One young Fulham team was dismantled after a controversial defeat at Derby. Another young Fulham team seemed shell-shocked after being torn apart by a rampant Rams side in the August sunshine. For May 1983 at the Baseball Ground, see August 2014 at what is now known as the iPro Stadium. The ramifications of Malcolm MacDonald’s team’s defeat were felt for more than a decade at Craven Cottage, but for Felix Magath the consequences of such a tame surrender could be catastrophic. The German coach’s brief was to help Fulham out of the Championship at the first attempt – but after four straight defeats, they could be heading for League One rather than the promised land of the Premier League.
Magath’s men now sit bottom of an admittedly embryonic Championship table without a point after equalling the club’s worst start to a league season since 1956. The enormity of this defeat could be gauged by the tearful reaction of some young Fulham players, who were close to tears, as they came to applaud the away fans after the final whistle. The heavy margin of defeat will alarm Magath after his new-look team were edged out of three previous close encounters, but even more worrying was the manner of their second half collapse after captain Scott Parker had cancelled out Jamie Ward’s opener with a placed shot from the edge of the box.
Derby simply ran riot once Craig Bryson had re-established their lead with a silky finish to convert a lay-off from the impressive Ward, the confidence beginning to surge through Steve McClaren’s side again. The Rams boss had called for a reaction after their defeat at Charlton on Tuesday night – and the added steel of the experienced John Eustace in central midfield gave them the platform from which to impose themselves on a brittle Fulham side, who looked frail and lacking confidence. Without similar ballast to protect a nervy Cameron Burgess and the inexperienced Jesse Joronen, the visitors folded in a manner reminiscent of the second-half capitulation at Hull that raised questions about Magath’s predecessor, Rene Meulensteen.
It was a wonder Derby had to wait until just before the hour to go back ahead, after Chris Martin somehow sliced high and wide of an open goal, despite Joronen completely missing a low cross from Jeff Hendrick. The striker was to redeem himself with a late brace and substitute Simon Dawkins’ fifth, with a minute to play, underlined just how steep the learning curve remains at this level for Magath’s side. At times, it looked like men against boys – and that’s because it was.
McClaren lauded his side’s energy and endeavour, proclaiming that his charges were completely dominant in the closing quarter of an hour. Derby’s third, arriving just two minutes after Bryson had punctured Fulham’s relief at restoring parity, floored the Cottagers. Martin was allowed an age to turn Burgess and shoot goalwards, although Joronen might feel he should have done better than to allow the strike to burst through his hands.
Two goals in the closing three minutes put a more convincing gloss on the scoreline. Will Hughes, introduced off the bench, released Dawkins with a slide-rule pass through the remnants of the Fulham defence and, although his shot came back off the far post, Martin followed up to prod home the rebound. Dawkins did get his goal a minute later, racing onto another through ball from Hughes and firing clinically past Joronen off the far post.
Magath gamely insisted afternoons that remained the right man to take Fulham forward. Whether he will be in charge for Tuesday’s local derby at Brentford in the League Cup remains to be seen. But a young side’s confidence now looks shot. Fulham are now without a win in over four months, since a narrow victory over Norwich City, hinted at an unlikely Premier League salvation. Losing becomes a habit – and it’s one Magath must hope he gets another chance to end.
DERBY COUNTY (4-3-3): Grant; Christie, Forysth, Keogh, Buxton; Eustace, Hendrick, Bryson (Hughes 84); Ward (Best 89), Russell (Dawkins 83), Martin. Subs (not used): Roos, Whitbread, Naylor, Mascarell.
GOALS: Ward (32), Bryson (59), Martin (61, 87), Dawkins (89).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Joronen; Hoogland (Voser 67), Kavanagh, Bodurov, Burgess; Parker, R. Williams, Roberts (Eisfeld 80), Stafylidis (Kacaniklic 60); Woodrow, McCormack. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Hutchinson, Hyndman, Dembele.
GOAL: Parker (54).
REFEREE: Oliver Langford (West Midlands).