Boss Scott Parker conceded Fulham face a “big ask” to win automatic promotion after they were hammered by Leeds, who went back to the top of the Championship table.
Parker’s fourth-placed side now look bound for the play-offs and are likely to see topscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic banned after an off-the-ball elbow.
Mitrovic led with his elbow into Leeds defender Ben White inside the opening two minutes and though it was unseen by the referee he is almost certain to face retrospective punishment.
Patrick Bamford gave the hosts the lead with a cool finish inside the opening 10 minutes after an incisive run and cutback from Helder Costa.
Leeds doubled their lead after the break when substitute Ezgjan Alioski scored with a low finish after two Fulham defenders failed to cut out Jack Harrison’s low centre, and Harrison wrapped it up on the counter-attack.
“I think it is going to be a big ask to go up automatically,” Parker, who said he had not seen the Mitrovic incident, accepted.
“I wouldn’t write it off because the unexpected could happen with the way the division is and games are.”
He added: “I think overall the performance in the first half was exceptional. We took the game to a very good side.
“I thought we were superb then but over the course of the game we needed to be more clinical.”
What proved to be an ultimately miserable day for the London side was compounded in injury-time as substitute Neeskens Kebano was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Leeds, who had lost their first game back following the suspension of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic at Cardiff last week, are now eight points clear of third-placed Brentford with seven games to play.
Fulham fail to take first-half chances
Despite leading at the break, Leeds spent much of the first half on the back foot as Fulham mounted a succession of attacks.
Winger Anthony Knockaert looked bright and he and Mitrovic forced relatively comfortable saves from home goalkeeper Illan Meslier.
The visitors were incensed that they were not awarded a penalty when the ball struck Tyler Roberts on the arm in the area as Leeds were left hanging on for the half-time whistle.
It was a different story after the interval, as subs Alioski and Pablo Hernandez both made pivotal impacts to secure a vital three points for Marcelo Bielsa’s men.
Fulham have now lost both of their games since the restart and are seven points off the top two with seven games to play.
Perhaps more damagingly, they are now likely to be without 23-goal leading scorer Mitrovic for three matches if he is found to be guilty of violent conduct in his early challenge on White.
Subs make difference
Leeds struggled to create anything of note after Bamford’s early goal and boss Bielsa decided to make two changes at the break, bringing on Alioski and Hernandez for Bamford and Costa.
Alioski doubled Leeds’ advantage after a quick counter-attack from Fulham’s corner ended with Harrison’s ball just evading two desperate visiting defenders and finding its way to the Macedonia international’s feet in the area.
Hernandez, who has so often been at the heart of the Whites’ best play over the past four seasons, was making his first appearance since the restart but showed no signs of being rusty.
He clipped a wonderful ball in behind the Fulham defence for Harrison to end the contest with a shot that went through visiting goalkeeper Marek Rodak.
Leeds host struggling Luton on Tuesday, while Fulham will be looking to get their season back on track when they visit London rivals QPR on the same evening.
Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa told BBC Radio Leeds:
“In the first half it was difficult for us to recover the ball in the opponents’ half and when we were close to our box we lost it again quickly.
“That is why the first half was better for them than for us. In the second half it was better.
“The win was necessary for us and very important.”