Marek Rodak redeemed himself by making a string of fine saves as Fulham fought back to claim a point at Derby County this evening. The Slovakian goalkeeper, who endured an error-strewn afternoon as bottom of the table Barnsley romped to victory at Craven Cottage last weekend, made three outstanding stops to prevent Philip Cocu’s side from adding to a lead supplied by a cheeky paneka penalty from Wayne Rooney, making his 500th league appearance in English football.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, as he so often does, came to Fulham’s rescue – reviving a rather timid performance with a stroke of magic to guide in Aboubakar Kamara’s cross for the equaliser. The Serbian’s 22nd Championship goal of the season set up a grandstand finish during which either side could have won it, but both ultimately had to settle for what was a frustrating point. The result means Scott Parker’s side are two points behind second-placed Leeds, who host Reading tomorrow afternoon.
It could have been much worse for the visitors who, despite enjoying the lion’s share of the possession against another of the division’s footballing sides, struggled to create clear-cut chances. It was Derby, far more incisive in the final third, who fashioned the game’s better openings. Rodak was called into action first on eleven minutes when a clever Rooney cross was diverted goalwards by Tom Lawrence, who had incredibly shot out of the stadium when presented with the evening’s first chance.
Lawrence, playing wider than he would prefer to order to accommodate Rooney, then saw a 20-yard drive deflected agonisingly wide. The home side were growing in confidence and one majestic move saw Rooney release full back Craig Forsyth into the inside-left challenge but his low cross only just eluded Martyn Waghorn in the middle. Rodak then made a wonderful save at full stretch to preserve parity when Matt Clarke reached a free-kick at the far post and looked to have turned it home at full stretch.
Fulham’s brightest moments involved Mitrovic, who still seemed far too isolated to be a regular threat. He was denied by an intelligent piece of defending from Curtis Davies but, after a sweeping break, nearly diverted Anthony Knockaert’s cross goalwards before heading a Bobby Decordova-Reid delivery straight at Ben Hamer in the Derby goal.
It was Cocu’s team that finished the first period on the front foot. Waghorn battled to win the ball back for Derby inside his own half and the hosts probed patiently for an opening before Lawrence unleashed a low drive from just inside the box that Rodak palmed aside.
The game followed a similar pattern after the restart with Derby looking the more lively in front of goal as Fulham’s rather ponderous passing seemed to be leading nowehere. Andre Wisdom wasted a glorious opportunity on the edge of the Fulham box, blazing wildly over when he could have chosen to pass to one of three team-mates in good positions, but Derby weren’t ruing their defender’s lack of composure for too long.
The opening goal arrived ten minutes after the break – and through a mess of Fulham’s own making. The visitors attempted to play their way out from the back with another short goal kick but Joe Bryan’s risky pass went astray. Waghorn turned Tim Ream in the area and referee Darren Bond penalised the American centre back for what seemed a rather harsh handball. Rooney, a regular scourge of Fulham over the years, impudently chipped home the penalty over a helpless Rodak.
That setack did at least serve to enliven Fulham. Mitrovic floated a free-kick towards the top corner that Hamer plucked out of the air and the Serbian couldn’t quite get to another inviting Bryan cross with Hamer doing his best to put him off. Parker sent on Kamara and Ivan Cavaleiro in a bid to find a leveller – and the changes worked within five minutes. Both substitutes were involved in the move that led to Mitrovic produced a wonderfully controlled volley into the bottom corner from Kamara’s rather speculative cross, with Cavaleiro’s purposeful run and shot rebonding kindly for the Frenchman.
Fulham might have had a second with seven minutes to play when Kevin McDonald’s searching forward ball sent Kamara haring towards the Derby box. The ball fell nicely for Cavaleiro, who should have done better than lash over the bar from the edge of the area. Derby weren’t content to shut up shop and settle for a point – Odoi blocked a Rooney strike before Rodak made outrageous stops to first keep out a rocket from young Max Bird and then readjust in the nick of time to bundle Davies’ attempted finish away from behind him as it looked certain to nestle in the net. The young goalkeeper even scrambled across his line to keep out Lawrence’s corner in stoppage time to preserve parity.
DERBY COUNTY (4-2-3-1): Hamer; Wisdom, Forsyth, Davies, Clarke; Shinnie, Bird; Knight (Jozefzoon 78), Lawrence, Rooney; Waghorn (Marriott 78). Subs (not used): Roos, Lowe, Bogle, Sibley, Martin.
GOAL: Rooney (pen 54).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Hector, Ream; Arter (McDonald 81), Johansen (Kamara 65), Cairney; Knockaert (Cavaleiro 66), Decordova-Reid, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Christie, S. Sessegnon, Kebano.
GOAL: Mitrovic (71).
REFEREE: Darren Bond (Lancashire).