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Jerome heads Derby in front

If Fulham are to reached the promised land of the Premier League, they’ll have to make history. The Whites have never won a play-off fixture and haven’t been back to Wembley since the 1975 FA Cup final heartbreak at the hands of West Ham – and a frustrating evening at Pride Park suggested that Slavisa Jokanovic’s side hadn’t fully recovered from the shock of their 23 match unbeaten run ending at the same time as their automatic promotion hopes against Birmingham City last weekend.

Fulham began this tie against Gary Rowett’s men as the bookmakers favourites to return to the top flight, despite their unenviable record in the play-offs. They were similarly fancied last season – and a bitty tie bore a certain resemblance to the night at the Madjeski Stadium last May when the Whites’ hopes were extinguished by a workmanlike Reading side. Derby were well-drilled and efficient, becoming the first Championship side since Sunderland in December to stop Fulham from scoring, with Cameron Jerome’s bullet first half header giving the Rams the slenderest of leads to take into the second leg at Craven Cottage on Monday.

Despite Jerome’s header being Derby’s single shot on target, they were good value for a victory that based around blunting Fulham’s fluent football as well as Jokanovic’s key performances. Curtis Davies was inspired at the heart of the home defence, chaperoning Aleksandar Mitrovic throughout, with Tom Huddlestone spraying the ball around superbly in midfield. The veteran’s perceptive pass freed Craig Forsyth down the left and the defender’s lofted cross was perfect for Jerome to attack at the far post, where Matt Targett stood little chance of competing. The striker, a rumoured summer transfer target for Jokanovic, headed emphatically past a beaten Marcus Bettinelli to score his fifth goal in four games since being brought back into the side by Rowett.

The goal sent the Pride Park faithful into overdrive and Jerome and the lively Tom Lawrence posed real problems for a strangely lethargic Fulham, who struggled for a foothold in the contest. With Mitrovic effectively marked out of most of the proceedings, the visitors lacked a focal point in attack. Ryan Sessegnon struggled to get on the ball, smashing two shots wide of goal off his weaker foot either side of half time, whilst the recalled Floyd Ayite flattered to deceive on the opposing flank.

Jokanovic’s side gradually cranked up the pressure after the break. Kevin McDonald almost produced another peach of a long-range effort from nowhere, smacking a shot against the crossbar with Scott Carson well beaten after surging onto a clever Mitrovic lay-off. Ayite almost sneaked in after a flowing passing move and then spurned the best chance of the match, laid on by a superb searching ball from Stefan Johansen, when he spooned a shot over the bar with just the goalkeeper to beat. Cairney saw one effort from the edge of the box brilliantly beaten away by Carson and sent another curler agonisingly wide.

Derby almost stole a second on the break as the first leg reached a gripping denouement. Substitute Ikechi Anya stooped to connect with a Lawrence cross from the right at the near post but the ball eluded the Scottish international, whilst Denis Odoi found himself in the perfect position to head over his own crossbar with Lawrence and David Nugent well placed in the middle. Jokanovic threw on Neeskens Kebano and Lucas Piazon in search of an equaliser, but the Whites will have to break that seven-match play-off hoodoo on Monday if they are to make a return to the stadium Shahid Khan is close to purchasing.

DERBY COUNTY (3-4-2-1): Carson; Forsyth, Davies, Keogh; Huddlestone, Johnson, Wisdom, Weimann (Hanson 90); Lawrence, Vydra (Anya 68); Jerome (Nugent 68). Subs (not used): Roos, Pearce, Ledley, Palmer.

BOOKED: Weimann, Johnson.

GOAL: Jerome (34).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Targett, Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Johansen (Norwood 88), Cairney; Ayite (Piazon 76), R. Sessegnon (Kebano 76). Subs (not used): Button, Christie, Kalas, Kamara.

BOOKED: Johansen.

REFEREE: Roger East (Wiltshire).

ATTENDANCE: 27,163.

Fulham ready to offer £3m for Jerome

Fulham are readying a £3m bid for Norwich City forward Cameron Jerome as they move to bring in additional striking options after Slavisa Jokanovic slated their slow summer business.

The Mirror reports this morning that the Cottagers have turned their attention to the former Stoke and Birmingham City striker after first-choice target Diego Rolan eventually rejected a move to Craven Cottage. Head coach Jokanovic included Jerome, who has scored 16 and 21 goals in his last two Championship seasons at Carrow Road, on his list of potential acquisitions at the start of the summer and was reportedly disappointed that the Fulham move did not make an early move for former England under-21 international.

Jerome has apparently been told that he is free to leave City by new Norwich manager Daniel Faulke, but Fulham will face stiff competition for his services. Both Sunderland and Nottingham Forest have already shown interest during pre-season and the Whites’ seriousness about landing the 6ft 1in striker will tell us whether the rumoured age-limit of 28 applies to the club’s recruitment. Norwich had quoted Jerome’s potential suitors around £6m, but are likely to let him leave for significantly less than that valuation.

The Canaries might have endured an under-par season last year, dismally failing to threaten the play-off positions before parting company with Alex Neil, but Jerome scored sixteen times in 40 league appearances, including as a substitute in the home defeat by Fulham at Easter. Jokanovic is desperate to recruit proven goalscorers ahead of the big kick-off which sees the Whites host Norwich on August 5 having turned down the chance to sign Chris Martin and Cyriac at the end of the season, leaving just Cauley Woodrow and Stevie Humphrys as genuine centre forwards.

Fulham ready to move on from Jerome

Fulham are ready to end their interest in Cameron Jerome and move on to other targets, according to a Sky Sports News report this afternoon.

Birmingham rejected Fulham’s initial offer for Jerome – believed to be between £2m and £3m – and are seeking substantially more for the 24 year-old striker as they look to rebuild their squad and bolster their financial promotion following relegation from the Premier League. That news means that manager Martin Jol is ready to consider alternative targets as he seeks to supplement his forward line for the forthcoming season.

Fulham have been heavily linked with Mexican international Aldo De Nigris, but Jol is also thought to scouring Europe for potential strikers.

Fulham weighing up new Jerome bid

Fulham are mulling over making an improved offer for Cameron Jerome – after Birmingham City turned down their initial £2m bid.

Martin Jol, currently only has three senior strikers in his first-team squad – Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson and Moussa Dembélé – and is desperate to add to Fulham’s forward options before the start of the domestic campaign. Zamora, Johnson and Dembélé all missed substantial periods of last season through injury. The trio scored just eleven league goals between them last year – and Jol also wants to improve Fulham’s goal return.

The 24 year-old Jerome is thought to be interested in an immediate return to the top flight, having scored three times in 30 games as Birmingham were relegated from the Premier League last term. He also represents an attractive way of reducing Fulham’s reliance on older players, which was one of the blueprints laid down to Jol when he succeeded Mark Hughes at Craven Cottage.

Fulham bid for Jerome

According to Sky Sports News, Fulham have made an offer for Birmingham striker Cameron Jerome.

Sky are reporting it as an undisclosed bid and have the Whites joining the race for the Blues striker alongside Stoke, who have already held negotiations with the 24 year-old about a possible move to the Britannia Stadium.

The Daily Mail prices the bid at £4m but their report loses creditability by claiming that Jerome is set to join Mark Hughes’ side.