A combination of dogged Derby County defending and ultimately illnesses that had robbed Marco Silva of the core of his starting line-up meant the Rams ended Fulham’s seven-match winning streak and came away from Craven Cottage with a richly deserved point. Wayne Rooney’s troops battled to the last, throwing bodies in front of the ball, and successfully blunting the most potent attack in English football to earn a result that will only increase his belief in the sort of ‘miracle’ Derby require to avoid the drop.
Fulham look far from the fearsome proposition that has terrified the second tier of late without Aleksandar Mitrovic leading the line. Serbia’s World Cup hero has been laid low by a fever and his understudy Rodrigo Muniz was unable to replicate Mitrovic’s rich vein of form missing two glorious chances as the Derby goal came under siege in the second period. Fulham were also without the services of captain Tom Cairney, who was also under the weather, and goalkeeper Marek Rodak, who is isolating after coming into close contact with someone who had contracted coronavirus during his international duty with Slovakia.
Fulham were far from their fluent best, but Silva could justifiably feel his charges created enough chances to have won this game. The tinkle toes of Fabio Carvalho fashioned the first opportunity, ghosting past three Derby challenges on his way into the box, before drilling an effort wide of the far post. Jean Michael Seri then curled a 25-yarder against the crossbar and fortune favoured Kelle Roos as the Ivorian’s shot cannoned off his back and away to safety. Derby weren’t merely interested in defending, though, and they opened up the home side’s defence with a move of real quality. Tom Lawrence, who starred in Sunday’s stunning win over Bournemouth, darted onto Curtis Davies clever through ball and almost squeezed a shot between Gazzaniga and the near post.
Roos reacted smartly to claw away Neeskens Kebano’s free-kick when he might have been stranded by a wicked deflection off Craig Forsyth, but that proved to be Fulham’s only shot on target before the break. The hosts enjoyed plenty of possession but found the final ball often lacking. Their frustration told late on with Muniz and Carvalho shooting wildly off target as space opened up in front of the them. Gazzaniga had to dash off his line to head a loose ball away from the onrushing Lawrence – and the visitors were more than a match for the league leaders at half time.
Fulham quickly reestablished the pattern of the first period, with Carvalho finding a pocket of space inside the area but Roos was equal to the teenager’s low shot. The excellent Phil Jagielka bravely blocked a snapshot from Kebano after the Congolese winger had swilled threateningly in the box and, in one mad penalty area melee, Carvalho sent a low shot through the crowd that struck the far post before Muniz headed wide.
Silva sent on Josh Onomah and, surprisingly, Anthony Knockaert as Fulham hunted a late winner but Derby continued to hold firm. Carvalho, by far the best player on the park, looked like their most likely source of a goal and his fancy footwork worked a yard of space in the area but Roos palmed away another shot. Just when Muniz seemed set to head home the follow-up, Davies arrived in the nick of time to clear from underneath his own crossbar. The former Flamengo forward was millimetres away from winning it with a spectacular scissor kick that flew just over – but by now Fulham appeared destined not to score.
Derby might even have conjured up a late winner themselves with Gazzaniga just about keeping out Jason Knight’s rising drive from an acute angle, but Rooney would take great pride in his side’s application. Derby have taken four points from the division’s top two – widely expected to be contesting the Championship title in the second half of the season – in the space of four days. For Fulham, Silva will need to assess his walking wounded and hope his team can find the killer touch at Preston on Saturday.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed (Onomah 66), Seri; Wilson (Knockaert 78), Kebano, Carvalho; Muniz. Subs (not used): Las, Odoi, Hector, Bryan, Decordova-Reid.
DERBY COUNTY (4-3-3): Roos; Byrne, Forsyth (Morrison 83), Jagielka, Davies; Shinnie, Bird, Thompson; Ebosele (Kazim-Richards 70), Knight, Lawrence. Subs (not used): Allsop, Jozwiak, Stearman, Sibley, Williams.
BOOKED: Ebosele, Shinnie
REFREEE: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham)