A spectacular strike by Lewis Cook earned Leeds United a point from a 1-1 draw with Fulham at a cold Elland Road.
The Whites were trailing in front of their lowest league crowd of the season before midfielder Cook came up with his first-ever Sky Bet Championship goal and only his second in 71 appearances in amazing style.
At least 35 yards out, he took aim and beat former Leeds keeper Andy Lonergan with a perfect shot that swerved and dipped to end up in the top corner of the net.
Not just a goal of the season contender but the goal of the season and fit to win any game.
It did not win this game for Leeds, but was enough to give them a point, which proved useful with none of the teams below them in the table winning.
United boss Steve Evans made four changes to the side that lost in the FA Cup to Watford, bringing Liam Cooper back in defence, Tom Adeyemi and Alex Mowatt for Liam Bridcutt and Stuart Dallas in midfield and selecting Lewie Coyle for his first league start in place of Scott Wootton.
They started lively enough, but created nothing and could have gone behind early on as former United trainee Luke Garbutt saw his low shot deflected wide with another of Fulham’s five ex-Leeds men, Ross McCormack, not quite able to get on the end of it.
McCormack’s volley looked to be sneaking in soon after, but Sol Bamba threw himself at the ball and managed to head it against his own crossbar.
The warning was not heeded as Fulham did go ahead on 18 minutes when a cross was not properly cleared and Tom Cairney sent a volley into the net from just outside the box with home keeper Marco Silvestri not moving.
It was all Fulham at this stage and within two minutes Garbutt was sent clean through only to shoot weakly straight at Silvestri.
United finally put an attack together to win a corner and from it Bamba blasted a volley over after Cooper had flicked the ball on from Cook’s flag kick.
Suddenly the tide turned and Leeds enjoyed their best spell of the game. Adeyemi got in behind the visitors’ defence, but from a tough angle fired a volley over.
Garbutt’s shot at the other end was comfortably dealt with by Silvestri and Coyle intercepted well to deny McCormack on another dangerous Fulham break.
Cook’s magical goal followed and the Whites could have added two more goals before half-time.
First, Souleymane Doukara turned well on the edge of the box and saw his shot saved by Lonergan’s legs then Mirco Antenucci should have done better with a free header eight out as he sent the ball straight to the visitors’ keeper.
Leeds could not keep the good work up into the second half when Fulham threatened through Moussa Dembele as he raced clear from half-way only to be denied by a well timed challenge by Bamba.
Both sides lost their way in a scrappy period of play before McCormack sent a 25-yard free-kick over.
Ryan Tunnicliffe got on the end of a McCormack cross and was only denied a goal with a backheel when Bamba was on hand to clear off the line.
Leeds improved again when fresh legs were sent on from the bench and one of the subs, Stuart Dallas, was found in space in the box by Cook’s perfect cross, but could only volley just wide.
At the other end, Silvestri had to save from Alex Kacaniklic’s well struck angled low shot and that proved to be the last chance for the visitors who finished with 10 men when Fernando Amorebieta was sent-off for a second yellow card when he handled the ball to deny Leeds an attacking position.
Leeds ended with four attackers on the field, but could not force a victory with their best late chance proving to be Charlie Taylor’s free-kick which deflected off the defensive wall onto the top of the net instead of in it.
Head coach Evans was pleased with the efforts of his players, but particularly pleased for Cook after his spectacular goal.
He said: “We’ve seen a stunning goal from a stunning young player.
“We spent the back end of a session recently with the likes of Cook, Mowatt, Taylor and Coyle learning to pull the trigger from 25 yards or 30. When he scored the goal he came in at half-time and gave me that little wry smile.
“After the first 15 minutes I thought he was back to his best. We get a little bit disappointed at times when he runs past three of four and tries a final pass that doesn’t come off, but that’s the exuberance of a teenager.”
Leeds United 1
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Silvestri, Coyle, Cooper, Bamba, Taylor, Adeyemi (Botaka 86), Diagouraga, Cook, Mowatt (Dallas 78), Doukara, Antenucci (Erwin 68).
Fulham: Lonergan, Fredericks (Richards 84), Burn, Amorebieta, Madl, Garbutt (Kacaniklic 53), Cairney, O’Hara (Tunnicliffe 53), Baird, Dembele, McCormack.
Referee: Kevin Wright