The look on his face would have brought a tear to a glass eye; that deep and worsening misery, as things went from bad to worse for Fulham, was writ large in every line of his suffering face – his doleful expression enough to curdle milk. Who?? I hear you ask. Ross McCormack, maybe, or Matt Smith? Both would have hoped for a happier time of it against their erstwhile employers. Having striven with might and main to succeed and justify the transfer fees Leeds had extorted out of the Cottagers, the striking pair fired a succession of blanks between them, Mr. McContract eventually limping off with a suspected knee injury. Doubtless he’ll have been reflecting that this was not the Fulham he’d fallen in love with at that first, romantic meeting between greedy turncoat striker and pink, pretty, blushing new payslip.
But no – despite the horrendous evening that both of these former United hitmen undoubtedly endured, the man who cut the saddest and most tragic figure of all was surely the Sky Sports News live match reporter, Jeremy Langdon. He looked as though he’d lost a bob, found sixpence and been bereaved of his closest friends and family, all while nursing a severe case of strangulated piles. Poor, despairing man. We must surely be big enough in victory to send him all the very best of wishes for his eventual recovery, as he heads for the restorative therapy of counselling, medication and electrodes. The increasingly glum and despondent look on Langdon’s face offered up little hope of him ever smiling again. It had been a truly dreadful night for anyone without Leeds in their blood.
But, for the rest of us – those with the sequence LUFC repeating itself ad infinitum throughout our sporting DNA – tonight was a small miracle as well as a huge celebration. For a start, we won. And not only did we win – we well won, 3-0 away at a club that was taking both the mick and several liberties not too long back. And not only that – we absolutely scored, from a corner, yet – and new hero Sol Bamba got off the mark as a Leeds scorer with that second breakthrough. With Sam Byram having got matters off to a satisfactory start with a powerful header in the dying minutes of the first half, and Mirco Antenucci rubbing the Fulham’s noses in it with a scuffed finish late on – and a sending off for home defender Kostas Stafylidis – all it would then have taken was a Steve Morison goal to have us pinching ourselves to wake from what would assuredly have been one of those – ahem – “special” dreams. Noctis mirabilis? Abso-bloody-lutely.
If anything can add that extra bit of piquant charm to a 3-0 win away from home, it’s the undeniable fact that the scoreline hardly tells the full story. Fulham could and should have had a hatful themselves but, sure enough, the old firm of McCormack & Smith, “Howlers, we make ’em”, were on the kind of form to make us all send up prayers of thanks that we ever managed to offload them. Poor old Ross had the ball in the net at one point, but brilliantly managed to be offside in the process, much to his amusing anguish. And there has to be some feeling that he actually sustained the injury which eventually saw him subbed, in violently protesting to the ref after Stafylidis saw red.
Fellow flop Matt Smith must be suspected in some quarters of still being on the Elland Road payroll, such was the sublime insouciance with which he spurned several gift-wrapped, gilt-edged golden chances. Our shot-stopper par excellence, Marco Silvestri should also be accorded a massive chunk of credit; for when any Fulham shirt did threaten to get one on target, there was Signor Marco, proud and defiant, thwarting them like a good’un. It was lovely, deeply satisfactory stuff.
Leeds coach Neil Redfearn commented afterwards that Leeds could have won by a massive 6-0, such was our dominance late on – but, really, it could just as easily have been 6-6 and a tie breaker. Thoughts of a 6-0 win for Leeds would, in any event, have brought with them fears for the grieving Sky reporter Langdon’s very existence.
It’s tempting to say – if only it had mattered more, or counted for something. The play-offs, after all, remain a distant and seemingly unattainable Holy Grail – we’d need a miracle of Steve Morison hat-trick proportions to get anywhere near that particular Promised Land. But the evening may not have been utterly without meaning; Fulham will now be looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation dogfight just a few points behind them. If Wigan can rally; if McCormack’s injury rules him out; and if Fulham themselves succumb to trapdoor nerves – then this season might, after all, have a riotously funny, Schadenfreude ending of maliciously comic satisfaction. You just never know – but you can always pray for such a rewardingly humorous outcome.
In our comfortable and complacent mid-table security, it’s nice to have something devoutly to hope for in the unseemly battle beneath us. Apart from happier times for poor dear Jeremy Langdon, of course. Honestly. His tragic little face….