, yet often his composure and technique was left severely lacking.

A inconsistent fall was followed by a prolific winter, in which the Frenchman scored five goals during a four match spell in December and January.

(Photo by Harry Murphy/Getty Images)

But the arrival of Aleksandar Mitrovic on transfer deadline day relegated Kamara to the bench, where he mainly stayed until the penultimate match of the regular season against Sunderland.

In that match, Kamara’s introduction completely changed the course of the game and helped the Whites come back to win from a 1-0 first half deficit.

But in the ensuing two matches, manager Slavisa Jokanovic did not hand the attacker a place in the starting XI and Fulham proceeded to lose against Birmingham City and Derby.

And then Kamara truly announced himself in the second leg at the Cottage, offering an excellent offensive outlet all match long, terrorising the defence with his bursts of acceleration, and linking up superbly with Mitrovic and Sessegnon.

The 23-year-old provided the spark the Whites were missing in the first leg of the semifinal; this offensive firepower will also be priceless in the final against Villa.

The thought of a confident Aboubakar Kamara running full pelt at a helpless Alan Hutton is a delightful image for the Fulham faithful, who will hope the Frenchman can continue his excellent recent form and lead the club to the Premier League.

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Crystal Palace

Ryan Fredericks would be perfect for Crystal Palace if Fulham lose at Wembley

The 25-year-old has earned praise for his performances throughout the season.

Josh Kerr

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Ryan Fredericks
Photo: Getty Images

Fulham defender Ryan Fredericks is just days away from the biggest game of his career and yet the 25-year-old is still being linked with a move away from Craven Cottage.

According to the Evening Standard, the 25-year-old has emerged as a target for Crystal Palace as the Englishman reaches the end of his Cottagers contract.

The former Tottenham prospect helped his current side reach the play-off final last week. However, if the Cottagers are to miss out at Wembley then he may be tempted to consider offers from the top-flight.

The full-back is still yet to sign a new deal and after 47 appearances and an impressive seven assists this season, he has quickly has emerged as one of the hottest properties in the EFL Championship.

After making the PFA Championship Team of the Year, Fredericks remains one of Slavisa Jokanovic’s most important players and if they are to fall short at the final hurdle then Crystal Palace would be the perfect destination for the right-back to play in England’s top flight.

(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

With Joel Ward likely to leave Selhurst Park next month and, despite Aaron Wan-Bissaka performing well since making the jump from the academy, Fredericks could be a long-term addition at full-back. With his contract soon up at Craven Cottage, he could be one of the bargains of the summer window.

Roy Hodgson and his sporting director Dougie Freedman were even in attendance as Fulham beat Derby 2-0 on Monday to set up the showdown with Steve Bruce’s Villa, which will have sparked the former England international’s attention.

Fredericks started his career in north London with Tottenham Hotspur, progressing through the club’s academy system before signing a professional contract in 2010.

However, an exit from the Lilywhites and a number of loan moves left the young full-back frustrated with game time and it was fellow London side Fulham who eventually took a gamble – a risk that has paid dividends ever since.

The versatile defender has one appearance for England’s Under-19 side to his name, and he is eligible to play for Guyana.

Whether Hodgson swoops for Fredericks could be decided on Saturday. The Fulham defender will likely commit his future to Craven Cottage should Fulham win at Wembley, but the Premier League will remain a possibility even if Jokanovic’s side are unsuccessful.

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Fulham

How Fulham’s Denis Odoi went from defensive liability to play-off hero

The 29-year-old grabbed the Cottagers’ winner in the play-off semi-final

Max Cohen

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Denis Odoi
Photo: Getty Images

Carried off the pitch on the shoulders of an adoring Craven Cottage crowd, Denis Odoi enjoyed his finest footballing moment in Fulham’s 2-0 play-off semi-final win over Derby.

The Belgian defender scored a sensational headed winner to send the Whites to Wembley, but few would have predicted Odoi would play the hero on Monday night.

How did a player once derided as a defensive liability become Fulham’s play-off saviour?

Ever since making the switch from Belgian football to Fulham in the summer of 2016, Odoi had struggled to nail down a starting spot at the Cottage.

Previously best known for an audacious bit of skill he pulled off against Newcastle on his debut, the 29-year-old became infamous for defensive lapses and poor giveaways.

Perhaps his lowest point in a Fulham shirt came this December, when Odoi was senselessly sent off in a dreadful 3-1 loss to Brentford.

His two yellow cards in quick succession were easily avoidable; afterwards, it looked set that the centre-back pairing of Tomas Kalas and Tim Ream would reign supreme for the rest of the season.

But after Kalas suffered a hip injury against Wolves in late February, Odoi has seamlessly marshalled the Fulham backline alongside Ream.

Even when the Chelsea loanee returned to fitness, the Belgian has kept him out of the starting lineup with superb performances filled with excellent tackles, a strong aerial presence, and intelligent interceptions.

Since Odoi replaced Kalas, Fulham have kept a remarkable seven clean sheets in the following 14 matches, in which Odoi has played every minute.

Odoi’s play-off performances have thrust him firmly into Fulham folklore.

In the narrow first-leg defeat at Pride Park, the centre-back made a number of stunning interceptions to cut out dangerous crosses that would have resulted in certain goals.

These vital interventions meant the scoreline was kept a manageable 1-0, allowing Odoi to rise highest from a corner and send Fulham to the play-off final.

During May 26’s match at Wembley, expect Denis Odoi to continue his recent resurgence

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