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.
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.
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.