Fulham picked up another point to underline their recent improvement under new boss Slavisa Jokanovic but this draw will not have done Derby County’s promotion push any good.
The Rams have still not won in 2016 – like their hosts at Craven Cottage – and never really looked like repeating their Boxing Day success over a Fulham side that was then under the care of Stuart Gray. Fulham were feisty both in and out of possession and boosted by the return of Ross McCormack, who had missed the home defeat by Hull through illness, and has been the subject of feverous transfer speculation.
The visitors made the stronger start with Richard Keogh clipping the crossbar with a header from Johnny Russell’s free-kick and Chris Baird, afforded a rapturous reception on his return to SW6, nearly made himself deeply unpopular with the Fulham faithful when he almost rifled in an audacious opener from outside the box. Fulham had been pretty in possession without much penetration until they took the lead in more than fortuitous circumstances.
Jamie O’Hara and Tom Cairney worked space along the left wing for the raiding Luke Garbutt. The on-loan Everton full back sent in a low cross that struck Baird and bounced beyond a bewildered Scott Carson off the unfortunate Martin Olsson. There was nothing the Swede could do as he was physically unable to get out of the way – but it was the stroke of luck Jokanovic’s side have been seeking for weeks.
A strong wind blowing across from the Thames made the sort of football the Serbian wants his side to play difficult and Derby’s more direct approach brought them back into the contest just before half time. Scottish midfielder Craig Bryson lashed in a majestic volley from the edge of the area to the delight of a sizeable travelling contingent at the Putney End, but the Rams struggled to build on the momentum of equalising right on the interval.
Chris Martin squandered a decent shooting opportunity when Derby were awarded a free-kick in a central position six minutes after the break, blazing badly over. French forward Moussa Dembele was similarly culpable at the other end when he failed to convert a close-range header from O’Hara’s corner as the visiting defence went to sleep. The hosts were at least much more resolute in defence, with Andy Lonergan excellent when called upon in the closing stages.
The Fulham goalkeeper spread himself well after sprinting off his line to deny Lonergan and then tipped over a drive from Cyrus Christie following the Irish international’s fifty yard run. The home side had two chances to claim all three points in added time. McCormack powered an effort into the side netting before Cairney curled agonising wide of goal from outside the area with virtually the contest’s last kick.
box just wide of the post.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Lonergan; Richards, Burn, Amorebieta, Garbutt; Cairney, Ince (Kacaniklic 45), O’Hara, Christensen (Parker 86); McCormack, Dembele (Smith 76). Subs not used: Lewis, Ream, Fredericks, Labyad.
BOOKED: Garbutt, O’Hara.
GOAL: Olsson (o.g. 17).
DERBY COUNTY (4-4-2): Carson; Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Olsson; Hendrick, Baird (Butterfield 67), Bryson (Johnson 73); Russell, Martin, Weimann (Blackman 77) Subs (not used): Grant, Warnock, Ince, Bent.
GOAL: Bryson (44).
REFEREE: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire).