The blissful reality for Fulham’s fans is that this is all very much real. And now their club are FA Cup quarter-finalists for the first time since 2010, after stunning strikes from Joao Palhinha and Manor Solomon saw them knock Leeds out.
Leeds, willed on all night by their fervent travelling support, had the ball in the net inside 15 minutes when record signing Georginio Rutter mopped up after goalkeeper Marek Rodak had spilt Weston McKennie’s header. The Leeds celebrations were short-lived, though, as the referee disallowed the goal for a McKennie push on Harry Wilson.
Fulham were the dominant side throughout and that was largely down to the battling midfield work of Palhinha. The Portuguese international, signed from Sporting in the summer, has been the club’s undisputed player of the season.
He scored a truly magnificent goal on 21 minutes — nipping in front of Marc Roca to dispossess with one touch, before curling over the goalkeeper and in off the post with a second. Marco Silva’s side had the lead through one of the finest strikes across the entire FA Cup this season.
Javi Gracia’s Leeds kept their discipline despite Fulham’s control, looking to counter at any opportunity. Rodak got down well to save Rasmus Kristensen’s long shot, but Wilfried Gonto was rightly flagged for offside after slotting the rebound beyond the ‘keeper.
Leeds fans felt aggrieved to have two goals chalked off within a single half of football, but both were rightly disallowed. Fulham were on the receiving end of the same treatment midway through the second period when Aleksandar Mitrovic’s header was ruled out as the Serb had been lurking beyond the last defender.
Gracia’s side upped their game late in the half when Rutter struck a head that landed against the foot of the post, with a sprawling Rodak beaten.
Leeds were no longer soaking up constant pressure in the second half, a more even affair. Rodak denied Gnonto on the angle, then Rutter forced another save.
But if Palhinha was Fulham’s best performer on the night, the runner-up was Manor Solomon. On just his third start in seven months due to a cruel knee injury sustained in August, he scored for the fourth Fulham game running. Those had come off the bench, but this was the best yet.
Solomon cut in from the left, played a give-and-go with Mitrovic, and then whipped the ball into the far corner. Another cracker from the side sat sixth in the Premier League table.
Mitrovic scored an offside third, but Fulham didn’t need another. Their work here was done. For the first time in over a decade, an FA Cup quarter-final beckons — in a season when everything seems to be going right for them.