Fulham ended a wretched run of six games without a win by producing a superb display to stun league leaders Derby County at Craven Cottage this afternoon.
The Rams arrived in south west London unbeaten in seven games and would have considered this an ideal fixture to consolidate their position at the top of the Championship. Apart from an early effort wide of goal from former Fulham loanee Darren Bent, who was booed throughout by an unforgiving home crowd, Derby were decidedly second-best against Kit Symons’ strugglers – having scored ten goals in their two previous matches against Fulham this season.
The hosts were ambitious with the ball and put their promotion chasing opponents under pressure throughout. Ross McCormack, a lively presence up front from the first whistle, set the tone early by shooting wide from just outside the box. Ryan Tunnicliffe, who snapped into tackles all afternoon, also drove narrowly off target and Shaun Hutchinson sent a free header wide from a corner. Derby goalkeeper Lee Grant reacted brilliantly after Scott Parker’s drive had diverted off the head of Cauley Woodrow, but Fulham finally made the breakthrough just after the half hour.
Bryan Ruiz left Tom Ince for dead on the left wing and after the Costa Rican international’s shot had bounced up off Cyrus Christie, Nikolay Bodurov flicked a fabulous finish over Grant with the outside of his right foot to score his first Fulham goal. It was an impudent strike from a defender not known for his goalscoring ability. Woodrow – only in the team after Hugo Rodallega’s injury, made it two right before half time heading in a fine cross from McCormack after Scott Parker had pinched possession in midfield.
Derby had stormed back from 2-0 down to beat Fulham 5-2 in the League Cup here in October but there was little sign of another stunning recovery. They lost Bent in the second half to a hamstring injury and took them more than hour to even test Marcus Bettinelli in the home goal. Ince had a deflected shot easily saved before Bettinelli did well to keep out Jeff Hendrick’s back post header.
But Fulham, who should breathe a little easier at the sight of the bottom half of the table after this victory, looked the likelier to increase their margin of victory. Craig Forsyth blocked bravely from McCormack as the Scot looked set to pull the trigger in the box and Grant then made another excellent save to deny McCormack. French substitute Moussa Dembele then rattled the crossbar in the closing stages – but Symons was delighted that his side had managed to stop the rot.
He told the press after the final whistle: “It’s always nice to get a win, especially against the team at the top of the table, and the manner in which we got it. It’s only three points but it’s a big three points given who it was against and how we did it. We scored two goals, we could have scored more and we kept a clean sheet, so it’s very pleasing.”
FULHAM (4-1-2-1-2): Bettinelli; Richards, Stafylidis, Hutchinson, Bodurov; Parker (Hoogland 79); Christensen (Kavanagh 43), Tunnicliffe; Ruiz; Woodrow (Dembele 86), McCormack. Subs (not used): Kiraly, Burn, Fofana, Kacaniklic.
GOALS: Bodurov (31), Woodrow (45).
DERBY COUNTY (4-3-3): Grant; Christie (Buxton 45), Keogh, Shotton, Forsyth; Hendrick, Mascarell, Hughes; Ince, Bent (Bryson 64), Lingard (Russell 45). Subs (not used): Roos, Albentosa, Dawkins, Ward.
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Cheshire).