Ademola Lookman’s goal boosted Fulham’s hopes of Premier League survival as they claimed a vital win over fellow strugglers Sheffield United.
The Cottagers remain 18th but have cut a 10-point gap to Newcastle in 17th to just three points inside a week.
Scott Parker’s side dominated for long periods but it took them until just after the hour mark to break the deadlock.
Joachim Andersen’s raking pass was superbly collected by Lookman, who profited from weak defending by Ethan Ampadu to cut inside and drill a shot through the legs of Blades goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek had earlier seen visiting defender George Baldock hook his goal-bound effort to safety after he prodded past Ramsdale.
And while the hosts had goalkeeper Alphonse Areola to thank for a point-blank save which denied Enda Stevens an equaliser, they more than merited only their second top-flight win at Craven Cottage this term.
Fulham start to believe?
While Fulham have now only lost one of their past seven top-flight matches, their biggest problem has been transforming creditable draws into victories.
Only Brighton have drawn more games than Parker’s side this term and until Lookman delivered the game’s defining moment it looked like being another occasion on which they were frustrated.
However, having collected eight points from the past 12 available, Parker will now feel that his side have given themselves a chance of reeling in the clubs above them.
Newcastle, whose game in hand is at Old Trafford on Sunday, are the most obvious target but even the likes of Brighton and Burnley are now within sight.
A third clean sheet in the past four matches augurs well in that regard but Parker will also be aware that his side need to become more clinical in front of goal.
Just six of their 15 shots found the target and the likes of Lookman, Loftus-Cheek and Mario Lemina all had good opportunities to make the margin of victory more comfortable.
‘A ridiculous VAR decision’
Prior to this fixture Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder had talked about the disruption that losing “eight or nine big players” had caused his side this season.
And when Chris Basham limped off after 51 minutes it was hard not to feel some sympathy for the Blades, who have now lost 20 of their 25 matches this season.
Already without John Egan and long-term absentee Jack O’Connell, they had, until then, borne a resemblance to the side that had the fourth-best defensive record in the top flight last term.
In Basham’s absence Ampadu switched back into defence and his mistake ultimately cost the Blades at least a point.
But to lay all the blame all at his door would be wrong. Like Fulham, Sheffield United have spent the season trying to find a formula that can provide them with goals.
Last season Billy Sharp’s second-half volley, or even Stevens’ effort on goal might have crept in but this term their meagre ratio of 15 goals from 25 games has shown few signs of improving,
And a late decision not to give a penalty after a VAR review when Jayden Bogle clashed with Areola was symptomatic of a campaign where they have not enjoyed too many moments of good fortune.
“We had opportunities to get back into the game and didn’t take them,” Wilder said.
“And then we had a ridiculous VAR decision. I thought it was a reckless challenge from the Fulham goalkeeper. It’s a penalty. Yes I’m clutching a bit but it was a penalty all day long. No question from me.
“I am completely seeing a different game. The stills and watching it in slow motion, how does VAR not see that? I don’t care if he’s being brave or whatever. It was a ridiculous challenge. Another fine margin has cost us.”
A ‘massive’ win – what they said
Fulham boss Scott Parker told BBC Match of the Day: “It was a big win for us tonight, massive. There’s a lot of emotion in the team in terms of understanding what tonight meant. The most important thing was the result.
“The game was always gong to hinge on one chance. people who have watched us will understand that we have been in games and the fine margins have been the difference. This team have real belief and I want us to focus on us.
“The quality that we have will ultimately get us results in this division. We are a young team who want to improve and get better. We have got something about us that you need in these moments.”
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder told BBC Sport: “We believed we could get something out of the game. We have to go again regardless of the league position or the gap. We have to be professional and have pride and character.
“There’s a bigger picture in this. The majority of people understand where we are at as a football club, it’s our third season in the Premier League in the last 20 years, being realistic it doesn’t look like we’ll have a fourth one.”
Home comforts return for Fulham – the stats
- Fulham picked up just their second victory in 14 Premier League home games (W2 D4 L8) and first since beating West Brom in November.
- Sheffield United have only won two of their 28 Premier League games in London (D8 L18), winning at Chelsea in October 1992 (2-1) and Crystal Palace in February 2020 (1-0).
- Sheffield United have kept fewer clean sheets than any other team in the Premier League this season (1).
- Fulham have won two of their past three Premier League games (D1), as many as they’d won in their previous 24 in the competition (W2 D9 L13).
- Ademola Lookman has been directly involved in more Premier League goals than any other Fulham player this season (4 goals, 3 assists).
- Fulham’s Lookman has scored four goals in 22 Premier League appearances this season – only in 2017-18 (5 in 11 Bundesliga apps) has he netted more in a top-flight campaign.
Fulham travel to Crystal Palace in their next Premier League game on Sunday, 28 February (12:00 GMT).
Sheffield United welcome Liverpool to Bramall Lane in their next top-flight game on the same day (19:15 GMT).
- 29Zambo AnguissaBooked at 45mins
- 17CavaleiroSubstituted forTeteat 78′minutes
- 19LookmanSubstituted forDe Cordova-Reidat 90+2′minutes
- 27MajaSubstituted forLeminaat 86′minutes
- 14De Cordova-Reid
- 15JagielkaSubstituted forBogleat 80′minutes
- 2BaldockBooked at 79mins
- 6BashamSubstituted forNorwoodat 51′minutes
- 7LundstramSubstituted forMcGoldrickat 74′minutesBooked at 90mins
Match ends, Fulham 1, Sheffield United 0.
Second Half ends, Fulham 1, Sheffield United 0.
Attempt blocked. Mario Lemina (Fulham) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt blocked. Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Fulham) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Ola Aina with a cross.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Fulham) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Kean Bryan (Sheffield United).
Substitution, Fulham. Bobby De Cordova-Reid replaces Ademola Lookman.
Foul by Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Fulham).
George Baldock (Sheffield United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
David McGoldrick (Sheffield United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Mario Lemina (Fulham) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by David McGoldrick (Sheffield United).
Alphonse Areola (Fulham) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jayden Bogle (Sheffield United).
Attempt saved. Jayden Bogle (Sheffield United) right footed shot from very close range is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Kean Bryan.
Attempt missed. Kean Bryan (Sheffield United) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right following a set piece situation.
Foul by Mario Lemina (Fulham).
David McGoldrick (Sheffield United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Substitution, Fulham. Mario Lemina replaces Josh Maja.
Ademola Lookman (Fulham) wins a free kick in the defensive half.