Goals change games but not many are quite as transformative as Chris Martin's penalty was here, the last kick of the first half. Fulham were 2-0 up back then, but Martin scored and Derby County added four more in the first 20 minutes after the restart.
Kit Symons must hope that it will not be fatal to his dreams of being made the permanent Fulham manager. He trusted his youngsters here and they repaid him by racing into a 2-0 lead. But dealing with disappointments is difficult and Fulham had no idea how to stabilise the game once Derby were back into it.
“It was a very, very harsh lesson,” Symons said afterwards. “But they will learn from it and be better for it. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.”
Steve McClaren was understandably pleased with his team safely into the quarter-finals. After gifting Fulham two first-half goals, they showed their power and experience in the second half and took the game away from their young hosts with real ruthlessness.
“The goal before half-time gave us a lifeline and a kick up the backside,” said a relieved McClaren. “At half-time the players were determined to do something about it. We played like ourselves second half.”
It was remarkable, really, given how the first 44 minutes of the game went. Symons, knowing that Championship form is what ultimately will decide the length of his Fulham tenure, gambled on youth. Six of his starters were aged 20 or less. And yet they set about Derby with hunger and courage.
Both of Moussa Dembele's goals came from Derby errors but they were still both exceptionally well-taken, a sign of the impressive talent and confidence of the French teenager. The first came when Derby left-back played a blind back-pass, not close enough to either Kelle Roos or Jake Buxton and it was Dembele, alert to the possibility, who ran onto it, rounded the keeper and scored into the empty net.
The second, from Derby's perspective, was even more preventable. Roos rolled a goal-kick out to Omar Mascarell, only for Bryan Ruiz to steal it from him and play in Dembele who finished coolly into the bottom corner. Symons pointed out afterwards that Dembele might have scored a first-half hat-trick, and he was well supported by fellow teenagers Patrick Roberts, George Williams and Emerson Hyndman.
But then Derby swung a hopeful cross into the box, Tim Hoogland handled it and the game changed. Martin converted the penalty and, as the players walked back into the dressing room, the game had already been settled.
Fulham's youngsters wilted after the restart. Simon Dawkins, playing through the middle, started running at them and they simply could not stop him. In the second minute of the second half, Dawkins burst down to the byline and pulled the ball back. It fell to Jonny Russell who ran onto it and smacked it into the net.
Dawkins was now the most impressive player on the pitch, and the next time he got the ball he put Derby ahead. Running down the inside-left channel, he darted inside Hoogland and hammered the ball into the far top corner, through Gabor Kiraly's outstretched left-hand.
Derby were now rampant and after Bryan Ruiz had curled a free-kick over the bar, they scored their fourth. Martin played the ball wide to Forsyth, whose cross found its way to Jeff Hendrick who spun and knocked it in.
It was all far too easy for Derby and the fifth came three minutes after the fourth. Russell ran down the right wing, unchallenged, cut back inside and crossed with his left to Dawkins. Full of confidence, Dawkins, running at the near post, flicked the ball with the inside of his right heel into the net.
That was that, and while it was a painful second half for Fulham, Symons remained confident that this bad defeat would not cost him the job. “I would like to think that the process is more about looking at me over the longer term,” he said. “One result will not hamper my chances.”
The supporters, certainly, are behind Symons and so is McClaren, who oversaw some of Symons' early coaching and was impressed with what he saw. “He's got a great calmness, that is a very good quality in a coach,” McClaren said. “He has stepped forward here. He has steadied the ship, got all the players playing for him, playing well, working and playing good football. This is a very good job for someone to get and I hope Kit Symons will get it.”
Man of match Dawkins.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee G Scott (Oxfordshire).
Attendance 15,156.Reuse content