David Nugent might have scored a hat-trick, but David Button was badly culpable for damaging Fulham’s promotion bid as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side fell apart alarmingly at Pride Park this evening.
The goalkeeper, who could well now come under pressure from academy graduate Marcus Bettinelli for the number one shirt, was responsible for at least two of the four goals that Fulham conceded and by the end of the evening it was clear that the visiting back four didn’t have confidence in Button’s ability with the ball at his feet. The former Brentford custodian was lobbed by Nugent for his first goal, then drilled a clearance against the one-time England international that allowed him to complete his hat-trick and gifted Derby a fourth when he threw the ball straight to Craig Bryson.
Jokanovic’s men had dominated possession in the first half and fought back impressively from a dreadful start only to fold in a shocking second half. The belief amongst the men in yellow shirts drained away disappointingly – even if the lively Floyd Ayite grabbed a late consolation with his second goal on an evening where the winger was perhaps the only Fulham player to enhance his reputation.
Fulham started brightly, popping the ball around with the same precision that had characterised their narrow win at Rotherham at the weekend, but were dealt a body blow in the eighth minute. Tim Ream and Tomas Kalas left the duty of dealing with Marcus Olsson’s hopeful punt forward to each other and Nugent nipped in. He caught sight of Button in no mans’ land and measured a lovely lob over the stranded keeper to give the Rams the lead.
Fulham weren’t deflated by the concession of such a soft goal. The Cottagers constructed the best move of the first half which culminated in Tom Cairney testing Scott Carson from the edge of the area and the former England goalkeeper had to be alert to palm a dangerous Scott Malone cross away from his six-yard box with Aluko lurking ominously a couple of minutes later. The ease with which the visitors were cutting through the Derby defence caused some jitters as evidence when a bad error set Ayite clear but the winger wasn’t able to locate a team-mate.
Ayite was on hand to sweep a low effort past Carson from six yards ten minutes before the break after Ryan Frederick’s initial cross had cannoned off Richard Keogh. The period before half-time proved to be end-to-end. Aluko almost got in behind the home backline before Derby were awarded a spot-kick after Kalas sought to make amends for a dreadful ball out from the back but only succeeded in fouling Matej Vydra. Nugent saw his penalty superbly saved by Button, but had the last laugh from the ensuring corner – scoring with an overhead kick after the hosts had won two free headers in the Fulham area.
The Whites were fortunate to avoid further punishment when Tim Ream appeared to pull back Nugent as looked the favourite to reach a long ball over the top of the Fulham defence. Gone was the assurance of the away side’s patient possession in the first half and Jokanovic’s side now looked ragged and were living dangerously. Their luck run out when a shocking pass from Scott Malone played Ream into trouble. Nugent raced onto it and, instead of clearing long, Button tried to play out of the back – drilling his clearance against the striker, who held off Kalas and Ream, to run the ball into an unguarded net.
Fulham’s fate was sealed midway through the second half when Button, under little pressure, bowled the ball out to Bryson with yellow shirts available to receive possession. The Derby midfielder immediately found Johnnie Russell, who dribbled into the penalty area, and fired in a fourth into the far corner. The Fulham goalkeeper did deny the Scot shortly afterwards with a good reaction save but his earlier blunders meant Ayite’s side-footed finish after great play from Aluko mattered little.
DERBY COUNTY (4-4-1-1): Carson; Olsson, Baird, Pearce, Keogh; Bryson (Hughes 83), Johnson, Russell, Ince; Vydra (Butterfield 45); Nugent (Anya 70). Subs (not used): Mitchell, Christie, Camara, Bent.
GOALS: Nugent (8, 42, 59), Russell (67).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Fredericks, Malone (R. Sessegnon 83), Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Johansen (Cyriac 83); Piazon (Kebano 74), Ayite, Cairney; Aluko. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Madl, Sigurdsson, Petsos.
BOOKED: Piazon, McDonald, Aluko.
GOALS: Ayite (35, 79).
REFEREE: Jeremy Simpson.