Emanuel Villa’s late header failed to save Derby County as their relegation fate was finally sealed at Pride Park – but Fulham were left shaking their heads at more away-day woe.
Hameur Bouazza’s heavily-deflected 77th-minute effort looked set to finally bring an end to the Cottagers’ 32-match winless streak on the road, and give their own survival hopes a massive shot in the arm. But Villa silenced the raucous celebrations of the away fans pounced within two minutes by heading home Mile Sterjovski’s cross and add to the fortunate opener he had scored in the first half.
Derby more than merited their leveller on the balance of play but it wasn’t enough to keep them up. The goal could end up having more significance for Roy Hodgson’s Fulham, who are still desperate for points themselves as they remain deep in trouble.
Fulham would have viewed this fixture as a golden opportunity to record a first league away success since 2006 and the visitors started strongly as Jimmy Bullard sent a free-kick over the bar.
The Rams had their first chance in the eighth minute when Andy Todd whipped in a cross from deep near the right by-line, but Villa was bustled out of a shooting chance by Aaron Hughes in the box. County grabbed an unlikely lead ten minutes in fortuitous circumstances as former Fulham full back Dean Leacock’s tame effort hit Villa and wrong-footed Keller in the Fulham goal. They might have doubled the lead through David Jones’ terrific long-ranger that seemed destined for the top corner until Keller got his hands to it.
Just as Paul Jewell’s men appeared well on top, Fulham levelled with a lovely counter attack. Bullard worked the ball out to Simon Davies and the Welsh winger’s devilish cross was glanced into the corner by the head of Diomansy Kamara. Derby stormed back with Keller needing to be alert as he dived at Kenny Miller’s feet to stop the Scot’s mazy run before the referee refused big appeals for handball against Brede Hangeland.
Seven minutes in the second half, Bullard drove a 25 yard free-kick against the crossbar after a foul by Hossam Ghaly. There was almost a calamity at the other end as Keller charged out of his goal and miskicked a clearance straight to Robert Earnshaw, whose shot flashed wide of the empty net. Sterjovsky drew a good save from Keller and Savage missed a superb chance from six yards when it seemed easier to score.
Fulham looked as though they’d finally snapped that away winless streak with a bizarre goal in the 77th minute. Kamara sped clear down the left flank only for Carroll push away his powerful shot and Bouazza’s follow-up wickedly deflected off Leacock and looped over Carroll into the net. But Derby weren’t beaten. Sterjovski dug out a cross from the right and Villa climbed majestically to head past Keller. How crucial could that late goal be?
Kamara raced clear and saw his shot superbly parried by Carroll, but Bouazza’s long-range follow-up struck the luckless Leacock and looped over the keeper and into the net.
Amazingly, before the visitors had stopped celebrating the Rams hit back. Two minutes later Sterjovski crossed from deep on the right and Villa rose brilliantly to nod his second past Keller.
DERBY COUNTY (4-4-2): Carroll; Todd (Mears 89), Leacock, Moore, Lewis; Sterjovski, Ghaly, Savage, Jones; Miller (Earnshaw 36), Villa. Subs (not used): Price, Feilhaber, Beardsley.
BOOKED: Todd, Jones.
GOALS: Villa (10, 80).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Keller, Stalteri, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Davies, Bullard (Murphy 81), Andreasen, Bouazza (Johnson 81), McBride, Kamara. Subs (not used): Warner, Bocanegra, Dempsey.
BOOKED: Bouazza, Andreasen, Konchesky, Kamara.
GOALS: Kamara (24), Leacock (o.g. 78).
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral),