As recently as Friday, the message from the Leeds United boardroom was that the club’s directors were determined to keep faith with Jesse Marsch but that resolve could be about to be tested.
Marsch’s side suffered a fourth straight Premier League defeat here, extending their winless run to eight games and leaving them stuck in the bottom three.
Small wonder the Leeds manager had described Sunday’s visit from Marco Silva’s Fulham as a “big, big game”, adding that his players were “motivated and angry” following last Thursday’s 2-0 defeat at Leicester. “We want to put things right,” he said.
Although the afternoon ended with a mass exodus of home fans before the final whistle as Fulham headed to seventh place in the table, it certainly looked as if Leeds were on something of a mission as they began at characteristically high tempo but the first real chance fell to Fulham. When Antonee Robinson crossed from the left, Aleksandar Mitrovic flicked on and Harrison Reed shot right footed, leaving Marc Roca to block on the line before Robin Koch defied the hovering Mitrovic by scrambling the ball to safety.
Then, just as the first murmurs of anxiety and mutterings of discontent began rippling around Elland Road, Leeds scored. Brenden Aaronson played Jack Harrison in and his right wing cross-shot struck Tim Ream’s leg, sending the ball arcing upwards to the point where Rodrigo was able to direct a header beyond Bernd Leno.
Marsch had spent much of the game standing in his trademark alpha male, legs planted wide apart, touchline stance but, most un-typically, the American did not celebrate that opener. Instead he stood impassively, suggesting this was not quite the right moment to jump for joy with characteristically extravagant abandon.
Such circumspection looked wise once Mitrovic equalised. The Serbia striker’s ninth Premier League goal in 11 games arrived after he sneaked in front of Luke Ayling to connect with Andreas Pereira’s corner and head Fulham level.
The look on Illan Meslier’s face suggested that the Leeds goalkeeper thought he should have saved it but the Frenchman subsequently proved more than equal to the danger when Pereira shot straight at him after being put clean through by Willian’s clever counter-attacking pass.
Marsch’s side were ceding control of a midfield in which 20-year-old Sam Greenwood, a former striker, had been drafted into an anchoring role in place of the injured Tyler Adams and the general mood turned correspondingly fractious.
Perhaps responding to the heat generated by both a series of niggling on-pitch altercations and the increasingly edgy home support, Silva removed his coat, revealing a smartly understated black polo neck jumper beneath.
Fulham’s manager must have had reason for quiet satisfaction as Leeds lost a further degree of discipline with Liam Cooper booked for an unnecessary foul on Pereira and sporadic boos greeted the half-time whistle.
It would surely have been worse for Marsch had Pereira scored when one on one against Meslier but the Leeds manager had more than enough to worry about at the end of a half in which Leno had barely been exerted and only Luis Sinisterra consistently troubled Silva’s defence.
There was a distinct lack of inventive attacking movement on the home side’s part and, shortly after the hour mark, Marsch endeavoured to correct it by introducing Patrick Bamford in place of Rodrigo.
Before Bamford had time to make an impact Fulham took the lead. This time, another Pereira corner was only partially cleared and the ball ended up falling kindly for Pereira to cross in the direction of the entirely unmarked Bobby Decordova-Reid. Making the very best of such defensive generosity he duly headed past Meslier, leaving Marsch standing with hands on hips as he stared grimly at a screen in his dug-out presumably highlighting his rearguard’s failure to track De Cordova-Reid.
Fulham’s third goal, slid in left footed by Willian after Reed’s deconstruction of the Leeds backline, proved the cue for a mass, 83rd minute, exit of home fans accompanied by a soundtrack of boos. By now the, albeit half-hearted, early second half choruses of “Marching on Together” seemed to belong to a different era.
Although Crysencio Summerville and Joe Gelhardt, two second half substitutes, combined for Summerville to reduce the deficit in the 90th minute it was too little too late for Leeds and Marsch.