There’s just something about Derby County denying Fulham promotion to English football’s top tier. For 1983, read 2022 – although there was none of the controversy that plagued the final day at the Baseball Ground at Pride Park tonight. Wayne Rooney’s Rams have battled valiantly against adversity all season, fighting in the face of points deductions and agonising off-field uncertainty, and they roused themselves to deliver a stirring second half fightback after Fabio Carvalho appeared to have put the league leaders into the Premier League with a well-crafted opener.
Carvalho’s sublime side-footed finish after incisive interplay along the left flank might have broken sides who have not had to absorb as many setbacks as Derby this term. Ryan Allsopp denied the twinkle-toed teenager on the stroke of half time, but the hosts – roared on by a passionate home following – replicated their storming start to the contest after the break and reaped their rewards. Their equaliser was the illustration of Rooney’s insistence that his side should be bold in playing from every position on the field with Liam Thompson turning away from Tom Cairney as the visitors looked to press high before driving deep into Fulham territory. Lee Buchanan down the left wing and measured in a low cross that surprised Tim Ream, allowing young Luke Plange to sidefoot home from close range.
The pendulum of a contest that had looked to inching in Fulham’s direction before half time had swung back towards the Rams, who were desperate for all three points to prolong their hopes of a miraculous escape from relegation. There was a bit of fortune about the goal that won it – with Tosin Adarabioyo turning home a scuffed shot from Tom Lawrence as the big defender panicked with Plange preparing to pounce behind him, but Rooney’s charges deserved it for the way they upped the intensity and gave Fulham far less time to pick their passes in midfield.
It wasn’t that Silva’s side didn’t create chances. Aleksandar Mitrovic was incandescent with rage when he saw a goal ruled out for offside after Carvalho’s effort had come back off the far post, but television replays showed the Serbian striker to be at least half a yard ahead of the last man. Carvalho had a curler bravely headed just over his own crossbar by the commanding Curtis Davies and the belated arrival of Rodrigo Muniz saw more pressure on the home goal. The Brazilian was denied by a brave block from Eirin Cashin and Allsopp somehow got fingertips to a scooped effort from Harrison Reed.
But it was Derby who came closest to another goal after Marek Rodak’s horrible miskick went straight to a white shirt and Malcolm Ebiowei, who was outstanding throughout, saw his low drive fielded by the grateful Slovakian international. They soaked up prolonged pressure from Fulham during six minutes of stoppage time, with Allsopp saving from Mitrovic and Adarabioyo, before joyously celebrating the pocketing of a precious three points. For Fulham, this defeat is far from terminal – but it did mark the first time they had lost two league fixtures in succession under Silva.
The head coach shook his hand continuously on the touchline as time ticked away, possibly bemoaning his side’s inability to match Derby’s desire. Fulham will soon sew up promotion – perhaps at home to Preston North End on Tuesday night – but they surrendered a winning position against beleaguered opposition alarmingly easily. Derby begin as if inspired by the fanatical home support, but Silva’s side always carried a threat in the final third, with Carvalho and Tom Cairney linking encouragingly in the early stages.
Bobby Decordova-Reid wasted a decent opening when shooting wide after being found by a fabulous Cairney pass, but the recalled Jamaican international played a pivotal part in breaking the deadlock. Decordova-Reid latched onto a ball from Joe Bryan on the left wing, before Carvalho’s clever movement and anticipation took over. The Portuguese under-21 international worked a lovely one-two with Decordova-Reid that put him in goal and he slotted clinically into the bottom corner as Allsopp advanced off his line to try and narrow the angle.
But Fulham couldn’t build on their slender advantage and Silva’s puzzling second half substitutions – with the game locked at 1-1 – only served to sacrifice the initiative further. Harry Wilson went off to applause from the home fans after his efforts in an impressive loan almost lifted Derby back into the Premier League, whilst the Whites badly missed Cairney’s incisive passing in the closing stages after the captain was withdrawn. It could have been a very Good Friday, indeed but Fulham’s promotion party was left on hold.
DERBY COUNTY (4-2-3-1): Allsopp; Byrne, Buchanan, Davies, Cashin; Bielik (Sibley 84), Thompson (Ebosele 72); Ebiowei, Knight, Lawrence; Plange. Subs (not used): Roos, Stearman, Forsyth, Sibley, Ebosele, Richards, Cybulski.
BOOKED: Thompson, Lawrence, Allsopp, Cashin.
GOALS: Plange (51), Adarabioyo (o.g. 74).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Williams (Muniz 80), Bryan, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Cairney (Seri 72); Wilson (Kebano 72), Decordova-Reid, Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Hector, A. Robinson, Chalobah.
GOAL: Carvalho (20).
REFEREE: Robert Jones (Merseyside).