Fulham swatted aside Derby County’s challenge with a swagger at Craven Cottage this evening – easily recording their third consecutive league win and moving up to third in the Championship table.
Scott Parker’s side strolled to a comfortable victory courtesy of Bobby Decordova-Reid’s first goal since moving from Cardiff on loan in the summer, a trademark header from the returning Aleksandar Mitrovic and Tom Cairney’s clinical conversion of a sweeping counter-attack in the closing stages. This was the perfect way for Fulham to prepare for an intriguing trip to promotion rivals Swansea City on Friday night, although Parker will need to check on the fitness of Aboubakar Kamara and Decordova-Reid after both were forced off with injuries during the second half.
Parker’s decision to place his faith in Kamara after his match-winning brace against QPR on Friday night paid handsome dividends. The Frenchman replaced his compatriot Anthony Knockaert on the right flank and turned in a dynamic display, creating the first goal with a gorgeous cross, and proving a real handful for the Derby defence. He was substituted after being caught by the follow-through of Curtis Davies’ robust sliding challenge and must be a doubt for the trip to south Wales.
Derby posed very little threat throughout, with former Fulham striker Chris Martin largely anonymous on his return to the Cottage, but they should have taken the lead inside the opening five minutes. Duane Holmes robbed Denis Odoi of possession and Max Lowe crossed perfectly for Tom Lawrence, but the Welsh midfielder scuffed his shot well wide from five yards out.
The hosts were ruthless in response. It took two minutes for them to go ahead as Derby struggled to reorganise once Krystian Bielik had headed away a corner. Kamara floated in a menacing cross from the right and Decordova-Reid, arriving late having shrugged off the attentions of George Evans, poked a finish past a stranded Kelle Roos.
The Derby goalkeeper did then manage to bail out Davies after Decordova-Reid seized on his short back pass and threatened to double his tally, before he dived full length to turn away a venomous effort from Ivan Cavaleiro after fine approach play from the rampaging Kamara. Three minutes later, the French forward had a try from distance himself but Roos was easily able to field the effort.
But Derby’s defence was breached again five minutes before the break. Cavaleiro lifted a cross towards the far post, where Mitrovic glanced his header into the bottom corner of the net, having been left staggeringly unattended by the visiting back line. Tom Cairney might have made it three in first-half stoppage time but his curler from the edge of the box just cleared the crossbar.
The second period began into a similar vein. Mitrovic and Kamara combined smartly before the Serbian striker was foiled by an excellent reaction save from Roos. He felt he should have grabbed a second when he ghosted away from his marker to meet Joe Bryan’s free-kick but instead headed over from five yards out.
After Kamara’s evening was prematurely cut short, Knockaert attempted to leave his mark on proceedings. He linked up effectively with Cavaleiro almost instantly, but the Portuguese winger’s effort looped off the retreating Jayden Bogle and flew wide. Knockaert spurned three openings to kill off Derby, with Roos saving smartly at his near post, whilst two more efforts were off target.
The clinching third goal followed a period of sustained Derby probing that didn’t unduly trouble Marek Rodak in the Fulham goal. Instead, the home side profited from a poor clearance by Roos as he tried to get the Rams moving forward. Mitrovic carried the ball deep into Derby territory and drew two defenders before playing in Cairney and the captain calmly threaded his finish between the goalkeeper’s legs to more accurately reflect the gulf between these two sides.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Johansen, Decordova-Reid (Onomah 60), Cairney; Kamara (Knockaert 54), Cavaleiro (Christie 80), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, McDonald, O’Riley, Kebano.
GOALS: Decordova-Reid (7), Mitrovic (40), Cairney (89).
DERBY COUNTY (4-2-3-1): Roos; Bogle, Lowe, Davies, Forsyth; Evans (Dowell 62), Bielik; Waghorn, Holmes (Marriott 77), Lawrence; Martin (Whittaker 59). Subs (not used): Hamer, Malone, Bird, Paterson.
BOOKED: Forsyth, Dowell.
REFEREE: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).